Preview: South Korea vs. China

South Korea have topped their AFC qualification group with 13 points and are set to host China at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Tuesday in an AFC World Cup qualifier game that could have significant ramifications for the away side’s 2027 AFC Asian Cup and 2026 World Cup hopes.

The home side have qualified for both the Asian Cup and the third round of Asia’s World Cup qualifiers, while China are second in their group with eight points and must avoid defeat to guarantee the same.

Match preview

From a statistical perspective the hosts will be happy with their AFC qualifying campaign so far considering that they are unbeaten and have won four of their five matches.

In fact, South Korea have scored 19 goals and conceded just once and this makes them the joint highest scorers as well as the joint second best defensive team in the qualifiers.

However, despite these positives there has been a degree of turmoil behind the scenes since the sacking of manager Jurgen Klinsmann in February.

The German became an unpopular figure for several reasons including poor performances during the 2024 AFC Asian Cup, when his side were knocked out in the semi-finals by Jordan.

Current manager Kim Do-hoon took charge of the national team in May on a temporary basis after the Korean FA failed to land any of their top targets including former Leeds manager Jesse Marsch.

Kim has only overseen the side in a single game against Singapore last Thursday, although South Korea did win 7-0.

The home side’s form over their last four games in all competitions has been mixed, with the team winning the last two but drawing and losing the previous two.

South Korea’s record against China can be described as exceptional considering they have won seven of their nine encounters since 2010 and lost just once in 2017, while also winning their last four clashes without conceding a goal.

The away side come into the game in contrasting form, as while the hosts can boast 11 victories in their previous 15 games, the visitors have only won seven of their last 30 fixtures.

To their credit, China have been fairly competitive in recent matches considering they have lost just once in the current AFC World Cup qualifiers, scoring nine goals and conceding eight.

It should be noted that this loss was a 3-0 defeat against Tuesday’s opponents in November 2023.

Manager Branko Ivankovic was only appointed to his position in February but he has previously coached in China, and in fact led Shandong Luneng Taishan to Chinese Super League glory in 2010 with a then-club-record 63 points.

Ivankovic experienced less success in his previous role with Oman, as while he did oversee a historic victory against Japan in 2021 he was sacked in 2023 after failing to progress beyond the group stage of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

In his current role he has a record of one win and one draw, with his side scoring five times and conceding twice.

In order to automatically qualify for the next AFC Asian Cup and keep their 2026 World Cup hopes alive, China only need to pick up an additional point as third-placed Thailand have just five.

Team News

Despite naming a strong squad the hosts will be unable to call upon the services of Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he sustained earlier in May.

South Korea named an almost entirely new defensive line in their last outing against Singapore, with only left-back Kim Jin-su retaining his place in the side from the prior match against Thailand.

Considering that it is just Kim Do-hoon’s second game in charge, it is unlikely that he will deviate much from the side that brought him his first victory.

As for China, they will hope that they can avoid having to rely on another late goal from Yuning Zhang, who came off the bench to equalise last Thursday against Thailand with just 10 minutes remaining.

Alan and Fernandinho started as forwards last time out but manager Ivankovic will likely recall Zhang and Wu Lei to the attacking line given the pair have started two of the last three games.

Midfielder Yuanyi Li will be absent following his red card against Singapore in late March, although China will be able to welcome him back after this final qualifier.

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