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Tokyo Olympics – Preview: Korea Republic set for stern test of medal credentials in opener against New Zealand

Tokyo: 2020 AFC U23 champions Korea Republic will need to be on top of their game when they face an experienced New Zealand side in their Tokyo 2020 curtain raiser at Kashima Stadium on Thursday.

Coach Kim Hak-bum's side will want to kick off their Group B campaign with a winning start but they will need to improve upon defensive issues that arose in their two warm-up matches against Argentina and France last week.

In both games, errors at the back presented their opponents with opportunities that they did not spurn and the absence of gifted centre-back Kim Min-jae, who was originally selected as one of the three overage players but was not released by club Beijing FC, seems to have hamstrung the defence.

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As well as his technical attributes, Kim Min-jae's physicality would have been particularly welcome when facing New Zealand's 6 foot 3 striker Chris Wood, fresh from another successful season at English Premier League club Burnley FC.

Instead, the job may fall to late replacement Park Ji-soo, with centre-back and captain Lee Sang-min potentially needing to help double up on the dangerous targetman. Alternatively, coach Kim could opt to go like-for-like and instruct the equally physically imposing Jeong Tae-wook to contain the Burnley man.

Behind his rearguard, goalkeeper Song Bum-keun will hope to transfer more of his superlative club form onto the national stage after a disappointing display against France.

In the attack, much will depend on the other two overage players Hwang Ui-jo and Kwon Chang-hoon and it remains to be seen if the pair can gel with coach Kim's AFC U23 Championship winners after the duo did not appear on the same wavelength with their younger teammates in the pre-tournament ties.

Of that victorious AFC U23 Championship side, Lee Dong-jun and Lee Dong-gyeong could step up to provide the spark needed going forward, while recent Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors signing Song Min-kyu will want to show his new club and supporters what he can bring to the table.

Opponents New Zealand faced neighbours Australia in the pre-Olympics build-up and returned mixed results winning 2-0 in the first encounter, but losing 1-0 in the return meeting.

Along with Woods, West Ham United defender Winston Reid is the other headline name in the OlyWhites side with the remainder of the squad drawn from teams in Europe and the A-League in Australia.

Of those, 20-year-old left-back Liberato Cacace appears to be a star in the making after a superlative pair of seasons with Wellington Phoenix resulted in a move to Jupiler Pro League's Sint-Truiden last year. Cacace has since firmly established himself in the Belgian top-flight team and will be a tangible threat down the Korean right flank.

New Zealand v Korea Republic
Venue: Kashima Stadium
Kick-off: 17:00 (UTC+9)

Photo: AFP

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