World Cup: After the tears, South Korea turn eyes to Portugal
DOHA – South Korea let their emotions pour out when they fought back but lost 3-2 to Ghana this week, and they can expect no sympathy on Friday from Portugal, who are determined to clinch top spot in their World Cup group.
The Koreans must beat the 2016 European champions – as they did at the 2002 World Cup on home soil – and hope that the result of the other final Group H match between Ghana and Uruguay goes their way too.
Portugal are top on six points, ahead of Ghana (three), South Korea (one) and Uruguay (one).
Captain Son Heung-min was in tears after Monday’s loss to Ghana and coach Paulo Bento was shown a red card for arguing with the referee after he blew the final whistle with his team about to take a corner.
Bento will not be on the bench against Portugal, but he urged his team to embrace the huge challenge against his country.
“I think I’m not lying if I say we are facing one of the best generations of Portuguese football, if not the best,” he said on Thursday.
“Portugal has a number of quality players, I would say for the vast majority of positions. They can play in different ways, with different tactical systems, players who dominate every moment of the game. A team that makes three to four substitutions and yet play at the same level.
“A team who have qualified but will try to stay in first place and all this brings great difficulties for our team. At the same time, a great challenge. We have to try to respond in the best way to this challenge and do everything that we can until the last moment.”
At the World Cup 20 years ago, South Korea beat a 10-man Portugal – whose team included Bento – in their final group game. The result meant Portugal did not qualify for the next round while the Koreans went on a run that took them to the semi-finals.
The Portuguese opened their campaign in Qatar with a 3-2 victory against Ghana before enjoying a more controlled 2-0 win over Uruguay on Monday.
But they are not assured of finishing top of their group, a position that would likely see them avoid Brazil in the last 16.
“First place isn’t guaranteed,” coach Fernando Santos said. “We will go for top spot, and not just because of Brazil.”
The Portugal boss is likely to be forced into more changes to his starting 11 after left-back Nuno Mendes suffered an injury in the first half against Uruguay and was replaced by Raphael Guerreiro.
Centre-half Danilo Pereira is sidelined with broken ribs so 39-year-old defender Pepe is likely to keep his place and be tasked with marking South Korean striker Cho Gue-sung, who scored twice in three minutes against Ghana.
Midfielder Otavio also missed the game against Uruguay due to injury.
“The most important thing is confidence,” added Santos.
“I won’t have three players for tomorrow. The players showed up in great shape, but playing every four days.. there’s tiredness, tiredness causes fatigue, fatigue causes injuries. We have players with fatigue, we have players with yellow (cards). But I have confidence in them.”
Cristiano Ronaldo will have a chance to equal the record of World Cup goals scored for Portugal held by Eusebio, who racked up nine goals in 1966 in England, the only tournament he played in.
The Portugal captain has scored eight goals in his five World Cups and he seemingly netted his ninth in the win over Uruguay on Monday, only for the goal to be awarded to teammate Bruno Fernandes.
However, the 37-year-old is a slight doubt for Friday as he did not train with his teammates on Wednesday, doing “specific recovery work” according to a source from the Portuguese football federation.
Santos did not confirm if his talisman was back in full training and simply said that he is “50-50” to play a part against the Koreans. REUTERS, AFP