Members of the South Korean men's national football team train at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday, in this photo provided by the Korea Football Association. (Korea Football Association)
In preparing for two remaining matches in the second round of the Asian qualifying for the next World Cup, South Korean defensive back Kim Min-jae said Monday he wanted to string together two more clean sheets.
He may well have been speaking for the rest of his team, with South Korea set to face the heavy underdogs Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
It will be the second of three qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be staged at Goyang Stadium in Goyang, just northwest of Seoul. The kickoff is 8 p.m.
South Korea clobbered Turkmenistan 5-0 on Saturday, with a brace from Hwang Ui-jo and a goal apiece from three different players keeping South Korea atop Group H. South Korea have not allowed a goal in the second round, while pouring in 15 goals in four matches.
Sri Lanka, ranked 204th, are the weakest link in the group, having already been eliminated after five straight losses. They dropped their previous match to Lebanon by 3-2 on Saturday, and those are the only two goals they've scored in the second round.
South Korea, the highest-ranked team in the group at No. 39, would do well to conserve some of their best pieces against Sri Lanka, especially with the final match against Lebanon coming up on Sunday.
South Korea and Lebanon are currently tied in points with 10, and South Korea remain ahead thanks to a substantial edge in the goal differential tiebreaker, plus-15 to plus-5.
The eight group winners from the second round, along with the four-best runners-up, will move on to the third round.
South Korea coach Paulo Bento may elect to give youngsters a chance to play Saturday after previously keeping them off the squad altogether.
Jung Sang-bin, a 19-year-old forward on the senior national team for the first time, and Song Min-kyu, the reigning Young Player of the Year in the K League 1, have flashed some goal-scoring skills in the domestic competition. The porous defense of Sri Lanka, which South Korea hammered 8-0 in October 2019, just may be what these new internationals need to build their confidence early on.
In his prematch online press conference Tuesday, Bento said he's pleased with what he has seen from Jung and Song at training camp so far.
"There's no doubting their talent, and their ceilings are so high," Bento said. "They've been getting a lot of minutes on their respective clubs, and they've been thriving with that opportunity. We'll continue to monitor their progress at camp and see if we'll give them an opportunity to play."
As Turkmenistan put up a wall in their own zone against the favored opponents, patient South Korean players still managed to create numerous chances with crisp passing and let their superior skills take over. Sri Lanka will likely come up with similar tactics, and South Koreans will need to play with a similar level of composure once again. (Yonhap)