Three months ago, Japan and South Korea faced each other in a ‘friendly’ match with the UFWC title at stake. Now, they will face each other again, with the UFWC title and a place in the Asian Cup Final hanging in the balance.
South Korea’s passage to the Semi-Final was not the easiest of challenges. After winning their first group game 2-1 against Bahrain, they could only draw 1-1 against Australia, leaving them with work to do on the final day to qualify. Fortunately for them they emulated Japan with an impressive victory, 4-1 against India in this case, to advance to the Quarter-Finals.
Things didn’t get any easier for them however, as they came up against Iran earlier today. Iran were the only team to win all three of their group games, proving that they were a serious force to be reckoned with. But South Korea were more than capable of matching them on the pitch, and they eventually advanced 1-0 after extra time, a goal from Yoon Bit-Garam in the 105th minute being the decider. South Korea will be relying on their big-hitters to help them through to the Final for the first time since 1988 (having won the inagural Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960 they have never won it again, despite appearing in 3 out of 5 finals between 1972 and 1988), but evidence suggests they may struggle to find goals.
Koo Ja-Cheol, despite only having 10 caps and 2 international goals before the tournament, is currently the tournament’s joint-top goalscorer with 4 goals (he was a transfer target for Blackburn Rovers a year ago, but bad weather at the time prevented the transfer from going through; looks like they were onto something special). However besides the young striker, South Korea don’t have many goalscorers: their current forwards have only 10 caps and 3 goals between them, while Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung, with only 13 goals in 98 appearances, is the highest-scoring player the South Koreans have at the tournament. That could be a worrying omen for the UFWC challengers.
Japan have no such problems up front, having scores 11 goals in the tournament so far, however it is their defensive record which will be of bigger concern to their manager, Alberto Zaccheroni. They have conceded 4 goals in 4 games, the joint-highest number of goals conceded amonst the Semi-Finalists, along with Uzbekistan (South Korea have conceded 3, while Australia have only conceded 2). So we have a team with a weak defence and strong attack against a team with a strong defence but a weak attack. What does that mean we are expected to see?
Well in their 9 previous meetings in the past decade, only one match has yielded more than two goals, and 6 have had one goal or less, so a goal-fest is unlikely.
What we can expect however, is for this Rematch of the Battle of the 2002 World Cup Co-Hosts (well it’s a better name than the Die Hard sequels) to be a fascinating encounter between two giants of Asian football, and for that reason alone you should not miss this match.
The winner will bring the UFWC title into the Asian Cup Final to defend it against the winner of Uzbekistan vs Australia where, let’s not forget, we will have the first-ever unification of the AFC Asian Cup and the CW Alcock Cup.
Which of these teams will have the opportunity to achieve this? Stay tuned to find out.