Sweden and South Korea will be aiming to take the early lead in Group F standings in FIFA World Cup 2018, when they face off at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Monday. The race to qualify from the group has blown wide open after Germany’s shock 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday.
Three points on Monday would, thus, be like gold dust for the winners, as it will put them in a great position to perhaps, even usurp Germany enroute securing qualification to the Round of 16. But, who are the three players worth keeping an eye on? The Hard Tackles takes a closer look.
For a long time, the South Korean footballing fraternity had been in a tizzy as one of their own was not just a part of Barcelona’s fabled La Masia setup, but made such a pronounced impact that he was soon being hailed as the “Korean Messi”.
However, after over half a decade within the youth setup, things failed to materialise for Lee Seung-woo and the comparisons with the Argentine wizard soon disappeared as a ban from playing competitive football for Barcelona soon saw him fall way below the required levels at his age group by the time he returned post his 18th birthday.
Now away from the hype of the Catalan capital, he has gone some way in resurrecting his career at Hellas Verona while growing in stature withing the South Korea National Side. His nimble feet and effective change of pace will make him the X-Factor in a team looking for inspiration beyond its talisman Son Heung-min. Now is the time for Lee to grab the headlines once again.
Under Janne Andersson, Sweden have made a name for being a defensively astute side that does is hard to break down. But, on the opposite end of the pitch, they haven’t quite been as impactful, with goals coming few and far between more often than not.
Drawn in a tough group against the likes of Mexico and Germany, in addition to an unpredictable South Korea side, Sweden will need to pull their weight in the final third if they are to go past the group stage. As a result, a lot of the creative burden will fall on Emil Forsberg – a playmaker who has a keen eye to score a goal or two himself.
The 26-year-old is coming off a difficult season with RB Leipzig, where injuries restricted his momentum and game time. Now fully fit though, he should make a splash at the World Cup with his ability to drift inwards to either create a chance for the strikers in front of him or, if the opportunity presents itself, take a shot at goal himself. The maverick in an otherwise dull Swedish side.
From Sweden’s talisman to South Korea’s, the Taegeuk Warriors will look upon Son Heung-min for inspiration as they enter a World Cup campaign with eerily low expectations. Back in South Korea, he is being hailed as the best forward since the legendary Cha Bum-kun, which surely is praise enough for his talents.
And, coming off a stellar 2017-18 campaign with Tottenham, arguably the best ever in his career, confidence will surely be running high. Head Coach Shin Tae-yong has already iterated that the team will revolve around the 25-year-old, whose versatility is one of his many assets.
Son, himself, has asked to proceed with caution, looking to keep the focus on the team rather than one individual player. But, his ability in possession, on the dead ball, as well as in leading the attacking unit should keep the spotlight firmly on Son ahead of South Korea’s World Cup opener on Monday.