Klinsmann’s frontline striker Cho Kyu-sung emphasizes the importance of breaking down the opposition with early goals against a tough Chinese opponent.
The South Korean national team, led by head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, arrived in China via Shenzhen Bao’an Airport on the afternoon of the 19th for their second Group C match against China at the 2026 North American Football Championship Asia Second Qualifying Round at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center on the 21st (KST).
The Klinsmann’s started their World Cup Asia QF campaign on a high note with a 5-0 home win over Singapore in the first leg on Sept. 16, with each of their five attacking options – Cho Kyu-sung, Hwang Hee-chan, Lee Kang-in, Son Heung-min and Hwang Eui-jo – scoring a goal apiece.
With the momentum in their favor, they will look to build on their victory against one of the toughest opponents in Group C, China. South Korea have tasted bitterness in their most recent trip to China. In March 2017, they lost 0-1 in the final Asian qualifier for the 2018 Russia World Cup in Changsha, China, to a header from opposing striker Yudabao. The defeat was a moment when Chinese soccer’s so-called “gonghan-phobia” (fear of South Korea) was blunted. The Koreans have since dominated the four-match series with three wins and a draw, but a win would be significant as China hasn’t won away from home since the East Asian Football Confederation (EAFF) Championship in August 2015.
As much as they need a win, they’ll also need to rely on the performance of Cho Kyu-sung, who anchors the Korean front line. Cho scored the winning goal against Saudi Arabia in September, the first win for the Klinsmanns. In the October A match, he was unable to rack up any offensive points despite playing up front.
However, once the tournament got down to business, he showed his goal-scoring touch once again. Against Singapore, Cho Kyu-sung gave his team the lead in the 44th minute with a clever move to get behind the defense and finish a cross that was precisely placed between the defender and the goalkeeper. In the fourth minute of the second half, Lee Kang-in picked up the loose ball after being tackled and sent in a cross that Hwang Hee-chan headed home.
If Cho Kyu-sung continues his recent form, especially against China, who play a high-pressing and physical style of soccer, he could have a relatively easy time of it. Cho has already scored a goal against China in an East Asian Football Confederation Cup match in July 2022.
“If I can score a goal quickly, I think China will collapse quickly,” he told reporters.
-When you arrived at Shenzhen airport, you must have been surprised to see so many fans. How much of a stake do you think you have?
It was my first time in China, and I don’t think I realized how much love there was. Everyone was holding up Heung Min-hyung’s jersey or Lee Kang-in’s jersey.
-We only have one official training session in 20 days and then we go to the field. Are the players okay?
We played a match a few days ago as we continue our season. It was a long flight, and I think the coaching staff took a lot of care of us because we were very tired. I don’t think it’s going to affect the game or anything like that.
-Since the game against Saudi Arabia, you’ve been scoring important goals. The coach’s love must be special.
It’s not like he loves me that much. He gives every player a chance, and I got a good chance, so I think that’s a big part of it.
-We’ve been loved by our Chinese fans, but China is a tough opponent to beat, and we have memories of losing to them six years ago. I think we will be very determined.
We know it’s not easy to play away from home. So I think they’re going to come out tough, and if we can be just as tough and just as strong as they are, I think we can win.
-I’ve scored a goal against China in the East Asian Cup.
I don’t think we played a tough game then. I think we take the initiative against any team in Asia, so I think if China takes the initiative and sticks to it, the goals will come quickly, and if they do that, I think they will break down quickly.
-What do you think you need to do well to make the game easier for China?
They are very aware of the importance of goals. Even against Singapore, we had a few chances and missed a lot. I think it’s important to get those things in quickly, and I think I can do that by utilizing my strengths, such as serving, not being pushed around, and connecting with my opponent.
The national team is on a four-game winning streak. How is the atmosphere in the team?
I think it’s a lot better than it was in the beginning, because we’ve been winning and the fans have been coming, so we’re getting a lot of energy. We have a great atmosphere in training and in general, so I think if we keep it up, we’ll get good results.