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S. Korea, Japan to renew football rivalry at continental championship

All News 09:00 January 28, 2016

DOHA, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Japan will renew their football rivalry at the continental under-23 championship on Saturday in Qatar.

The two countries will meet in the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha at 5:45 p.m. Saturday, or 11:45 p.m. Saturday in South Korea.

The championship is also the Asian qualifying tournament for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, and both countries have already secured their Olympic berths by reaching the final. Three Asian spots are up for grabs, open to the top three finishers at this event. Qatar and Iraq will vie for the final Asian berth in the third-place match on Friday.

South Korea will be making their eighth straight Olympic appearance, while Japan will be going to the Olympics for the sixth straight time.

South Korea had a record of two wins and a draw in Group C, and knocked off Jordan and Qatar in the knockout phase to reach the final. They've netted 12 goals and allowed three.

For South Korea, midfielders have done all the damage, and Kwon Chang-hoon and Moon Chang-jin are tied for the team lead with four goals apiece.

Japan have won all five of their matches, with a perfect 3-0-0 mark to win Group B and with victories over Iran in the quarterfinals and Iraq in the semifinals. Japan have scored 12 goals and conceded two.

Leading the Japanese attack are forward Yuya Kubo with three goals and midfielder Shoya Nakajima with a pair.

South Korea will be undermanned on offense against Japan, as FC Red Bull Salzburg forward Hwang Hee-chan has rejoined his Austrian club.

Since the tournament wasn't on FIFA's International Match Calendar, clubs weren't obliged to release their international players. South Korean officials persuaded Salzburg that Hwang would be returned once the country clinched an Olympic berth.

Though he didn't score a goal, Hwang was a key component on offense. With unselfish play and creative passing, the 20-year-old forward consistently generated scoring opportunities for wingers and midfielders while stretching the opposing defense.

Hwang's presence made all the difference in South Korea's 3-1 win over Qatar in the semis. Nursing an ankle injury suffered in the quarterfinals, Hwang came off the bench in the second half against Qatar, with the score tied at 1-1. In his 15 minutes of action, Hwang helped turned the tide in South Korea's favor and had a hand in two ensuing goals for his side.

Even without Hwang, South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong said he has a confident bunch on his hand.

"The morale is high among the rest of the team, and we're confident we can take on any team," he said. "After the semifinals, the players all had a confident look on their faces."

Shin said the magnitude of the rivalry isn't lost on his young players.

"It goes without saying we absolutely have to win this match," the coach said. "We will use all possible means to make that happen."

Shin has been tinkering with multiple formations en route to the final and has at times switched them during matches. He said he hasn't settled on a particular formation to use against Japan, adding he'd study tapes from Japan's earlier matches against Iran and Iraq before making up his mind.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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