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Korean players train for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup at Al Egla Training Site in Doha, Jan. 21. Yonhap

With the top seed in Group E at stake, Korea will look to close out the opening phase on a strong note against Malaysia at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup on Thursday.The Group E contest between No. 23 Korea and No. 130 Malaysia will kick off at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, south of Doha, at 2:30 p.m. (local time), or 8:30 p.m. (Seoul time).Coached by Jurgen Klinsmann, Korea are sitting in second place in Group E with four points, following a 3-1 win over Bahrain and a 2-2 draw against Jordan. Jordan also have four points but hold a 4-2 edge in goal difference over Korea.The first tiebreaker in the group stage is the head-to-head record between tied teams. Since Korea and Jordan drew Saturday, they will go to the goal difference if they finish with the same points total.Assuming Jordan beat Bahrain in their final group match Thursday, Korea will also have to beat Malaysia and do so convincingly to have a shot at winning the group.Winning Group E, however, may not benefit Korea, considering their likely opponent in their first knockout match in that case.

If Korea finish atop Group E, they will face the runner-up team from Group D in the round of 16. And as things stand, Japan will most likely be that team, following their shock 2-1 loss to Iraq on Friday.Japan, at No. 17, are the highest-ranked team from Asia and were largely expected to cruise through to the final. If both Japan and Korea had won all their group matches and kept advancing in the knockouts, that would have led to the rivalry showdown in the championship match on Feb. 10.Instead, they could end up meeting in the first knockout game. If Korea end up with the second seed out of Group E, they will face the Group F winner in the round of 16. It will be the winner of the final Group F match Thursday between Saudi Arabia and Thailand.Two matches into their quest for the country’s first AFC Asian Cup title since 1960, Korea have been a mixed bag.

Against Bahrain, Korea found themselves knotted at 1-1 early in the second half, before Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in took over and scored twice in a 12-minute span with some great individual effort.Facing a more physical and determined Jordan team, Korea struggled to generate much offense in the first half and trailed 2-1, with Son Heung-min’s penalty being their only goal. Korea had a clear edge in possession in the second half but failed to turn that into tangible offense. It took a late own goal by Jordan for Korea to walk away with a draw and a lucky point.Klinsmann’s heavy reliance on individual brilliance of certain players, rather than on depth and a tactical structure, can backfire when those players struggle and don’t have much of a supporting cast to step up.Lee Kang-in has proven that he can grab Korea by their collar and take them to victories, but very few can be on the top of their game match to match. Lee wasn’t nearly as dynamic against Jordan as he had been versus Bahrain. Save for his penalty Saturday, Son, the Tottenham Hotspur star, hasn’t been his usual dominant self. Striker Cho Gue-sung has been off target in both matches and has yet to play a full 90 슬롯게이밍 minutes.

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