(Sports News Shenzhen (China), Lee Hyun-seok) South Korea’s soccer team travels to China for the first time in six years and eight months for a World Cup qualifier.
Unlike then, this time around, Korea’s world-class striker Son Heung-min will be wearing the captain’s armband. They have a chance to avenge the so-called “Changsha disaster” of March 2017.
Jürgen Klinsmann’s men will kick off their second Asian qualifier for the 2026 North American Football Confederations Cup against China at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center in Shenzhen, China, at 9:00 p.m. on June 21. The team will arrive in Shenzhen on Sept. 19 and have two days to acclimatize before the final match on Sept. 21.
South Korea got off to a strong start on the road to the World Cup with a 5-0 victory over Singapore in the first match of the second qualifying round on Sept. 16.굿모닝토토 도메인
South Korea opened the scoring with a goal from Cho Kyu-sung just before halftime and then scored four goals in the second half to demolish Singapore. In the process, Hwang Hee-chan, Son Heung-min, Hwang Eui-jo, Lee Kang-in, and others in the forward line scored goals to continue their recent run of form.
The win also extended Klinsmann’s unbeaten streak to six matches in all competitions. After losing 0-1 at home to Peru in June, South Korea drew 1-1 with El Salvador in North and Central America the same month. After traveling to England in September, they drew 0-0 with Wales and beat Saudi Arabia 1-0. In a pair of home friendlies last month, they thrashed Tunisia and Vietnam 4-0 and 6-0, respectively.
However, the weight of this November’s two World Cup qualifiers will be on the China game on Nov. 21, rather than the earlier victory over Singapore. That’s because they lost their most recent A-League match away to China.
South Korea tasted bitterness against China in the final Asian qualifier for the 2018 Russia World Cup in March 2017. Under German coach Uli Stielike at the time, the Koreans hung their heads in shame after conceding a goal to their opponents’ tall striker Yudabao at a corner kick crisis. The game was dubbed the “Changsha Disaster,” to borrow a phrase from the Chinese city where it was played.
The loss, along with the earlier defeat to Iran, sparked fears that South Korea might not make the World Cup. Eventually, Stielike was sacked and Shin Tae-yong was appointed, and the team managed to turn things around and finish second in the group. They qualified for the World Cup in Russia. However, the loss to China six years earlier would remain a huge embarrassment for Korean soccer and its fans.
Of course, in the four meetings since then, South Korea hasn’t lost a single game. They have a clear lead with three wins and one draw in four matches, including the East Asian Football Confederation Cup and the Asian Cup group stage. In the FIFA rankings, South Korea is ranked 24th and China 79th. However, none of the four games were played in China, so this match could be a different story.
Of course, a repeat of the Changsha disaster is unlikely.
Six years ago, South Korea’s star player Son Heung-min was suspended for back-to-back games against Iran and Uzbekistan and was unable to play against China due to accumulated cautions. Despite his ineligibility, he traveled to China and trained with the team to give them a boost. However, that match was one of those games where the absence of Son Heung-min was felt unusually deeply, as South Korea’s offense struggled against China.
This time around, it was different. Son will be available to start against China without warning. South Korea scored five goals in two consecutive matches against Vietnam and Singapore, with Lee Kang-in, Hwang Hee-chan, and Cho Kyu-sung working in synergy around Son Heung-min.
Son Heung-min has also scored in back-to-back A-Match matches, so he’ll be in the hunt for goals against China. For a team that will sit back and defend, especially against South Korea, a long-range threat like the sharp mid-range shot Son showed against Singapore is a huge threat, and a frontline partnership between Son and Lee Kang-in will help the Chinese break through a solid defense.
In addition to Son Heung-min, China’s opponents will be under even more pressure, with Lee Kang-in, Jung Woo-young, Seol Young-woo, and Park Jin-seop all having played against China at the last Asian Games.
Aside from South Korea’s power advantage, injury concerns are likely to be one of Klinsmann’s biggest concerns heading into the match. Although not in action, Hong Hyun-seok has already been ruled out of the squad with a stress fracture, while Son Heung-min was left on the field for quite some time after being tackled by an opponent in the last match in Singapore.
The rough and tumble nature of the game against China has often resulted in injuries to Korean players, so Klinsmann will need to be able to manage both results and injury risk for the Asian Cup and beyond.