The Korea Herald


S. Korea hoping to capitalize on favorable matchup in men's football opener

By 이우영

Published : Aug. 2, 2016 - 21:56

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South Korea will try to capitalize on a favorable matchup when they open the men's football tournament at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics against Fiji on Thursday.

South Korea's first Group C match will kick off at Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador, more than 1,200 kilometers north of Rio, at 8 p.m. Thursday, or 8 a.m. Friday in South Korea. It will be held on the eve of the opening ceremony of the 31st Summer Olympics.

South Korea, making their eighth straight Olympic appearance, will try to win their second consecutive medal after taking bronze in London. They are riding high after a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over Sweden in their final tune-up match last weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur attacker Son Heung-min has joined the 18-man squad in Brazil after missing the Sweden match due to his club commitments.

South Korea are also paired with Germany and Mexico, and Fiji, making their Olympic debut, are considered by far the weakest link in the group.

South Korea and Fiji have never met in football, men's or women's, in any age group.

South Korea finished second at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifying tournament earlier this year. Fiji won the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) qualifying competition last summer, beating Vanuatu in the penalty shootout.

In the final, Fiji would have faced New Zealand, the winner of the past two OFC Olympic qualifying events, but the Kiwis were disqualified after fielding an ineligible player in the semifinals.

Compared to the South Korean team boasting the likes of Son and FC Porto forward Suk Hyun-jun, Fiji are a no-name bunch whose coach, Frank Farina, is already trying to temper "high expectations

which are not reality."

"We want to put in a good performance, not be embarrassed, and be credible," the Australian native told last month. "That is reality, and some people who think we will go there and win a medal don't understand that. We will gain a lot of experience which will be beneficial for the national team. Like I say to people, don't confuse ambition with ability."

Farina's counterpart, Shin Tae-yong, will want his charge to score as often as they can against the underdogs and hope to secure a goal difference tiebreaking edge over Germany or Mexico for a quarterfinals berth if it comes down to it.

After beating Sweden, Shin said he was buoyed by the performance of his attackers, with midfielder Moon Chang-jin grabbing the brace and forward Hwang Hee-chan setting up two goals.

The offense will be further bolstered with Son in the fold.

The defenders, though, left much to be desired as they allowed the opponents to sneak in behind them for easy scores.

The coach said captain Jang Hyun-soo, a versatile veteran who can play as a back or a midfielder, will play a key role for a defensive corps that lacks big game experience.

"We will need to work on our cohesion with Jang Hyun-soo in the thick of things," the coach said. "We have to have better pass coverage." (Yonhap)