Asian Cup Semi-Final Preview: South Korea v Iraq

Korea will play Iraq at ANZ Stadium on Australia Day at 8pm AEDT in the first semi-final of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.

Head-to-head:

Surprisingly, these two teams have not met since a friendly match six years ago where South Korea narrowly won 2-1.

Their previous meeting was a 2007 friendly which the Koreans won comfortably 3-0.

The Game:

South Korea and Iraq both come into this semi-final match with bags of confidence. The Koreans have won four games straight and are yet to concede a goal in the tournament so far.

Iraq, on the other hand, have had a more difficult time but they overcame the odds to progress from their group and then defeated Iran, one of the tournament favourites, to reach the semi-final.

Iraq have a slight disadvantage coming into the match having one day less to prepare, the effects of which will be amplified by the fact that they played 120 minutes and penalties against Iran. South Korea also played extra time but it is well-known that they are physically exceptional, likely the fittest team in the competition, along with Australia.

Iraq will come up against a similar style of play to the one they faced in Iran on Friday night. Under Uli Stieleke, South Korea have gone against tradition and played a more conservative style of football, opting for a solid defence before offence. Iraq will have to rely on a quick, aggressive transition from defence to attack if they hope to break down The Reds' system.

South Korea put on an impressive showing against Uzbekistan, showing glimpses of their true potential. They revealed their ability to control the game, dictating the pace and also showcasing their ability to absorb pressure when necessary, something they had to do over 120 minutes against a dangerous Uzbekistan.

Most of this can be attributed to their star defensive midfielder, Swansea’s own Ki Sung-Yueng. Ki shapes the game to his will while defending superbly as well as always providing a reliable option when his defence is in trouble. His vision, short and far, adds a dimension to their attack, allowing Son Heung-Min to receive balls from multiple fronts. Iraq should make stopping Ki a priority if they want to break down Korea’s source of coherence.

The Lions of Mesopotamia have exhibited their fearless attitude and determination to attack no matter what team they come up against. The wonderful scenes in Baghdad after their quarter final win emphasises just how much this football teams success means to a nation going through tough times. The Iraqis understand their impact and are determined to do whatever it takes to give their country something to cheer for.

All this makes for a mouth-watering clash between two teams who are going to give everything to progress to the Final of the 2015 Asian Cup.

The Big Issue:

Iraq have employed an aggressive style which has overwhelmed the teams they have come across so far. It will be tough to replicate against a very physical and mentally prepared Korean side, renowned for their determination and physical style. Iraq will need more than just a strong spirit against a confident Korean side full of good young talent.

Game Breaker:

The Korean team are a solid unit but their whole style revolves around Ki Sung-Yueng’s control in the midfield and the attacking flair of Son Heung-Min. If Iraq can shut down the two superstars then South Korea will have a hard time creating any chances.

Prediction:

South Korea 2-1 Iraq