South Korea will aim to pull off yet another World Cup 2022 shock when they take on five-time champions Brazil in Monday’s last-16 showdown at Stadium 974.
The Selecao finished top of Group G on goal difference, while Paulo Bento‘s men stunned Portugal on the final day in Group H to qualify for the knockouts in second place.
Chance after chance after chance came the way of a much-changed Brazil side in their final Group G clash with Cameroon, but a combination of stellar goalkeeping from Devis Epassy and wastefulness from Tite‘s fringe players could have proven more costly than it did on the day.
The Indomitable Lions held out for 92 minutes before securing a famous win through Vincent Aboubakar, who was sent off for a shirt-stripping celebration having already been booked, but that 1-0 result made no difference as Cameroon packed their bags and said goodbye, while Brazil just about held off Switzerland to top the group.
A nine-game winning run has now come to a grinding halt for Brazil, who are still regarded as one of the favourites to go all the way in a World Cup of giant killings, but even their slender wins over Serbia and Switzerland did not come with the attacking ruthlessness that has been expected of them.
Slow starts have been a theme for the five-time champions at the Qatar tournament so far, and they have now gone five World Cup matches without scoring in the first half, which will need to be rectified should they wish to hang on to their favourites tag a little while longer.
Nevertheless, the Selecao have now qualified for the knockout stage of the World Cup for the ninth time in a row, and it has been 32 years since Brazil were last knocked out in the round of 16, suffering a 1-0 defeat to Argentina courtesy of Claudio Caniggia‘s strike.
A historic all-Asian quarter-final at the World Cup is now a real possibility following the events of Friday afternoon, where South Korea recovered from Ricardo Horta‘s early goal for Portugal to stun the 2016 European champions and advance to the knockout stages.
After Portugal failed to clear their lines from a corner, Kim Young-gwon took advantage to level the scores before the half-time break, and with 91 minutes on the clock, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Hwang Hee-chan timed his run to perfection to slot home the third and final goal in that 2-1 win.
Celebrations quickly died down at the final whistle as players gathered to watch the outcome of Uruguay’s clash with Ghana, and a 2-0 win for the South American nation was not enough, as those in red and white erupted when their side’s place in the last 16 was sealed by virtue of goals scored.
Neither Uruguay nor Portugal – albeit a heavily altered one – possessed the formula for success against South Korea, who could potentially meet near neighbours Japan in the quarter-finals, although their fellow Asians face their own daunting last-16 clash with Croatia on Monday as well.
The Tigers of Asia have only ever managed to progress beyond the last 16 at the World Cup once, reaching the semi-finals of the 2002 edition amid a wave of officiating controversy, and they locked horns with Brazil as recently as June, but that friendly match ended in a comprehensive 5-1 defeat.
The Brazil treatment room has been well-occupied during their short time in Qatar, but the Selecao doctor Rodrigo Lasmar has provided a positive update on Neymar, who is in with a chance of recovering from an ankle injury in time to start against South Korea.
However, Tite has lost both Gabriel Jesus and Alex Telles for the remainder of the tournament after both men sustained knee problems in the clash with Cameroon, although the former was always expected to drop out for Richarlison here.
Telles’s withdrawal and Alex Sandro‘s hip problem has left Tite short at left-back, but Danilo is making good progress in his recovery from an ankle sprain of his own and could deputise on that side, with Eder Militao occupying the right flank.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s Hwang had been dealing with hamstring pain throughout the tournament before coming up with the goal that would send his nation through, so Lee Jae-sung may now be fearing for his place in the XI.
Kim Min-jae was rested for the clash with Portugal due to calf discomfort and should now be fit enough to return to the first XI, although Lee Kang-in and Kim Young-gwon also came off with physical problems against Portugal and will need a once-over.
Neither man is thought to be nursing anything that would affect their participation for Monday, where talisman Son Heung-min will hope to improve on a paltry tally of one goal from his last 13 shots at the World Cup.
Brazil possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Militao, Marquinhos, Silva, Danilo; Paqueta, Casemiro, Neymar; Raphinha, Richarlison, Vinicius Jr
South Korea possible starting lineup:
Seung-gyu; Moon-hwan, Min-jae, Young-gwon, Jin-su; In-beom, Woo-young; Hee-chan, Kang-in, Heung-min; Gue-sung
Possessing goal threats in all areas of the field, South Korea can feel optimistic of breaking down a ravaged Brazil backline, with Son and Hwang sure to be licking their lips after taking a look at the Selecao’s full-back injury concerns.
Brazil’s loss to Cameroon may have been a slight shock to the system, but Tite will now welcome back a plethora of first-team stars and could potentially have Neymar at his disposal from the off, so we still expect the Selecao’s extensive attacking options to fire the five-time champions into the last eight and end the South Korean dream.
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