S. Korea to host Brazil in highly anticipated football friendly
Published : 2013-10-11 09:20
Updated : 2013-10-11 17:13
In one of the most highly anticipated football matches here this year, South Korea will host Brazil in the nation's capital on Saturday.
The match will take place at Seoul World Cup Stadium at 8 p.m.
According to the Korea Football Association (KFA), it is expected to draw a near-sellout crowd at the 66,000-seat venue and set a new attendance record for a football friendly there.
The record for the largest turnout at Seoul World Cup Stadium is 62,884, when South Korea took on the Netherlands in June 2007.
This is the fifth meeting between the two countries. Brazil won three of the four earlier matches.
On paper, the matchup doesn't appear to be close. Brazil, the five-time FIFA World Cup champion, is currently eighth in the FIFA rankings, while South Korea is at 58th. Brazil defeated the world No. 1 Spain to claim the Confederations Cup in June and looks to be rounding into form as it prepares to host the World Cup finals next summer.
South Korea, on the other hand, has managed just one win in the first six games with Hong Myung-bo, a former national team captain, as the head coach.
Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who guided Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title and returned to coach his native country last year, has brought most of the country's top names, such as Neymar of FC Barcelona and Oscar of Chelsea. The core members of the team are only just entering their athletic prime in their early to mid-20s.
South Korea will counter with a handful of players based in European leagues. Winger Son Heung-min of Bayer Leverkusen is one of four players from the Bundesliga, and midfielder Ki Sung-yueng of Sunderland is among three English Premier Leaguers.
Ji Dong-won, another Sunderland player, is the only natural striker for this match. On Hong's watch, South Korea has scored six goals in six matches, but no striker has found the back of the net.
Ji will likely need help from his wingers, including Lee Keun-ho, currently playing for the domestic military team, Sangju Sangmu. Lee has the most experience on the roster with 54 international games under his belt, and has scored 18 times, more than anyone in the current lineup. Lee is also the only player to score at least twice for Hong.
In an interview earlier this week at the national team training camp, Lee said he sees the matchup as "an opportunity to prove my worth" to Hong.
"Brazil is a great team; it always has been, and it still is," Lee said. "But after our match, I hope Brazil realizes we're a strong team, too."
While Lee and others up front will look to get on board, South Korean defenders on the opposite end will likely get a heavy dose of dynamic and creative attacks, the likes of which they haven't seen from other opponents this year.
Neymar, the 21-year-old forward with 26 goals in 42 international matches, is one of the brightest young stars in football today.
Neymar represented his country on the under-23 Olympic team at the London Games last summer, joined by the current senior squad members Alexandre Pato, Hulk, Oscar and Marcelo. Though Brazil was stunned by Mexico in the gold medal contest and failed to end its Olympic title drought, Neymar scored three goals in the competition to rank second on the team, and generally wreaked havoc on the opposing defense.
Neymar had his coming out party at this year's Confederations Cup on home soil, netting four goals and taking the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. He scored Brazil's second goal in the 3-0 victory over Spain in the final.
At a pre-match conference at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul, Hong Myung-bo said South Korea will not sit back and play passive football against Brazil.
"We could meet Brazil at next year's World Cup," the South Korean coach said. "No player will back down or will be afraid of Brazil."
Hong stressed that his defensive backs will not sit back in their own zone, which would end up giving up midfield to Brazilians and actually play into the opponents' hands.
"We will avoid strategies that will let them cross the half line easily," Hong added. "The key is for our midfielders and forwards to apply pressure on Brazil and help our defensive backs."
Brazilian coaches -- also some 60,000 fans here hoping to catch a glimpse of the dynamo -- held their collective breath on Thursday, when Neymar fell to the ground in a collision with an opposing player during a practice match.
After receiving medical attention, Neymar stayed in the game for a few more minutes before limping off the ground.
The KFA officials said their Brazilian counterparts told them that Neymar's injury isn't serious.
Both South Korea and Brazil have another match coming up on Tuesday: South Korea will host Mali in Cheonan, about 90 kilometers south of Seoul, while Brazil will fly to Beijing to face Zambia. (Yonhap News)