Abu Dhabi, January 15: South Korea coach Paulo Bento is yet to decide whether Son Heung-min will start as his side seek to secure top spot in Group C against China.
With both sides having taken maximum points from games against Kyrgyzstan and Philippines at the Asian Cup, it comes down to Wednesday's clash at Nahyan Stadium to determine who will finish on top.
Son has arrived to boost Bento's squad after being granted a late arrival so he could remain with Tottenham and contribute to their Premier League campaign.
And the delay did not cost South Korea, with Bento's men having won both of their pool matches 1-0 so far, meaning China have the advantage on goal difference.
Son starred as South Korea triumphed at the Asian Games last year, but Bento is unsure whether the forward should face China or be held back for the last 16.
"Of course we know how many matches he has played in the last months," he said. "We also know that he is a very important player for our team.
"He has a second training session with the team later today [Tuesday] and we will see how he fares before deciding. For that matter, any changes that we make to the team will not be because we are resting players but it will be for our strategy.
"They are a very good team with a very good coach [Marcello Lippi] who knows Asian football very well. China will want to win the group and so do we and this means it will be a very good match. As I said, they are a good side and to win, we must take risks."
Lippi confirmed he will be making changes with the knockout stages in mind, but he still wants to avoid defeat against Korea to ensure China finish at Group C's summit.
"It is important for the team's momentum that we continue performing well," the World Cup winner told a news conference.
"Korea are a top team and Son is just one of many good players they have. If we are to stop Korea, it must be as a team and that is what I have been stressing to the players.
"I will rest players who are nursing injuries and yes, Wu Lei will not play as I do not want to risk it. He is recovering but I will leave him out as a precaution.
"Having said that, I will not be changing 11 players for the Korea match. We have qualified but it is very important for our confidence to play a good match against Korea.
"They are one of the strongest teams in Asia and are one of the favourites to win the Asian Cup. The condition of my players will determine who starts but our target will be the same – a win."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
China – Hao Junmin
A pair of assists in China's 3-0 win over Philippines last time out showed Hao Junmin's creative gifts and, if the midfielder is selected by Lippi and not rested, he will be a key threat for Bento's men to watch out for. The 31-year-old Shandong Luneng midfielder scored in a World Cup qualifier against South Korea back in September 2016, although his side lost the game 3-2.
South Korea – Son Heung-min
Arguably Asia's best ever player and certainly the continent's most gifted talent right now, Korea attacker Son has the ability to light up the Asian Cup. A star man in his side's triumph at last year's Asian Games, earning exemption from military service, Son adds a much-needed X factor to Korea's attack and the Tottenham forward is probably the most dangerous goalscorer present at the tournament too.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- This will be the fourth meeting encounter at the Asian Cup between South Korea and China. The Koreans are so far unbeaten, winning two and drawing one, with their last encounter dating back to 2000 in the third place final (1-0). - China are looking to win all three of their group matches for the second successive Asian Cup tournament, having done so back in 2015 beating Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and North Korea. - China have scored more than double the number of goals (5) that Korea Republic have (2) so far in the 2019 finals; but have attempted 12 shots fewer (23) than the Koreans (35). - Hwang Ui-jo has attempted 13 shots and scored one goal at the 2019 Asian Cup for Korea so far – nine more shots than any other player in the Korea squad. - Wu Lei and Yu Dabao have both netted twice each already for China at the 2019 Asian Cup. No player managed to score more than three times for the Chinese through the entire 2015 edition of the competition (Sun Ke – three goals).