Preview MD3 – Group C: Uzbekistan vs Korea Republic
Pathum Thani: Korea Republic were the first team to secure a place in the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 quarter-finals, but head coach Kim Hak-bum has warned there will be no room for complacency when they face defending champions Uzbekistan in their final Group C match on Wednesday.
The two sides have relocated from Songkhla to Pathum Thani, but Kim hopes his side’s results will remain the same after recording wins over China PR and Islamic Republic of Iran with vastly different starting line-ups.
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While Korea Republic can’t be eliminated on Wednesday, their path to the Tokyo Olympics could still become more difficult if they drop to second place in the group, and Kim said he expects nothing to change in terms of their mental approach to the match.
“Yes, we have secured our ticket to the next round,” Kim said. “But our position and our opponent (in the quarter-finals) haven’t been decided.
“We reached this position by treating every match as our last match and we will continue to do so.”
Korea Republic’s heavily altered starting line-up in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Iran showed just how much quality Kim has to work with, with Lee Dong-jun and Cho Gue-sung scoring the goals after being promoted to the starting side.
With so many options at his fingertips, Kim was unsurprisingly content to keep Uzbekistan guessing regarding his starting line-up.
“I can’t tell you at the moment,” he laughed.
“Like I told you earlier; we will play every match as if it is our last match, and I have faith in all 23 players to deliver a good performance if they are chosen to go onto the pitch. We will play as we have prepared so far.
“We have a lot of depth in our squad, and anyone in our squad can go on the pitch and deliver."
Meanwhile, Ljubinko Drulovic believes his Uzbekistan side are on the up after a confidence-boosting 2-0 win over China PR took them to within one point of the knockout stage.
Islom Kobliv and Nurillo Tukhtasinov both found the back of the net for the holders, but it could easily have been a wider margin in a match Uzbekistan dominated from start to finish, and Drulovic believes the momentum built among his side will serve them well against a strong Korean outfit.
“I think it’s very important for our preparation,” said the former FC Porto star.
“In the first game we had a draw, and only got one point, but I think against China we played better than in the first game. I’m very happy because we played very well. I think it’s very important in this case, because football is emotional."
“That game was very important for us. Now we need to prepare very well for the next game, because Korea are an excellent team. It’s a very difficult game for us, but I’m satisfied for now.”
Korea Republic will win Group C with a win or draw, while Uzbekistan will top the group should they take all three points, with a White Wolves defeat potentially opening the door for Iran to claim second place.
Uzbekistan v Korea Republic
Venue: Thammasat Stadium (Bangkok)
Kick-off: 17:15 (UTC +7)
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