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S. Korea to clash with Qatar in search for Olympic football berth

All News 10:03 January 25, 2016

DOHA, Jan. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will try to put their defensive headaches behind them as they take on Qatar on Tuesday in search for a berth in the Olympic men's football tournament.

The semifinals showdown at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship will be 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha. It will be 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in South Korea.

This competition is also the Asian qualifying tournament for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, and only the top three nations will punch their tickets to Brazil. South Korea will qualify with a win over Qatar, but even if they lose, South Korea will get another crack in the third-place match set for Friday.

The other semifinalists are Japan and Iraq.

South Korea eliminated Jordan 1-0 in the quarterfinals, but they were fortunate to walk away with the victory as they experienced some serious defensive lapses in the second half.

South Korea had some problems on their backline in two prep matches before the tournament and also in group stage. There will be much less margin for error against Qatar, the highest-scoring team so far with 11 goals in four matches.

Left back and captain Abdelkarim Hassan and forward Ahmed Alaaeldin have scored four goals apiece to share the tournament lead. Hassan in particular is a strong two-way player who could give South Korea fits.

Another attacker to watch is Akrim Afif, who had a goal and an assist against North Korea in the quarters.

Head coach Shin Tae-yong said Qatar will present a tough challenge, but that they are not unbeatable.

"They have players with great individual skills, and will also enjoy their home field advantage," Shin noted. "We've already analyzed them, and I think we can beat them. It should be a big match."

South Korean captain Yeon Jei-min, one of the guilty parties on defense as a center back against Jordan, said Qatar were "a title favorite" with a high-octane offense.

"If we play an organized defense, then their offense might be rendered quiet," he said. "We have to stick to our game plan."

In goal, Gu Sung-yun had a nightmare of a match against Jordan in his first start of the tournament. Kim Dong-jun, who'd started all three group matches, came down with the flu and Gu was tapped to take his place. Kim, who had put together a steady, if not spectacular, run through the group stage, is said to be getting better and should be back in goal against Qatar.

Gu's adventures around the net versus Jordan -- he was once stranded outside the box in the first half and slipped on a goal kick attempt in the second half to almost gift-wrap a score -- will likely mean he has played in his last match for South Korea here.

On offense, South Korea may be without forward Hwang Hee-chan, who left during the second half against Jordan with an ankle injury. An MRI revealed no ligament damage for Hwang, who turns 20 on the match day, but his status against Qatar remains questionable.

Midfielders have taken up the bulk of scoring for South Korea, as midfielders Kwon Chang-hoon and Moon Chang-jin are tied for the team lead with three goals apiece. Without Hwang creating space and making sharp passes up front, attacking midfielders and wingers may experience more trouble finding the back of the net.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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