CANADA vs. SOUTH KOREA
Friday, Nov. 11, 6 a.m. ET | Cheonan Baekseok Stadium, Cheonan, South Korea
Nearly two decades ago, it all came down to a coin in the hands of Chuck Blazer.
The event was the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup, in which Canada and South Korea (who were in the tournament as an international invitee, as was the style at the time) were deadlocked in every tiebreaker at the end of the group stage.
The only way to decide who’d advance was with a coin flip. Blazer, who hadn’t yet evolved into full-on Santa Claus mode, was the CONCACAF official to do the honors.
Canada won the toss. They went on to win the tournament, the country’s greatest soccer triumph since Galt FC claimed the Olympic gold at St. Louis 1904.
Those halcyon days didn’t last for Canada, however; the team crashed out of the 2001 Confederations Cup and 2002 World Cup qualifying. Les Rouges haven’t even reached the Hexagonal round since then.
On the other hand, South Korea—or Korea Republic, if we’re being pedantic—saw the sport reach astonishing new heights in their country, as they co-hosted the 2002 World Cup and ended up finishing fourth.
And now, 16 years later, if you’re inclined to wake up at an ungodly hour on Remembrance Day and hope for a successful webstream, you can watch these two teams clash once again.
Canadian soccer is weird.
This actually isn’t the first meeting between the teams since the 2000 Gold Cup (at which they played to a scoreless draw). They met again at the 2002 Gold Cup (yep, South Korea got invited back), with Canada nabbing a 2-1 win. In five all-time meetings, each team has won twice.
This could be considered the rubber match of the Michael Findlay era; following a 4-0 win over Mauritania and a 4-0 loss to Morocco in the team’s last camp, in October. The South Korea friendly will determine what kind of note the team ends 2016 on.
Well, actually, regardless of the result in Cheonan, 2016 will conclude with a sour note, given that the team’s World Cup dreams ended in September, leading to the departure of former manager Benito Floro and appointment of Findlay on an interim basis.
The goal now is to evaluate who’s fitting in with the program and might be of use in the years to come. Fourteen of the 19 players making the trip to South Korea were also part of the squad in Morocco last month; newcomers such as Jayson Leutwiler, Charlie Trafford and Carl Haworth (who was added to the squad after the initial roster announcement) will surely be aiming to prove their worth.
But it’s not all young and untested players; there are also guys like Junior Hoilett and Cyle Larin, who’ll be part of the mix at next year’s Gold Cup and beyond.
SOUTH KOREA OUTLOOK
The South Koreans are in the midst of the final push for a spot in the 2018 World Cup, sitting third in Group A of AFC qualifying, with four of 10 games played.
Four days after the friendly with Canada, they host Uzbekistan in a World Cup qualifier—a win there would vault them into second place, which is exactly where they want to be. The top two finishers in the group (which also includes Iran, Syria, Qatar and China) clinch World Cup spots, while the third-place finisher will have a pair of play-offs between them and Russia 2018.
Overall in 2016, South Korea has five wins, a draw and two losses (a 6-1 drubbing against Spain in June and a 1-0 qualifying loss to Iran on Oct. 11, their most recent match).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada – Jayson Leutwiler. Like Randy Orton’s finishing maneuver (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz-rsqEaa_s), Leutwiler’s addition to the Canada squad seemed to come outta nowhere. Now he’s got a 50-50 shot of starting against South Korea, and Canada fans will be itching to see what the 27-year-old goalkeeper can bring to the team.
South Korea – Son Heung-min. The 24-year-old attacker has already enjoyed six productive seasons in Europe, and is in his second campaign with Tottenham Hotspur. He scored South Korea’s most recent goal (the winner in a 3-2 victory against Qatar in October) and already has 17 goals for his country, in 55 games.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Jayson Leutwiler (Shrewsbury Town/England); Simon Thomas (FK Bodø Glimt/Norway)
DEFENDERS (8): Fraser Aird (Vancouver Whitecaps); David Edgar (Vancouver Whitecaps); Dejan Jaković (Shimizu S-Pulse/Japan); Manjrekar James (Vasas Budapest/Hungary); Marcel de Jong (Vancouver Whitecaps); Karl W. Ouimette (Jacksonville Armada); Maxim Tissot (Ottawa Fury); Steven Vitoria (Lechia Gdansk/Poland)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Marco Bustos (Vancouver Whitecaps); Jamar Dixon (Ottawa Fury); Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City/Wales); Samuel Piette (CD Izarra/Spain); Adam Straith (Fredrikstad/Norway); Charlie Trafford (MKS Korona Kielce/Poland)
FORWARDS (3): Marcus Haber (Dundee/Scotland); Carl Haworth (Ottawa Fury); Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe/Japan); Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka/Japan); Kwoun Sun-tae (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors/South Korea)
DEFENDERS (9): Kwak Tae-hwi (FC Seoul/South Korea); Hong Jeong-ho (Jiangsu Suning/China); Jang Hyun-soo (Guangzhou R&F/China); Park Joo-ho (Borussia Dortumnd/Germany); Kim Chang-soo (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors/South Korea); Kim Kee-hee (Shangai Shenhua/China); Yun Suk-young (Brondby IF/Denmark); Hong Chul (Suwon Samsung Bluewing/South Korea); Choi Chul-soon (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors/South Korea)
MIDFIELDERS (10): Ki Sung-yeung (Swansea City/Wales); Lee Chung-yong (Crystal Palace/England); Koo Ja-cheol (FC Augsburg/Germany); Soo Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur/England); Ji Dong-won (FC Augsburg/Germany); Han Kook- young (Al-Gharafa/Qatar); Kim Bo-kyung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors/South Korea); Nam Tae-hee (Lekhwiya SC/Qatar); Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors/South Korea); Jung Woo-young (Chongqing Lifan/China)
FORWARDS (3): Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors/South Korea); Lee Jeong-hyeop (Ulsan Hyundai/South Korea); Hwang Hee-chan (Red Bull Salzburg/Austria)