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Preview: New Zealand Under-23s vs. South Korea Under-23s - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: New Zealand Under-23s vs. South Korea Under-23s - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's Olympic Games Men's Football clash between New Zealand Under-23s and South Korea Under-23s, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

New Zealand Under-23s and South Korea Under-23s will get their Olympic Games Men's Football campaigns underway on Thursday, as they square off in the opening game of Group B.

While not being one of the distinct favourites, the South Korean side come into the Olympics as one of the more heavily fancied sides, but they will face a tough test in their first game.

Match preview

New Zealand Under-23s reached the Olympics Men's Football tournament by winning the OFC Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2019, which also acted as the region's Under-23 Championship.

They cruised through the group stage, winning all three games by scoring 22 goals and conceding just three, having started with a 6-1 win over Samoa as Ben Waine hit four goals.

The OlyWhites then thrashed American Samoa 12-0 in the second group game, with Myer Bevan scoring five goals alongside braces from Waine and Clayton Lewis and goals from Logan Rogerson, Oliver Whyte and Dylan de Jong.

Danny Hay's side would then finish a strong group campaign with a 4-2 victory over Solomon Islands Under-23s thanks to a Bevan brace and goals from Lewis and Noah Billingsley, seeing them advance to the final four with relative ease.

A 6-2 win over Fiji would see them advance to the final, and they continued to dominate even on the biggest stage, with another Bevan double and goals from Rogerson, Waine and Billy Jones firing them to a 5-0 victory against group rivals Solomon Islands Under-23s.

That saw them earn the only spot available to nations from this region in the Olympic Games Men's Football tournament, and they built more confidence for the upcoming campaign with a 2-0 victory over neighbors Australia Under-23s last Monday.

Despite a strong campaign to qualify for the Olympics, the OlyWhites will have to go above and beyond to record a victory in their opening game on Thursday against a formidable South Korea team.

Kim Hak-bum's young side advanced to the tournament through the AFC Under-23 Championship at the beginning of 2020, acting as the qualifiers for the Olympic Games.

They topped their group with three victories from their three games, firstly beating China Under-23s 1-0 thanks to Lee Dong-jun's 93rd-minute winner.

The young South Korean side would then beat Iran 2-1, with Dong-jun again on the scoresheet alongside Cho Gue-sung, before winning by the same scoreline against Uzbekistan thanks to an Oh Se-hun brace.

A 95th-minute Lee Dong-gyeong winner then saw them defeat Jordan 2-1 in the quarter-finals, after Yazan Al-Naimat had levelled the game following Gue-sung's early opener for South Korea.

They would then defeat Australia Under-23s 2-0 to reach the final, and the title was secured with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia after extra time, as Jeong Tae-wook netted a 113th-minute winner.

That saw them take one of the four available spots for Asian nations, and they will go into the group stage with confidence, despite a goalless draw with Egypt Under-23s and a 3-1 defeat to Brazil Under-23s in warm-up friendlies last week.

New Zealand Under-23s form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

South Korea Under-23s form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • L

Team News

Burnley forward Chris Wood could be the star of the show for New Zealand as one of the three permitted over-age players, having hit 24 goals in 57 appearances for the senior side.

He will be supported by exciting attacker Ben Waine, who has eight international goals for the Under-23s from just seven appearances.

Alongside Wood, West Ham United centre-back Winston Reid, who has previously captained the senior side, and Minnesota United defender Michael Boxall have been named as over-age players, covering both ends of the pitch with their three selections.

Meanwhile, midfielders Gianni Stensness and Clayton Lewis are two of the picks of the players aged 23 or under in the squad, having played important roles for Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix respectively in the Australian A-League last season.

The key man for South Korea Under-23s should be attacking midfielder Lee Kang-In, who has already made 44 La Liga appearances for Valencia at the age of 20.

Experience has been added to the squad with defender Park Ji-soo and attacker Kwon Chang-hoon coming in as two of the over-age players.

The third of their selections is dangerous striker Hwang Ui-jo, who has registered 18 goals and five assists in 60 Ligue 1 appearances for Bordeaux over the last two seasons.

New Zealand Under-23s possible starting lineup:
Woud; Elliot, Reid, Pijnaker, Cacace; Lewis, Stensness, Bell; Waine, Wood, Just

South Korea Under-23s possible starting lineup:
Bum-keun; Sang-min, Jae-woo, Ji-soo, Yoon-sung; Kang-in, Dong-hun, Du-jae, Jin-kyu; Chang-hoon, Dong-jun

We say: New Zealand Under-23s 1-2 South Korea Under-23s

While New Zealand boast an impressive amount of quality in their side, boosted by three impressive over-age picks, South Korea Under-23s will still come into the game as narrow favourites, and should have enough to put their first win on the board at the first time of asking.

The Asian nation have prepared intensely for the upcoming tournament and should slightly outclass their opponents thanks to their more well-rounded side.

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