Korea to meet China in second game of Asian qualifers

Korea to meet China in second game of Asian qualifers

The Korean national team celebrates after Lee Kang-in scored a goal during a World Cup qualifier against Singapore at Seoul World Cup Stadium in western Seoul on Thursday. [YONHAP]

The Korean national team’s bid to extend their winning streak continues Tuesday as the Taeguk Warriors face China in an Asian qualifiers match for the 2026 World Cup. 
The squad, led by manager Jurgen Klinsmann, will play an away game on China’s home turf, vying to win their fourth game in a row after managing three huge victories in October and November, during which they scored 15 goals and conceded zero. 

The Taeguk Warriors seem to have overcome the early wobble in Klinsmann’s first five matches in charge when the team failed to secure a single win due to a lack of cohesion and goal decisiveness. The team scored just four goals and gave up six across Klinsmann’s first five games.  
Goal decisiveness and defensive factors have since improved significantly. The upcoming match against China will reveal whether the Taeguk Warriors can maintain their current form and prove that they are capable enough to win the AFC Asian Cup, scheduled for January next year.  
China, No. 79 on the FIFA rankings, is not a usual World Cup competitor, having played in the tournament just once, in 2002.  
But the Chinese national team could prove a stronger opponent than No. 155 Singapore, whom Korea thrashed 5-0 in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday.  
China also secured one win in Group C of the World Cup qualifiers, with a 2-1 win over Thailand last week.  
The match against China will likely be a tough one in terms of physical challenge, as the Chinese players tend to challenge hard on the pitch.  
The U-24 Korean national team weathered a tough game during one of two friendlies with China in June, with some Korean players suffering injury to lose 1-0.
Whether Klinsmann rests key players like regular captain Son Heung-min or Lee Kang-in remains to be seen, however, as they have contributed to huge wins in the recent fixtures.  
Son displayed agile movements during a 6-0 win against Vietnam in October and scored one goal, and did it again to score another goal against Singapore last week.
Lee’s impact has been more visible in the past three fixtures against Tunisia, Vietnam and Singapore during which he made effective passes for his teammates and scored at least one goal in every match.  
Regular striker pick Cho Gue-sung, who displayed solid cohesion with Lee and scored a goal against Singapore with Lee’s assist, may also start Tuesday’s match.
Celtic striker Oh Hyeon-gyu was the only striker pick that did not manage a single goal in Korea’s recent games, but Tuesday’s match may be a chance for him to prove his potential if he starts in lieu of Cho.  
Korea will retain the frontrunner position in Group C if they win Tuesday’s game. A total of 36 teams, divided into nine groups of four, compete in the second round of the World Cup Asian qualifier and a total 18 teams — nine group winners and nine runners-up — advance to the third round.  
Korea is competing with China, Singapore and Thailand in Group C. 
Tuesday match will kick off at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre in Shenzhen, China at 8 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. in Korea.

BY PAIK JI-HWAN [paik.jihwan@joongang.co.kr]

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