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(LEAD) S. Korea ready to beat China in World Cup qualifier despite little preparation: coach

All Headlines 18:01 August 31, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more comments in paras 11-13)
By Joo Kyung-don

PAJU, South Korea, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korea football head coach Uli Stielike said Wednesday that his players are ready to deliver a victory against China in their World Cup qualifier, despite little preparation.

South Korea, ranked 48th in the latest FIFA world rankings, will host No. 78 China at 8 p.m. Thursday at Seoul World Cup Stadium to open their final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. South Korea will then face No. 105 Syria next Tuesday.

For the final regional qualification, where 12 teams compete, South Korea are paired with Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar and Syria in Group A. They will play home-and-away under a round-robin format until September next year. The top two teams from the group will directly advance to the World Cup in Russia, while the third-place team will have to go through play-off rounds to book a spot.

South Korean players have trained together only for three days, while China already had training sessions last week in Shenyang before they arrived in Seoul on Monday. Stielike, however, said this won't be a problem.

"If you are a world-class player, you need to know how to overcome difficult conditions despite a short preparation time," he said at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul. "I think our players have shown this and we've always gathered our players three days ahead of the match, so they should play well."

South Korea, looking for their ninth consecutive World Cup appearance, boast a dominant head-to-head record against China with 17 wins, 12 draws and one loss. South Korea's only defeat came in February 2010 at the East Asian Football Cup, where they lost 3-0. Current Chinese boss Gao Hongbo was also in charge of his team at the time.

Stielike, however, said South Korea should put their superior record against China behind them.

"Football is not a sport where the numbers speak all," he said. "What's important is who is going to show a better performance on the pitch."

The German coach added that Chinese players will be actually motivated to beat South Korea to improve their inferior head-to-head record.

"The (head-to-head) record will stimulate Chinese players," he said. "It's important how they will play, but whether we can execute our match plan and believe in ourselves is more so."

Stielike said he was impressed by three Chinese players -- forwards Gao Lin and Wu Lei, and left back Li Xuepeng -- and added his players should be aware of them.

Gao is the second-leading scorer for China with 18 goals from 87 matches. He is just one goal shy of the all-time leader, Zheng Zhi. Stielike said he watched Wu's performance at the Asian Football Confederation Champions League quarterfinals between South Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Shanghai SIPG last week in Shanghai.

"You first look into the strikers," he said. "I think they have very impressive players, and it will be a tough game for us to play tomorrow."

South Korean captain Ki Sung-yueng said the players are confident of delivering a good performance in front of their home fans.

"Our team atmosphere is great," he said. "The players know how important the first match is."

The Swansea City midfielder said his teammates playing in the Chinese Super League are providing a big help in their preparation for the match. On the 20-man squad, five players are playing in the Chinese top-tier league.

Ki added that China are a different team than the one they faced at the East Asian Championship last year. At the four-nation tournament in Wuhan, China, South Korea defeated the home side 2-0 and went on to take the title.

"I think China are preparing for this match even more thoroughly compared to what they did at the East Asian Football Cup," he said. "If our players just let their guard down, we could get a bad result. We will give our utmost effort to collect a victory."

kdon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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