South Korea’s national football team (ranked 53), which is aspiring to lift the Asian Cup trophy in 59 years, is visiting Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for their second round of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Group C competitions.
The opposing team is Kirgizstan, currently ranked 91st in the world. In fact, South Korea and Kirgizstan have never competed against each other on a national team level. The only encounter they had was from the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta-Palembang, where the South Korean under-23 team barely managed to beat the opponents with a decider netted by Son Heung-min.
Joining the AFC in 1994, Kirgizstan was ranked 166th in the world, and the country is quickly going up the ladder since it hit the bottom as 199th in 2012. With no experiences in World Cup or Asian Cup tournaments, Kirgizstan secured No. 2 position in their group following the first runners India (ranked 62nd) to advance into the Asian Cup stage.
Despite lack of experiences or big stars playing in European leagues, Kirgizstan showed a stunning performance against China (ranked 76th) in the first leg of their group competition. The team allowed a reverse defeat to China owing to an own goal by the goalkeeper in the 12th minute of the second half, but experts say that Kirgizstan proved to be a headache for China, which led by the world-renowned football coach Marcello Lippi.
Before the Asian Cup, Kirgizstan had friendlies with Qatar (ranked 93rd) and Jordan (109th) in December. The country was defeated by Qatar 0-1, winning a 1-0 victory against Jordan. Having defeated the defending champions Australia (ranked 41st) in the first group match, Jordan is considered the biggest dark horse in the Asian Cup.
The biggest threat of Kirgizstan, which pressured China with an opener, would be Mirlan Murzaev and Vitalij Lux. Murzaev, who plays for Somaspor Kulübü in the Turkish amateur league, is the squad's only player who has experienced more than 30 games on a national level with a great skill for game management. It was Murzaev who collected a throw-in with his head before giving a pinpoint assist for Akhlidin Israilov to find the net against China. Lux, an experienced Bundesliga 2 player, boasts great strength and speed as forward.
“Compared to their offense, Kirgizstan has very weak defense. It looks intense, but it is disorderly,” predicted Han Joon-hee, a KBS football commentator. "We could exploit it to score many goals. If Kirgizstan plays as bold as it did against China, it would serve as advantage for South Korea."
Seung-Kun Lee firstname.lastname@example.org