South Korea search for Son Heung-min stand-in and other Philippines talking points

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There will be no Son Heung-min in sight on Monday when South Korea begin their 2019 Asian Cup-campaign against Sven-Goran Eriksson’s debutants from the Philippines.

This has given ex-Portugal boss Paulo Bento a headache as he tries to press his credentials with a strong start in Group C at Dubai’s lavishly renovated Al Maktoum Stadium.

Here are the talking points ahead of this Group C-clash:

Getting the Hwang of it

Son is Asia’s only true global superstar, but a gentleman’s agreement to avoid national conscription through victory at the summer’s Asian Games means he will not be present until January 16’s pool finale against China.

In the meantime, Hwang Ui-jo looks likely to get the nod up top – potentially in an unorthodox 3-4-2-1 formation.

Unsurprisingly, the 26-year-old is not a like-for-like replacement. His errant side foot from six-yards out helped ensure a goalless final warm-up against Saudi Arabia.

He did, however, score an impressive 16 times in 27 matches during the 2018 J1 League with Gamba Osaka to finish third-top scorer.

Korea’s time is coming?

It is one of football’s longest droughts.

Korea claimed the opening pair of Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960 – and nothing since.

They came exceptionally close in the previous edition under Uli Stielike, losing 2-1 in extra time to hosts Australia. But after nine-consecutive World Cups, this dry spell is an anomaly.

Talent remains in the ranks to end this run, despite serious injuries to creative players in Al Duhail’s Nam Tae-hee and Dijon’s Kwon Chang-hoon.

Now is the time for the likes of 109-cap Ki Sung-yueng and Holsten Kiel midfielder Lee Jae-sung to make good on their talents – beginning with the Philippines.

Are the Azkals all bite and no bark?

The Philippines have banked on experience to guide them through their tournament bow.

Ex-Sampdoria, Lazio and England supremo Eriksson is an iconic name, albeit one on the decline now aged 70. But since his October arrival on a short-term deal, he’s spoken of being invigorated by the challenge.

A fourth semi-final in five tournaments at the winter’s AFF Suzuki Cup was a decent achievement for the basketball-mad nation.

Hopes of building on this performance, however, are tempered by the absence of Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

Against Korea, the knowledge of K-League stalwart Alvaro Silva will be vital at centre-back.

But their defining fixtures come against China and Kyrgyzstan. Progression as one of the four-best third-placed finishers is a viable proposition.

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