South Korea will close out their group stage campaign with Germany at Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia, on Wednesday. In a clear "David versus Goliath" match, South Korea will try to upset the title holders Germany and hopefully earn a ticket to the round of 16.
So far, none of the teams in Group F have sealed a knockout berth. From group leaders Mexico to bottom dwellers South Korea, knockout stage spots are open to all four teams.
|South Korea national football team players train at Spartak Stadium in Lomonosov, a suburb of Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 20, 2018. (Yonhap)|
Mexico are currently leaders in the group with two wins, scoring three goals and conceding one. Germany and Sweden have one win and one loss apiece, and both have netted two goals and surrendered two. South Korea are last in the group with two losses after bagging one goal and allowing three.
If South Korea beat Germany and Mexico defeat Sweden, then three teams will be all square at one win and two losses, and they will have to check tiebreakers to take second place behind Mexico.
One hopeful scenario for South Korea is to collect a win with a two-goal margin against Germany and have Sweden lose to Mexico. In this case, South Korea would finish ahead of Germany thanks to a better goal difference.
Chances are slim, though, considering that history and figures all point to the Germans as clear favorites. After all, Germany are the No. 1 team in the FIFA rankings, while South Korea sit at No. 57.
The four-time World Cup champions are also in need of a victory to reach the round of 16, meaning South Korea have to face fully committed Germans.
In their three previous meetings, South Korea collected one win and two losses. South Korea stunned Germany in 2004, when they collected a 3-1 win in a friendly match in Seoul. The other two encounters were at the World Cup, with South Korea losing 3-2 in a group stage match in 1994 and suffering a 1-0 defeat in the semifinal match in 2002.
South Korea will rely on the attacking prowess of Son Heung-min, who notched the team's first goal in the tournament against Mexico on Saturday. Son is one of the players who is familiar with the Germans after having stints with German Bundesliga clubs Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg before signing with Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.
South Korea are likely to stick to their familiar 4-4-2 and try to bank on their counterattacks using quick attackers like Son and Hwang Hee-chan.
The question, however, will be whether South Korea can feed attackers with accurate passes and make quick transitions from defense to offense.
South Korea will likely miss their team captain and midfield control tower Ki Sung-yueng after he sustained a left calf injury during the match against Mexico. Ki's absence means South Korea will have to form a new combination in the center midfield.
One possibility is starting Koo Ja-cheol, who is also familiar with German football after playing for clubs like FC Augsburg, Mainz and Wolfsburg. Jung Woo-young and Ju Se-jong are also central midfielders who can feature in the match.
South Korea should have learned they should be more careful when defending in the box as they gave up opening goals to Sweden and Mexico on penalty kicks.
Germany are known for their star-studded squad featuring Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos, but certain players will not feature against South Korea.
Bayern Munich center back Jerome Boateng was sent off during the match against Sweden and will not play against South Korea. His partner Mats Hummels, however, has reportedly recovered from a neck injury and is looking to compete in the match. Boateng's absence is likely to be filled by Antonio Rudiger or Niklas Sule.
Sebastian Rudy is also likely to miss the match after he suffered a broken nose from taking a stray cleat to the face from Sweden's Ola Toivonen on Saturday. Germany, however, can easily replace the Bayern Munich midfielder with players like Ilkay Gundogan, Sami Khedira or Leon Goretzka.
South Korean head coach Shin Tae-yong faced Germany in the
under-23 level at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where they had a 3-3 draw. Son and Hwang were among the goal scorers then, with defenders Jang Hyun-soo and Jung Seung-hyun also playing in the match.
Sule, Goretzka and Julian Brandt were among the German players who faced South Korea at the Olympics before this World Cup. (Yonhap)