There will be no Son Heung-min in sight on Monday when South Korea begin their 2019 Asian Cup-campaign against Sven-Goran Eriksson’s debutants from the Philippines.
This has given ex-Portugal boss Paulo Bento a headache as he tries to press his credentials with a strong start in Group C at Dubai’s lavishly renovated Al Maktoum Stadium.
Here are the talking points ahead of this Group C-clash:
Getting the Hwang of it
Son is Asia’s only true global superstar, but a gentleman’s agreement to avoid national conscription through victory at the summer’s Asian Games means he will not be present until January 16’s pool finale against China.
In the meantime, Hwang Ui-jo looks likely to get the nod up top – potentially in an unorthodox 3-4-2-1 formation.
Unsurprisingly, the 26-year-old is not a like-for-like replacement. His errant side foot from six-yards out helped ensure a goalless final warm-up against Saudi Arabia.
He did, however, score an impressive 16 times in 27 matches during the 2018 J1 League with Gamba Osaka to finish third-top scorer.
Korea’s time is coming?
It is one of football’s longest droughts.
Korea claimed the opening pair of Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960 – and nothing since.
They came exceptionally close in the previous edition under Uli Stielike, losing 2-1 in extra time to hosts Australia. But after nine-consecutive World Cups, this dry spell is an anomaly.
Talent remains in the ranks to end this run, despite serious injuries to creative players in Al Duhail’s Nam Tae-hee and Dijon’s Kwon Chang-hoon.
Now is the time for the likes of 109-cap Ki Sung-yueng and Holsten Kiel midfielder Lee Jae-sung to make good on their talents – beginning with the Philippines.
Are the Azkals all bite and no bark?
The Philippines have banked on experience to guide them through their tournament bow.
Ex-Sampdoria, Lazio and England supremo Eriksson is an iconic name, albeit one on the decline now aged 70. But since his October arrival on a short-term deal, he’s spoken of being invigorated by the challenge.
A fourth semi-final in five tournaments at the winter’s AFF Suzuki Cup was a decent achievement for the basketball-mad nation.
Hopes of building on this performance, however, are tempered by the absence of Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
Against Korea, the knowledge of K-League stalwart Alvaro Silva will be vital at centre-back.
But their defining fixtures come against China and Kyrgyzstan. Progression as one of the four-best third-placed finishers is a viable proposition.
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