Updated June 5th, 2024 at 10:44 IST

Son Heung-min, South Korea aim for a momentum shift in World Cup Asian qualifying

After a tough 2024 so far, Son Heung-min and his South Korea teammates can change momentum with a win over Singapore on Thursday that would be enough to secure a spot in the last round of World Cup Asian qualifying.

Son Heung-min reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium | Image: AP
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After a tough 2024 so far, Son Heung-min and his South Korea teammates can change momentum with a win over Singapore on Thursday that would be enough to secure a spot in the last round of World Cup Asian qualifying.

South Korea remains on course for its 11th successive World Cup appearance but is still without a permanent coach after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired in February following the team’s disappointing performance at the Asian Cup .

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Hwang Sun-hong, the initial interim coach , didn’t get a permanent appointment after South Korea failed to secure qualification for the Olympics for the first time since 1984.

Now Kim Do-hoon is in charge for the games two games in six days against Singapore and China in Group C, with the South Koreans needing just one point to progress to the next stage.

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“We will have to present our fans with the direction we want to take,” Kim said. “And we must do it with our action on the pitch, rather than with words.”

With English Premier League stars such as Son of Tottenham Hotspur and Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers on the roster, South Korea's game at Singapore National Stadium is a 50,000-seat sellout.

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The top two teams from each of the nine groups in the second round progress to the next group stage where six of Asia’s increased automatic allocation of eight World Cup places will be on offer. The first 48-team men’s World Cup will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.

Two more World Cup entries from Asia will be decided in a subsequent group stage in October 2025. An Asian confederation team also can advance in the intercontinental playoffs scheduled in March 2026.

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India is eight points behind leading Qatar and second place in Group A, marginally ahead of Afghanistan on goal difference, and takes on last-place Kuwait in Kolkata. A win would take India close to the last stage of continental qualifying for the first time.

“It’s a huge game,” India coach Igor Stimac said. “ The careers of the boys can change with this game. I want them to enjoy and do their best in the game.”

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It is also the last match for Sunil Chhetri, who will retire after his 151st international appearance. Of the players still active, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have scored more international goals than Chhetri’s 94.

“Every training that I do with the national team, I’m just going to enjoy it,” the 39-year-old Chhetri said when he announced his retirement last month. “I don’t feel that pressure. The game demands pressure. Against Kuwait, we need the three points to qualify for the third round. But in a strange way, I don’t feel the pressure.”

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In Group G, Saudi Arabia needs a point in Pakistan to advance but opposing coach Stephen Constantine is promising a tough test for Roberto Mancini’s squad in Islamabad.

Pakistan is already eliminated after four consecutive losses and a -19 goal differential, but is relying on a home advantage to upset the Saudis.

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“It’s Saudi, they’re a massive team, but they are going to come here and play on a nice bumpy ground and we’ll give them hell,” Constantine said.

Indonesia is second in Group F and on the brink of an historic first appearance in the final round of Asian qualification.

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Indonesia is four points clear of third-place Vietnam and a win against the already qualified Iraq will be enough to advance.

“Iraq’s squad is very good,” Indonesia’s coach Shin Tae-yong said. “However, this is a home game so I will maximize everything so that in the match we will get good results.”

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The Palestinian squad is second in Group I, five points behind Australia, and needs only a draw against Lebanon on Thursday to ensure it progresses to the next stage.

Due to the security situation in Gaza, the game will take place in Doha, Qatar.

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Australia, Japan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Iran have already secured spots in the third stage with two games to spare .

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Published June 5th, 2024 at 10:44 IST