South Korea Begins Asian Cup Campaign Against Bahrain with High Hopes for Title

SEOUL — South Korea is set to start its pursuit for an elusive title at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, with its opening match against Bahrain scheduled for Monday. The team, enriched with talent, is eyeing to end a 64-year championship drought in the premier Asian men's football tournament.

According to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea has a favorable history against Bahrain, winning 11 out of their 16 encounters. The first Group E match for South Korea will take place at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al Rayyan, located just west of Doha.

South Korea, victors of the first two editions of the AFC Asian Cup in 1956 and 1960, have since experienced a title hiatus, finishing as runners-up four times in the last six decades, with their most recent near-miss in the 2015 tournament held in Australia.

This year's squad, under the guidance of coach Jurgen Klinsmann, is considered to be particularly strong. Featuring several Europe-based stars, South Korea is currently ranked No. 23 in the FIFA rankings, making them the top-seeded team in Group E, while Bahrain is positioned at No. 86.

The team boasts a roster of internationally recognized players, including Tottenham Hotspur's captain Son Heung-min, who also leads the national team. Son, recently scoring his 12th goal of the Premier League season, is a critical figure for South Korea's offense.

Joining Son in the offensive lineup is Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who has netted a career-high 10 goals this season. Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in, fresh off scoring in PSG's 2-0 victory over Toulouse in the French Super Cup final, is another key player.

Defensively, the team is anchored by Bayern Munich's center back Kim Min-jae, who has been instrumental in his team's success in both the Bundesliga and helped Napoli to an Italian Serie A title last season.

Other European-based players in the squad include Crvena zvezda midfielder Hwang In-beom, Mainz 05 midfielder Lee Jae-sung, and FC Midtjylland forward Cho Gue-sung, alongside rising stars Jeong Woo-yeong of VfB Stuttgart and Hong Hyun-seok of KAA Gent.

Domestic talents like Ulsan HD FC defender Kim Young-gwon, the 2023 K League 1 most valuable player, and his teammate Jung Seung-hyun, are also expected to contribute significantly.

While South Korea's last encounter with Bahrain was five years ago, in the round of 16 of the 2019 Asian Cup, the team retains key players from that match, including Hwang and Kim Jin-su of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who both scored in South Korea's 2-1 victory.

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