El Tri put in a stunning opening performance in Group F last week, their bravado and desire gaining requisite reward through exciting PSV Eindhoven winger Hirving Lozano’s fine finish.
This stands in contrast to the sorry Taeguk Warriors. They failed to register an attempt on target against Sweden, who inflicted a 1-0 defeat thanks to centre-back Andreas Granqvist’s second-half penalty.
Here are the talking points ahead of Saturday’s clash at Rostov Arena:
SON ISN’T SHINING
Sweden’s victory hit Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min harder than most.
Korea’s great hope had no attempts on goal and had 50 touches – just the sixth most for his team.
“I’m still disappointed about my performance and feel very, very sorry for my team-mates because if we don’t score, it’s my fault, because I need to take the responsibility,” said a penitent Son.
Worryingly, this display supplies further evidence for the dichotomy in his career.
A fine return of 18 goals in 52 matches was registered for Spurs last term. For his country, the 25-year-old has one strike during the last eight caps.
Son’s problem must be filtered through a malaise that has afflicted his nation.
They stumbled through qualifying, losing three of five away games – enough to see Germany’s Uli Stielike lose his job as head coach.
A variety of formations have been used by replacement Shin Tae-yong to little positive effect.
The repeat of 2014’s “humiliation” that Son warned of pre-tournament appears close to fruition.
22 - Son Heung-Min has been involved in 22 goals (14 goals, 8 assists) in 23 appearances at Wembley Stadium this season for Tottenham, more than any other player. Crucial. #TOTJUV pic.twitter.com/OCy305xYkA— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 7, 2018
EL TRI’S CHANGE OF TEMPO
A contrasting challenge awaits Mexico this weekend.
Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio came into the tournament with criticism stinging his ears. The retort was to produce a tactical masterstroke that required full buy-in from his squad.
El Tri kept the pressure on in Germany’s half and defended with discipline. But they bravely allowed the likes of Carlos Vela to stay up top and constantly offer an out ball.
Once found, the Los Angeles forward led the charge to provide support for West Ham United striker Javier Hernandez.
This attitude reached its genesis when Juventus centre midfielder Sami Khedira was robbed of the ball deep in Mexico’s half. Four passes later, Lozano was characteristically checking back inside and rasping a low shot into the bottom corner on 35 minutes.
This time, they’ll be expected to set the tempo against opponents who’ve lost five of their last seven fixtures.
Counter-attack opportunities should be at a premium as Korea flip this approach on its head. It is a challenge that Osorio is eager to embrace.
He said: “It’s time for Mexico to show that we can take the initiative.
“There is a big difference between playing against Germany or [another] powerhouse. We are, supposedly, superior to our opponents.
“We have to impose our [own] conditions.”
Mexico haven’t won successive World Cup matches since 2002. But another victory would see a likely second-round meeting avoided with pre-tournament favourites Brazil.
Esto es de todos!! Se juegue o no!! Que gran grupo! Gran triunfo, gran esfuerzo!! Pero solo es un paso, con mucha ecuanimidad, a disfrutar y a partir de los próximos días enfocarnos en el siguiente rival!!! #NadaNosDetiene #VivaMéxico pic.twitter.com/4AQoxZmuwI— Chicharito Hernandez (@CH14_) June 17, 2018
SHIN MUST LIFT SENSE OF DOOM
All the morbid tournament predictions about South Korea rang true at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Shin’s muddled and troubled year-long reign continued with a hapless display. The Taeguk Warriors showed little fighting spirit and chose to launch an artillery bombardment towards giant Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors centre forward Kim Shin-wook.
A paltry five, wayward attempts on goal followed.
This regularly bypassed star player Son. Rather than test the creaking legs of grizzled Krasnodar centre-back Granqvist, they served up his ideal approach.
The problems continued in defence. It should not have required the Video Assistant Referee to punish Suwon Samsung Bluewings-owned centre-back Kim Min-woo’s reckless slide in the area on Krasnodar winger Viktor Claesson.
At the World Cup, they’ve now kept just one clean sheet in their last 13 matches and are winless in their last five matches.
A potential wildcard exists in Barcelona youth product Lee Seung-woo. It is also vital that Jeonbuk attacking midfielder Lee Jae-sung and Red Bull Salzburg forward Hwang Hee-chan can impose a greater influence on proceedings.
With holders Germany sure to be in need of a result in next week’s last outing, Korea must dig themselves out a sizeable hole.
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