South Korea will look to extend its unbeaten run and solidify its chances of making the semifinal when it takes on a laggard China in the Asian Champions Trophy at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium here on Sunday.
Korea nearly tasted defeat at the hands of Pakistan on Friday but was gifted a late penalty stroke when veteran Jonghyun Jang’s drag flick was blocked by the man at the post. Jihun Yang converted the chance to ensure the defending champion salvaged a point from the contest.
Goalkeeper Jaehyeon Kim, too, played a vital role in the draw, making a triple save in the closing minutes.
Against China, the defensive line of Dain Son, Hyeseung Lee, and Jang would want to close out the spaces they offered versus Pakistan and not leave the onus on Kim to bail the team out.
Regaining fluency in attack will be another box coach Seok Kyo Chin would want to tick. Korea’s target man in the circle Woo Cheon Ji, who tries to sound the board with his neat deflections, fired a blank against Pakistan.
The offensive unit surrounding Ji - Cheoleon Park, Hyeongjin Kim, and Manjae Jung - also dropped in efficiency and could not penetrate the circle enough.
China coach Haiqin Weng has already said that his young side wants to “learn from the experience and try to do best’‘ in Chennai. To this tune, Weng would want his side to move on from the 1-5 drubbing against Malaysia.
The side got off to a flyer when Chongcong Chen struck the first goal through a counterattack but the spark eventually fizzled out. On Sunday, sustaining the momentum would be an aim for China.
Drag flicker Jiesheng Gao had impressed with his power when he struck against India, and setting him up for a few short corners could bode well for China.
Pakistan vs Japan
In the second game of the day, Pakistan and Japan face off searching for their first win.
While the two come to the fixture after earning a point in their previous games, Japan will be in better spirits, having pulled off the heist against the host and tournament favourite India.
Japan’s first rushers, Reiki Fujishima, Shota Yamada, and Ken Nagayoshi, squeezed out the space for India’s drag flickers and thwarted as many as 15 penalty corners. Even in open play, the Japanese defence held firm by swarming its circle and nabbing the ball away with last-ditch tackles.
What would worry coach Akira Takahashi, though, is the side’s inability to consolidate its advantage. In both its games, Japan scored the first goal but struggled to add more. The feeder line of Seren Tanaka and Taiki Takade provided chances aplenty but the finishing in front of goal was lacking.
Striker Kentaro Fukuda getting on the score sheet will be a welcome boost for Japan.
It has been a similar story for Pakistan, which has been riddled with attacking inefficiency and poor-decision making in the final third.
Enjoying an exuberant forward line, Pakistan has managed to penetrate the circle but has been sloppy in cashing in on the opportunities.
This came back to haunt the side against Korea as it squandered chance after chance only for the opponent to score late and earn a point.
Penalty corner specialist Muhammad Sufyan Khan’s inability to convert has further compounded the team’s woes. Pakistan has gone 17 penalty corners without a conversion in its two games.
Against Japan, which defended rather well in its last match, Pakistan must arrive at solutions to stay in the hunt.
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