Although the men's soccer bronze-medal match will feature two Asian nations competing to reach the podium, South Korea and Japan are polar opposites in a lot of ways. Both squads surprised many en route to the semifinals, but they got to that point by employing different tactics.
Japan is a more offensively-gifted team and it wasn't shy about going on the attack in the preliminary round or the knockout round. Korea, on the other hand, is a more conservative team that prefers to keep things close, grind matches out and hope that it can scratch out a goal at some point.
Here are three key players that will have a huge impact on the bronze-medal match and will ultimately decide which team goes home with hardware, and which goes home empty handed.
Yuki Otsu (Japan)
Which player will have the best performance in the bronze-medal match?
Thanks, in part, to a three-goal outburst against Egypt in the quarterfinals, Japan has several players with very impressive statistics. The best offensive player by far for Japan, however, has been striker Yuki Otsu. The 22-year-old dynamo of Germany's Borussia Monchengladbach has three goals in five matches thus far and netted the marker that absolutely shocked Spain and the soccer world in one of the tournament's opening matches.
South Korea likes to remain in a very firm and rigid shape throughout its matches and it isn't easy to break, but Brazil managed to beat the Koreans for three goals in the semis and I'm sure Japan has taken note of that. Otsu has great speed and is very difficult to mark once he is running at the defense, so expect plenty of long services from the Japanese in an effort to catch Korea sleeping.
Jung Sungryong (South Korea)
Goalkeeper Jung Sungryong of the Suwon Bluewings is one of Korea's three over-age players as he is a 27-year-old veteran. Jung yielded just one goal in three pool matches as he compiled a 1-0-2 record. He was injured during the quarterfinal match against Great Britain, however, leading to backup Lee Bumyoung coming in. Korea won that match on penalty kicks, but Lee was decimated by Brazil in the semis.
It would appear as though Jung is healthy enough to play in the bronze-medal match and South Korea absolutely must put him back in. Lee has a very bright future and is a talented player, but Jung is clearly the much more confident and steady netminder at this point. When Lee was faced with a barrage from the talented Brazilians, he simply couldn't handle it. Japan won't bring as much heat, but it will try to put on the pressure, and Jung is better equipped to deal with that on the big stage.
Kensuke Nagai (Japan)
The thing that makes Japan such a dangerous team is that it has several different players that are capable of putting the ball in the back of the net. Nagai is a small, but speedy 23-year-old striker who forms a very dynamic forward duo with Otsu. Nagai has two goals at these Olympics in addition to the three scored by Otsu and there is no doubt that the rest of the Japanese attackers will be looking for those two players in scoring positions.
Korea may be able to shut down wither Otsu or Nagai, but it will be hard pressed to keep both of them in check. Korea is a disciplined team that is well coached, but speed and skill often win out at the end of the day, and Nagai has both. Japan realizes that Korea probably doesn't have the horses to keep up in a wide-open game, so look for Nagai and Otsu to run free and create plenty of opportunities.
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