Dubai: With a string of strong results in their favour during 2018, South Korea are perhaps one of the quietly confident nations eyeing the continental crown.
Gold medal winners at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, South Korea may perhaps turn out to be the team to beat when the 2019 AFC Asian Cup gets under way on Saturday.
Having landed in Abu Dhabi on December 23, there is no doubting the intent and purpose of this South Korean team as Paulo Bento’s squad eye a third continental crown.
Champions in the first two Asian Cup tournaments in 1956 and 1960, the Reds have been unable to win the title again — finishing runners-up on four occasions (1972, 1980, 1988 and 2015) and third another four times (1964, 2000, 2007 and 2011).
Considered one of the most successful teams in Asia, South Korea have qualified for every Fifa World Cup since 1986. They also took the gold medal at the 1970, 1978, 1986 and 2018 Asian Games.
Their star player Son Heung-min is scheduled to join the team only after Tottenham Hotspur play Manchester United on January 13.
The squad travelled to Dubai by bus from Abu Dhabi on Thursday morning and went straight to the training field at the Dubai Police Officers Club later in the evening and followed this up with a second session on Friday morning at the same venue.
The team’s Portuguese coach was clearly in control as he opened their session with a lengthy on-field chat with his squad of 22 on Thursday.
And on Friday morning, Bento cancelled the customary pre-training interviews with players so that he could accommodate a team meeting.
Business as usual
After that it was business as usual as all players — barring midfielder Na Sang-ho, striker Ji Dong-won and defender Hong Chul — participated in the two sessions.
Media persons were given no access to the coach or any of the coaching staff, but were allowed to watch proceedings from the stands for 30 minutes before being ushered out by private security personnel.
“The coach will not speak to the media now, but he will be available at the prematch conference for any questions,” Minsoo Kim, the Public Relations and Media Officer of the Korean Football Association (KFA) informed media personnel who had gathered at the Dubai Police Officers Club.
South Korea get their campaign off in this competition against the Philippines at Al Nasr Club’s Al Maktoum Stadium on Monday.