|Team Korea (top) and Team Algeria attend soccer practice at Estadio Beira-Rio, the venue for Sunday’s match, on Saturday in local time. (Yonhap)|
After Algeria scored the opening goal against Belgium on Tuesday, it played all-out defense until finally succumbing to Belgium’s athletic substitutes in a 2-1 defeat. But Hong reckons the opponents will be less cautious this time, and will use their quick offense to create more chances to score.
“The Belgian team was very defensive as was the Algerian team, and I don’t think that’s how (the Algerians) will play with us. They have a lot of good attackers and they are very speedy players overall,” he said at a press conference Saturday at Estadio Beira-Rio, the venue for Sunday’s match, which kicks off at 4 p.m. local time (Monday at 4 a.m., Korea time).
He added that the three forwards --- Riyad Mahrez, El Arabi Soudani and goal-scorer Sofiane Feghouli -- were very fast and had good individual technique, so the squad was working on how to reduce the number of one-on-one confrontations.
“Up until now, we have worked on certain plays, so if we perfect them, then I think it would be very helpful,” he said. “The Algerian midfielders are very quick and they put on a lot of pressure. How we’re able to overcome that pressure and how we play the spaces will be very important.”
While the coach implied a more conservative approach in the team’s opening match Russia to prevent defeat, he said Korea was going to play to win on. Algeria will be eliminated if it loses a second time, while Korea must rack up points ahead of its match on June 26 with top-ranked Belgium, which is one win away from passing the group stage.
Meanwhile, the other teams in Group H, Belgium and Russia, will play in Rio de Janeiro in a rematch of their last World Cup appearances in 2002. Depending on how Russia and Korea, each with one point, fare in their respective matches Sunday, the qualifiers of Group H may both be determined in the third set of matches, and would be the final two teams to succeed to the Round of 16. The winners of Group H would play the top two teams of Group G, consisting of Germany, the U.S., Ghana and Portugal.
But in playing to win, Korea must create more scoring opportunities than it did in the Russia match, when it attempted 10 shots with six on target, Hong noted.
“We have to score a goal. Of course that’s the most important thing,” said Hong. “I’m sure there will be opportunities for us to score, and so whether we take advantage of those opportunities I think will be the key to winning the match.”
|Team Korea (top) and Team Algeria attend soccer practice at Estadio Beira-Rio on Saturday in local time. (Yonhap)|
Ahead of game day, worries lingered over the fitness of some players. After playing all 90 minutes in the Russia match, midfielder Lee Chung-yong, who had suffered a double leg break in 2011 while playing in England, was seen at base camp in Foz do Iguacu doing light exercises along the sidelines rather than taking part in the team exercises due to fatigue. Coach Hong on Saturday shot down rumors that Lee sustained a stress fracture, adding that he would be fully ready to play on Sunday.
Also, reserve midfielder Ha Dae-sung was ruled out of Sunday’s match with a sprained ligament in his left foot and missed training on Wednesday and Thursday. This raised concerns, as he plays backup for Ki Sung-yueng, who received a yellow card in Tuesday’s match. If Ki gets a second yellow card on Sunday, he would be ruled out of the all-important duel with Belgium.
Two other players, Man of the Match star midfielder Son Heung-min and goal-scoring reserve forward Lee Keun-ho, also received yellow cards last week.
After Sunday’s match, Korea will face Belgium in Sao Paulo on June 26, 5 p.m. local time (June 27, 5 a.m. Korea time). Algeria will see Russia in Curitiba at the same kickoff time.
By Elaine Ramirez, Korea Herald correspondent