South Korea coach Paulo Bento is optimistic about his team continuing their unblemished 2019 Asian Cup record when they meet Bahrain for a place in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
Bento’s side sailed through Group C, winning all three of their games without conceding a single goal.
Philippines, Kyrgyzstan and China all failed to stop many people’s tournament favourites, despite star man Son Heung-min only being available for the match against the latter.
Heading into the knockout phase, Bento knows the pressure will be on his side given the presence of Son and their general standing in Asian football.
But with Korea looking consistent, the Portuguese coach is feeling good about their chances.
“We know that we are candidates, but I think we are not the only favourites in this competition,” the Portuguese coach said. “It’s always good motivation to win all the games in the group stage.
“All the victories that we achieved were without conceding goals, so that shows the consistency of the team.
“We will try in this next phase of the competition to play with the same confidence and try to do our best to reach the quarter-finals.”
While Korea eased through to the last 16, Bahrain had to rely on being one of the best third-placed sides.
And, had they not scored a last-gasp penalty in their 1-0 win over India last Monday, they would have been heading home early.
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) January 17, 2019
Coach Miroslav Soukup knows his side are lucky to still even be in the competition, but the flipside to that is there is no external pressure – no one expects anything of them.
While this can be seen as a good thing, Soukup insists he is making sure they are putting pressure on themselves.
“We are giving ourselves motivation because nobody is pressuring us,” Soukup told reporters on Monday. “My team has worked really hard in the preparation.
“We are pressuring ourselves, because my players are hungry to achieve results and they are ready.
“After our last game against India, we had six days to prepare our team, so we are not tired. I hope that we can repeat our performance against India.
“Maybe the game will not be easy for South Korea and will be dramatic.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
South Korea – Son Heung-min
Perhaps a predictable choice, but he is always the main man for his national side. While Tottenham might be hoping he has quiet day and South Korea are knocked out given their injury woes, if Son performs there is a strong chance Korea go through. He will be even more important given Ki Sung-yueng suffered a hamstring injury that ended his tournament.
Bahrain – Sayed Shubbar Alawi
Against one of the tournament favourites, Bahrain are likely to come under the cosh. Of course, a strong performance from their goalkeeper will give them their best chance of securing an unlikely progression. And, after all, two last-16 matches have gone to penalty shoot-outs – Shubbar Alawi could make himself the hero if this contest follows suit.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This will be the first Asian Cup knockout stage meeting between South Korea and Bahrain, with their two previous encounters in the competition coming in the group phase, recording a win apiece.
– South Korea have only conceded in one of their nine Asian Cup games since the start of the 2015 tournament, a 2-1 loss to Australia in the final four years ago.
– Bahrain have qualified for the Asian Cup knockout stage for the just the second time in six tournaments – eventually losing out in the semi-final stage to Japan in 2004.
– Despite only playing in their final group stage match against China, no player has created more goal-scoring chances for South Korea than Son (seven) at the 2019 Asian Cup.
– Bahrain scored with just two of their 50 shots in the group stages, meaning they scored with only four per cent of their attempts. This is the lowest shot conversion rate of the 16 teams to make it to the knockout stages.
– Of the 16 teams to have qualified for the knockout phase, no side used fewer players in the group stages than Bahrain (15).