Strengths – Under their new, experienced coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, The Azkals are armed with a new hope ahead of their debut in 2019 AFC Asian Cup. They most recently became AFF Cup semi-finalists for the first time since 2010, which will be a major confidence booster heading in to this tournament. Like many of the major countries, the Philippines have many players who have had a chance to play in Europe – something common amongst top nations like Iran, Australia, Japan and Korea. The experience and discipline they have from featuring in Europe’s top leagues will be crucial for them heading into this tournament.
Weaknesses – As previously mentioned, this is the Philippines’ debut in the AFC Asian Cup. They are the newest idol of the South-East Asian football family, and they face newer and bigger challenges. Unfortunately with no friendlies against non-regional opponents, it will be little bit difficult for them to know their opponents before the tournament actually gets underway.
Player to Watch (with explanation) – Michael Falkesgaard
All eyes on the Bangkok United goalkeeper during the absence of Azkals’ number one, Neill Etheridge. He will be the first one between the sticks due his experience and his seniority. He has experience in the Danish league before his recent move to Thailand. He can read the game, and he knows how to anticipate the crosses and link up play with th defenders, which make up for his potential shot-stopping weaknesses. The Philippines also have other young players to watch like John-Patrick Strauss and Mike Ott, but for Falkesgaard, this is his time to shine.
Strengths – The sheer number of players starring in top European leagues will be South Korea’s biggest strength going in to the tournament. Many players come to the tournament after continuous exposure to top level football on a weekly basis, and bring a level of quality which only few other nations on the continent possess.
Weaknesses – Fatigue could be a major issue for South Korea, as a number of their key players are just returning from club duty in Europe. Captain Son Heung-Min turned out for Tottenham as recently as Friday night in their game against Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup, meaning he has had little time to work with the squad. Similarly, new coach Paulo Bento has also had limited time with his new squad, which could be costly for them heading into this tournament.
Player to Watch (with explanation) – Hwang Ui-Jo
The striker has had a remarkable season with Gamba Osaka in the J1 league, finishing as the division’s third-highest goalscorer. He is likely to start up front for the Taeguk Warriors, giving captain Son someone to play off of. His contribution could be key to translating Korea’s strength on paper to strength on the pitch.
Philippines will not attack much. They will stay in a defensive posture and wait to score from a counter-attacking situation. They have Phil Younghusband who is capable of winning in an aerial duel, and many players with good crossing ability like Kevin Ingreso or Stephan Schroeck. However, don’t expect the defense to survive from Korea’s attacking waves.