Bahrain faced off against the Korea Republic at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai today in their Round of 16 match of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
The east Asian teams have been performing relatively better than their western Asian counterparts in this edition.
Teams like Vietnam, China, and Japan had already booked their slots in the last eight of the competition. South Korea was looking to be the fourth proper east Asian team to reserve their quarter-final spot.
On paper, the tie shouldn't have been a contest with 60 FIFA Ranking spots dividing the teams. Korea qualified for the Round of 16 by collecting full 9 points from the three group games. Bahrain, on the other hand, left it late to be eligible for the Round of 16 as a late Penalty against India helped them qualify as one of four best third-placed teams.
Bahrain had the first good chance of the game and was dangerous on the counter while Korea had the lion's share of the possession and chances.
Korea finally broke the deadlock when Hwang Heechan slotted home after a Son Heungmin cross fell nicely for the striker after the keeper parried it away. The scoreboard read 1-0 in favour of South Korea at the halftime break.
Bahrain kept up their physical approach and defending deep in the second half too. Their persistence finally came good as Mohamed Saad Al Romaihi scored for Bahrain in the 77th minute to level the scores. At the end of regulation time, the scoreboard read 1-1.
Kim Jinsu scored in the first period of Extra Time to give Korea the lead. The Korea Republic managed to keep their lead intact in the second half of extra time to win the game 2-1 and secure their spot in the quarterfinals.
On that note let us take a look at three reasons why Korea beat Bahrain.
#3 European experience of Korean Players play a big part
South Korea has seven players in their squad who play their club football in Europe. Bahrain, on the other hand, has only three players who play outside Bahrain with only one of them playing in Europe. While most of the Korean (foreign-based) players play in the Bundesliga, one of them plays in the Serie A in Italy while captain Son Heung Min is a star for Premier League side Tottenham Hotspurs.
In an all-important clash like today's game the experience of playing in some of the best leagues in the world helped Korea control the game at crucial stages and do the right things at the right moments. The way Korea moved around the ball to break open a resolute Bahrain defence was admirable.
Apart from European experience a lot of the Korean players also play in different top-level Asian leagues as well as the J-League, the Chinese Super League and the Qatar All-Stars League.
#2 Bahrain's strategy of deep defending
When teams with vast ranking differences face off against each other, the lower ranked team usually sits back and defends and tries not to lose by a large margin. While it is the most suitable options at times, sometimes it does hurt the side's chances of winning the game rather than not losing by a significant margin.
Philipines were the first side that showed the other nations in this edition of the Asian Cup that if one tries and presses this Korean defence, then chances are bound to be created. The Philippines failed to score past this Korean defence, but Bahrain scored and maybe had they had the belief they could have managed to score more and win the game.
Bahrain only went on the counter and didn't try to control the game except for a few minutes after they scored the goal in the 77th minute. Had they decided to keep hold of the ball more and try to control the game they could have managed to come up with an upset.
The ultra-defensive mentality helped Korea keep hold of the ball and move it around which ultimately tired the Bahrain players. When the game went into extra time, those tired legs did eventually give away which led to Korea scoring the winning goal in the first half of Extra time.
#1 Workload undertaken by the Korean Midfielders make the difference
The Korea Republic has one of the best and star-studded midfield in all of Asia. With Son Heung Min the Premier League star who plays for Tottenham Hotspurs captaining the side a lot was expected from the Korean midfield, and so far they have been doing just that.
Goalscorer Hwang Heechan plays for Hamburg SV in Germany while Lee Chungyong plays for VFL Bochum in Germany. The players mentioned above along with Son were crucial to Korea's victory over Bahrain on Tuesday, 22nd January.
Hwang Heechan played as the second striker today along with Hwang Uijo while Son was the given the freedom to roam around the park. Son kept on changing his position which was a big problem for the Bahrain defence as he was doubled marked at all times. While Son took two to three markers away with him, it left the likes of Hwang Heechan, Hwang Inbeom, and Lee Chungyong with more free space.
Son played the role of the leader to perfection today as he was often seeing tracking back and covering for his centre-backs while Bahrain went for the counter-attack.
The Korean Midfield also pressed as a unit and won a lot of second balls due to well-planned pressing in the midfield.
When the game drifted into extra time, it was the Korean midfield ability to stay calm and keep going that gave South Korea the ultimate victory.