Son issues warning as S Korea travel to China in World Cup qualifier
The clash in Shenzhen, just over the border from Hong Kong, is the pick of the second round of games
Hong Kong (AFP) – South Korea travel to China on Tuesday for 2026 World Cup qualifying, with Son Heung-min warning his side they must keep their cool in front of a sell-out crowd.
The clash in Shenzhen, just over the border from Hong Kong, is the pick of the second round of games in the second phase of qualifying for the World Cup in North America. Among other notable matches, Australia face Palestine in Kuwait, Japan travel to Jeddah to play Syria, Iran are away at Uzbekistan and India host Qatar.
South Korea thrashed Singapore 5-0 on Thursday to begin their qualifying campaign, with skipper and Tottenham Hotspur forward Son scoring a screamer from outside the box. The Koreans are top of Group C in the early standings with China, who scored 16 minutes from time for a 2-1 win in Thailand.
Jurgen Klinsmann's South Korea are favourites in Shenzhen, but Son warned: "I think Asian teams will try to be physical against us, and getting under our skin will perhaps be a part of their strategy.
"We just have to make sure we don't get dragged into that kind of thing and stick to our own game plan," Yonhap quoted him as saying following the thumping of Singapore in Seoul. More than 40,000 will pack out the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre stadium for the game.
President Xi Jinping has big ambitions for Chinese football, including hosting and even winning the World Cup one day, but they have only reached the tournament only once, back in 2002.
And following the victory over Thailand, Xi -- in an unusually unguarded moment -- was seen on video telling Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin that China had been "lucky".
No matter the result on Tuesday, South Korea and China will be expected to qualify out of Group C when the second round wraps up in June. The top two from each of the nine groups go through to the final Asian qualifying round.
Australia and Japan, who like South Korea both reached the last 16 at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, also made fast starts to their qualifying campaigns. The Socceroos smashed Bangladesh 7-0 in Group I, with substitute Jamie Maclaren hitting a second-half hat-trick in Melbourne.
They will face a sterner test against Palestine in Kuwait City and coach Graham Arnold said that preparations were "quite stressful" given the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
But his message was clear -- focus on the football -- and Australia chartered a flight direct to Kuwait from Melbourne to give themselves as much time as possible to get ready. Palestine began their campaign with a 0-0 draw against Lebanon.
In Group B, Ayase Ueda also scored a hat-trick as Japan got their bid to reach an eighth straight World Cup off to an emphatic start with a 5-0 win over Myanmar. They too can expect a much stiffer challenge against Syria, who defeated North Korea 1-0.