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S. Korean confident sitting 2 wins away from Olympic football berth

All News 09:56 January 21, 2016

DOHA, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- Two wins away from securing the country's eighth consecutive Olympic men's football berth, South Korea's under-23 squad remain a confident bunch in the Qatari capital.

South Korea will take on Jordan in the quarterfinals at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship in Doha on Saturday. The championship is also the Asian qualifying tournament for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, and only the top three nations will advance to the Olympics. South Korea have played in every Olympics since 1988 and won bronze -- their first medal -- in London four years ago.

Should South Korea defeat Jordan to reach the semis, they will then meet the winner of the Qatar-North Korea quarterfinals. If South Korea win in the semis, they will then punch their ticket to Brazil regardless of their result in the final.

Even if they lose in the semis, South Korea will have one final chance for an Olympic spot in the third-place contest.

South Korea won Group C with seven points, following their 2-1 win over Uzbekistan, 5-0 win over Yemen, and a 1-1 draw with Iraq. Jordan finished second in Group D with five points, after beating Vietnam 3-1 and then recording back-to-back scoreless draws with the United Arab Emirates and Australia.

South Korean head coach Shin Tae-yong said he took note of Jordan's defense -- two of their opponents failed to score in the group stage -- but added that he has already devised strategies to solve the D.

"If we let them score first, we may have trouble against their tight defense the rest of the way," Shin said late Wednesday after Jordan clinched the second place in Group D. "But if we can get the first goal (in the first half), we should be able to add two or three more goals in the second half. We've already figured out how to beat their defense."

South Korea will be up against goalkeeper Noureddin Ateyah, who has made some key saves so far, and defensive back Ahmad Hisham has been called Jordan's most skilled player by Shin.

On offense, Shin said midfielders Baha' Faisal and Mahmoud Al-Mardi are the ones to keep an eye on.

After starting reserves against Iraq -- a match played with a knockout berth already clinched -- Shin is expected to return to his regulars that produced seven goals in the team's first two matches.

Midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon, who had a hat trick and also set up a goal against Yemen, should be back on offense along with Moon Chang-jin, who scored both South Korean goals against Uzbekistan.

Striker Hwang Hee-chan is still looking for his first goal, but he has done everything else well on offense, consistently creating opportunities for teammates with unselfish play.

On defense, Shin is likely done experimenting with new faces after second-half problems against Iraq, and should go back to his more reliable corps of Sim Sang-min, Yeon Jei-min, Song Ju-hun and Lee Seul-chan.

Yeon, team captain, said he was confident he and his defensive teammates will be able to keep Jordan off the board.

"We have developed a great chemistry, and I think we will play the rest of the tournament without allowing any goals," he said. "I was impressed with how hard Jordanian players competed. But if we stick to our game plan, we should be able to beat them. With forechecking and smart positioning, we can contain their offense."

Blowing a one-goal lead in the final moments against Iraq seemed to have killed some positive momentum going into the knockout stage, but Kwon Chang-hoon said it hasn't affected the team morale.

"Even though we gave up that late goal against Iraq, we're still in good spirits," he said. "The coach told us to keep our head high because we won our group."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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