Korea injury concerns as Socceroos loom

On Saturday, following Korea Republic's 1-0 win over Oman Uli Stielike said it, and repeated it on Monday, as he chatted to the media of the team's second match in Group A against Kuwait. No, he wasn't thinking of Australia in the final group game.

The only colour on his mind was that the blue of the next opponents. His bosses at the KFA agreed, “Don't Wait, Beat Kuwait” is their official slogan for this clash.

But the shadow of the Brisbane encounter did loom faintly in the Canberra sky, blue for the first time since the tournament started. It could be limited to the very sensible suggestion that it would be great to get six points on the board before the game with the hosts. 

Stielike will not risk any player against Kuwait who is not quite ready after three players picked up injuries at the hands of a physical Oman team.

“For the moment only Cho Young-cheol is ready, the other players Kim Chang-soo and Lee Chung-yong, we have to wait until tomorrow,” said Stielike.

Cho scored the only goal of the game though fans are not yet convinced that the Qatar-based star is the right man to lead the line, yet such are the lack of options, he will be welcomed with open arms.

Kim has a more than ample replacement – an improvement, say some- in the seriously impressive shape of the 'Chaminator' Cha Du-ri but Lee Chung-yong is more serious in the sense that the English-based-winger is a more influential player and the fact that, well, his injury is more serious.

The initial plan was to rest Lee for Kuwait ready to play Australia but news started to filter out of the camp that the wild tackle suffered at the hands of Oman could end his tournament. It would be a big blow.

In some ways, Lee is the epitome of the Korean attack. 

Quick, tricky and exciting to watch until he gets within sight of goal and then it all gets a little slow, frustrating and predictable. That was the case in the first game. Korea, as they often do, got the opening goal then threatened to get the second but never did.

“Our problem in this game against Oman was that after half-time we had between 70-75% ball possession and we had three clear chances, and in this moment you have to kill the game, make the score 2-0 and play the remaining half hour quiet. We didn’t,” said Stielike.

This was in contrast to Australia who did kill off the game against against Kuwait. 

The Kuwaitis are likely to be without defender Hussain Fadhel, the goalscorer in Melbourne and they need a result against Korea. Defeat and it is almost certainly all over.

“The last match had positives and negatives,” said coach Nabil Maaloul, their coach. “The positives were good, tactical discipline and the team spirit as well. Although the Australian team were stronger and deserved to win, we don’t feel the score reflected our performance."

Korea have a good record against Kuwait and defeated them in Seoul when the two teams last met in a competitive game, qualification for the 2014 World Cup. The Taeguk Warriors won 2-0 but for the first hour, the west Asian team had looked the better. Lee Dong-gook's goal in the second half changed everything but Lee is injured, as is Kim Shin-wook. Others are out of form or just out of the picture.

The line-up against Kuwait should be very similar though Kim Ju-young's place in the middle of defence is under threat, probably by Guangzhou Evergrande's Kim Young-gwon, and there have been calls for Ki Seung-yeung to advance further on the pitch and not look for Son Heung-min quite as often.

Stielike said on Saturday that it is better to start slowly and improve over time than peak too soon and then fade. He wants a better performance.

That's fine though another 1-0 would do. Three points are all that matters which would likely take the sting out of the Socceroo clash and give Korea time to find their groove.

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