With its top player out injured and two losses already at the World Cup, South Korea has plenty of work to do to progress to the knockout round.
To make things even tougher, the team’s final group opponent is defending champion Germany.
“There is 1 per cent chance, there is still hope,” South Korea forward Son Heung-min said on the eve of the Group F game at Kazan Arena. “We will do our utmost.”
Following losses against Sweden and Mexico, the Asian team needs a win and other results to play in its favour to advance. South Korea also needs Sweden to lose against Mexico in the other group match to finish with a better goal difference.
South Korea’s already slim chances have taken a hit in the buildup to the match when captain Ki Sung-yueng was ruled out with a left calf injury. The Swansea midfielder is South Korea’s most experienced player, with 104 appearances with the national team.
Defender Park Joo-ho will also be absent because of a thigh injury he picked up against Sweden in their opening match.
“They are very important players, strategically and mentally,” Son said. “They are important for other players, too. Unfortunately they are injured. Ki Sung-yueng is really a pillar for our team, he takes lot of pressure from us. He is irreplaceable, but our morale is not too bad.”
South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong did not reveal which player would captain his side against Germany, just saying the role would not be for the faint-hearted.
“Ki Sung-yueng’s injury was something I’d never imagined, and it gives me a headache at the moment,” he said. “We will see who feels the less pressure, the less emotional. He will be the one who earns the armband.”
South Korea has lost twice to Germany at the World Cup and will need to spring a major surprise to defeat the four-time champions, who put their campaign back on track with a late 2-1 win over Sweden. Germany now needs to beat South Korea by at least two goals to be guaranteed a spot in the last 16.
Shin said he did not have enough time to prepare for the crunch match and hoped for a different scenario.
“Actually not everything has gone as planned in this group for us,” Shin said. “And it’s the same for Germany. They should have won their first two games, and the third game could have been a little bit easier for them. I think that it would have been easier for us, too. And now the situation is more complex, Germany will be a much tougher opponent than we first expected.”
After a shock 1-0 loss to Mexico in its opener, Germany recovered with a last-grasp win over Sweden and now hopes to build on the momentum to secure a convincing win against South Korea.
Germany coach Joachim Loew said his players will be wary of the speed and pace of their opponents to avoid getting caught on the break. Germany has conceded goals in its past seven matches and has been vulnerable to counterattacks since the start of the tournament.
“South Korea has players who can execute fast breaks, we will try to adapt,” Loew said. “We made numerous mistakes against Mexico, fewer against Sweden, but we still lost the ball in midfield. We have to make sure we don’t lose the ball as easily.”
Loew will be without midfielder Sebastian Rudy, who has not fully recovered from surgery on his broken nose, while defender Jerome Boateng is suspended after receiving a red card against Sweden.
The German coach said all other players are available, including playmaker Mesut Ozil and midfielder Sami Khedira, who were dropped from the starting lineup against Sweden.
“After the match against Mexico, Mesut has showed a very good reaction at training, that is what I expected from him,” Loew said. “It was the same for the others and Khedira.”