With controversy behind, S. Korea looking to bounce back vs. Thailand in World Cup qualification

With distractions from the post-Asian Cup controversy behind them, South Korea will look to put on a better performance in their World Cup qualifying campaign this week when they visit Thailand for a return match. South Korea and Thailand will play for the second time in six days when they clash Tuesday evening at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok. It will be the fourth match for both countries in Group C of the second round in the Asian qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The kickoff is 7:30 p.m. local time, or 9:30 p.m. in South Korea. South Korea, ranked 22nd, got held to a 1-1 draw by 101st-ranked Thailand last Thursday at Seoul World Cup Stadium. Captain Son Heung-min scored the match's first goal in the first half, but Thailand equalized in the second half against some sloppy defending by the host. South Korea stayed atop Group C with seven points, followed by Thailand with four points. The top two nations from each of the nine groups will advance to the third round. The leadup to Thursday's match featured a series of potentially distracting events. It was South Korea's first game since their loss to Jordan in the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was fired only days after the elimination, and two of the team's key players, Son and midfielder Lee Kang-in, were later found to have been in a scuffle over a game of table tennis the night before the Jordan match. Lee later visited Son in London to apologize in person, and stood in front of mics and cameras before a training session last week to do so again. Some of the team's younger players also faced criticism for betting money on card games during the Asian Cup, using casino-style poker chips that a national team staff member had packed for the trip. That official has since been stripped of his duties. For their part, South Korean fans seemed to have moved on from these incidents, giving Lee and all other players a warm reception during introduction prior to Thursday's match. The players were not able to respond in kind, as they looked wobbly on defense and lacked clinical precision on offense. They will look to key veterans that held up their end of the bargain Thursday to once again lead the charge this week. Son was the team's best player in that match. He scored his 45th goal in his 124th international appearance. He is now five behind Hwang Sun-hong, currently caretaker boss of the national team. Son's goal was set up by midfielder Lee Jae-sung, who contributed on both ends as the energizer for South Korea before being subbed out about 30 minutes into the second half. A creative force on the offensive end, Lee also works hard on the other side in support of his defenders. Lee Kang-in was brought in off the bench last week but could get the start this time. He is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer but does have seven goals in 26 matches -- all of those seven coming in his last 12 appearances. Forward Joo Min-kyu finally played his first international match Thursday at age 33 years and 343 days, making him the oldest South Korean player ever to make a national team debut. The top scorer in the domestic K League 1 over the past three seasons, Joo only mustered one shot last week. If he scores Tuesday, Joo will become the ninth-oldest player to score for South Korea. Source: Yonhap News Agency

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