After holding Uruguay scoreless in a spirited draw to begin their World Cup campaign on Thursday, South Korea will next take on Ghana in an essentially must-win match.
The Group H showdown between 28th-ranked South Korea and world No. 61 Ghana is 4 p.m. Thursday at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha, or 10 p.m. the same day in Korea.
It's the same venue where South Korea submitted a strong defensive effort to keep the likes of Luis Suarez and Darwin Nunez at bay on Thursday. South Korean players, to a man, said they were disappointed to only grab a point from that match.
Ghana suffered a 3-2 loss to Portugal to begin their group play Thursday. All five goals were scored in the second half, with Ghana's rally falling short despite goals by Andre Ayew and Osman Bukari.
With one point in the bag but with Portugal, considered the best team in Group H, being their final group stage opponent, South Korea must beat Ghana to position themselves for a trip to the knockouts.
South Korea did not record a shot on target against Uruguay, and must improve their finishing in the attacking third.
Captain Son Heung-min, playing in a protective mask for the first time since suffering facial fractures on Nov. 1, just missed the net in late moments with his patented left-footed shot from the center of the box, and didn't seem entirely out of place. Forward Hwang Ui-jo airmailed a shot on an open look in the first half but otherwise didn't look all that dangerous. The only other forward on the team, Cho Gue-sung, substituted for Hwang in the 74th minute, and given Hwang's extended slump, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Cho gets the starting nod on Monday.
Ghana, in an early hole after Thursday's loss, will likely come out with guns blazing and try to set the tone early. But South Korea's defense already passed a tough test against Uruguay by holding them without a shot on target, and the collective confidence for the defense corps is running high.
The South Korean team watched the Ghana loss, and the two players who spoke to the media Friday said they had both noticed weaknesses in Ghana's game.
"They have some speedy and physical players with good skills.
We know we have to be prepared against them," midfielder Song Min-kyu said. "But we also saw that they had some holes behind their defense, and we should try to exploit that extra space."
Another midfielder, Jeong Woo-yeong, also identified speed as a defining feature for Ghana but he, too, noticed space behind the backline that could create opportunities for South Korea.
"They didn't seem to have such great team work," Jeong said. "We played well in our first match and we'll try to build on that against Ghana."
After the loss to Portugal, Ghana head coach Otto Addo said he felt his team still had a chance to progress to the last 16. If Ghana beat South Korea and Portugal do the Ghanaians a favor and beat Uruguay, then Ghana will be in second place, behind Portugal, heading into the final group match next week.
"And surely it will be very, very tough to beat South Korea because they are good," Addo said. "We have to win now and we are under pressure, but then so are they."
South Korea opened their entire training session to the media on Friday, but Ghana did the exact opposite the same day, working out behind the closed doors.