DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 21 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea head coach Paulo Bento said Monday his side are confident they can beat Bahrain in the round of 16 at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, although they expect it’s not going to be an easy match.
South Korea will take on Bahrain at Rashid Stadium in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on Tuesday to start the knockout phase of the continental tournament. Despite the favorite status for South Korea, Bento said his team will respect the opponents like they have been doing so far at the Asian Cup.
“We need to be well-prepared for the match,” Bento said at a pre-match press conference. “It’s going to be a tough match tomorrow, but our players are full of confidence.”
South Korea reached the round of 16 as Group C winners after collecting three straight wins. Bahrain finished third in Group A with one win, one draw and one loss.
Bento said South Korea need to be aware of Bahrain’s quick transition to offense.
“Bahrain have good attackers who have power and pace,” he said. “We’ll try to control the match like we did in the group stage.”
Bento earlier decided to drop Ki Sung-yueng from the squad and allowed the veteran midfielder to return to his English Premier League club Newcastle United following an injury. Ki sustained a right hamstring injury during South Korea’s opening match against the Philippines on Jan. 7 and has not been in action since.
Bento said South Korea will find the best solution to fill the void left by Ki’s absence.
“Ki is an experienced player who has a big influence on the team, but we now have to find ways to play without him,” he said.
Bento also confirmed that Lee Jae-sung will not play against Bahrain due to a toe injury. The Holstein Kiel attacking midfielder also suffered an injury during the match against the Philippines and missed South Korea’s last two matches.
South Korean striker Hwang Ui-jo, who attended the press conference with Bento, said the players are determined to win and will do it for Ki.
“We now have one more reason to win this tournament,” Hwang said. “We have analyzed our opponents well, and we’re ready.”
Hwang scored a hat trick against Bahrain at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, where he went on to become the top scorer of the tournament. But the Gamba Osaka striker said his side will not underestimate the opponents.
“Back then, the opponents were the under-23 team, but Bahrain had many players with good technique,” he said. “It’s important for a forward to stop opponents when they counterattack. We also need to finish when we get our chances.”