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2014 World Cup team preview: South Korea

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Getting to know…South Korea: Capable of impressive moments but lacking the consistency to make noise, it’s an uphill battle for South Korea, who barely even made it to the World Cup in the first place. Scraping through qualification, the South Koreans have yet to once again find the quality that got them to the 2002 semifinals on their home turf.  With the country’s most decorated player now at the helm, the South Koreans look to shock Russia and Belgium into the knockout round. The odds are against them.

Record in qualifying: The South Koreans squeaked by on goal difference, finishing behind Iran and narrowly beating out Uzbekistan by a single goal.  They almost blew it in the final wee, with a 1-0 loss to Iran, but Uzbekistan’s 5-1 win over Qatar was a goal short. It sent Uzbekistan into the playoff round, where they lost to Jordan on penalties. Jordan then got trounced by Uruguay, giving us a good barometer on where the Asian confederation stands compared to other continents like South America.

A look at Group H: South Korea has the ability to produce an upset, and one could be all they need to squeak into the knockout stage.  If they can shock either Belgium or Russia and take care of business against Algeria, we could see them into the next round.  They’ll need a total performance though, and qualification results don’t bode well. They dropped both matches against fellow World Cup participants Iran, and struggled to assert their dominance in matches against Uzbekistan, Qatar, Lebanon, and UAE.

Game schedule:

June 17, 18:00, Cuitabá: Russia vs. South Korea
June 22, 15:00, Porto Alegre: South Korea vs. Algeria
June 26, 16:00, São Paulo: South Korea vs. Belgium

Star Player: Heung-Min Son

Bayer Leverkusen’s young striker is a representation of the new age of South Korean talent.  Just 21 years old, he already owns 23 caps for his country and six goals, including a 96th-minute winner against Qatar in qualifying.  He also scored the winning goal for Bayer in their final Bundesliga match of the season, a 2-1 victory over Werder Bremen, to give his club a 4th-place finish in the table by a single point and qualifying them for the Champions League next season.

Son is young but battle-tested, and if he can get service from his teammates, he could be at the forefront of any surprises the Koreans score. But he needs to get the ball to be dangerous, and if the team is pegged back by a stronger opponent, things could go south in a hurry.

Manager: Hong Myung-Bo

The country’s most-capped player, Hong has untold World Cup experience and is a major asset to the country’s chances in Brazil. Having played in four tournaments as a sweeper, he received the Bronze Ball in 2002, the award for the third-place finisher in the voting for the tournament’s most outstanding player.

However, he is managerially green.  His job at the helm of South Korea is his first true managerial position, having previously led the country’s youth teams at the U-20 and U-23 levels and also assisting Guus Hiddink at Anzhi for just under a year before his appointment as manager.  If he can push the right buttons, South Korea will have a real chance to shine in Group H. Otherwise, the former LA Galaxy player fill fade into Russia and Belgium’s shadow.

Secret Weapon: Teamwork

For a team that lacks physical strength – and in some areas, athleticism – they look to make up for it by playing together.  For a squad as young as South Korea’s (nine players 24 or younger, just one player over 30), many have been together on the youth levels.  Many have plied their trade on the European stage, and if Hong can get these talents to truly come together, there will be fireworks in Group H.

Prediction: The South Koreans pulled a tough draw. The Algerians are no slouches despite being serious underdogs, and between Russia’s staunch defense and Belgium’s attacking flair, it’s hard to see Korea picking up an upset in either of those games.  On paper, their roster screams of young talent and a real surprise somewhere on the fixture list, but judging by their qualification matches, it’s going to get ugly in Brazil for South Korea.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

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On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.