By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- On the eve of their big-ticket men's football final at the Asian Games, the head coaches of South Korea and North Korea on Wednesday both expressed confidence in a monumental victory.
The tantalizing showdown will kick off at 8 p.m. Thursday at Munhak Stadium. It's the first inter-Korean clash for the men's football title at an Asiad since 1978, when the two shared the gold medal after the match ended in a draw.
North Korea hasn't won an Asian Games gold in men's football since. The last South Korean gold in the sport came in 1986.
Lee Kwang-jong, the South Korean head coach, said his players are "quite eager" to win Thursday.
"In every aspect of the game, be it mental or physical, our players are ready," Lee said at a pre-match press conference at Munhak Stadium. "We've been gearing toward the gold medal here, and we hope to engage North Korea in a great game tomorrow."
Yun Jong-su, Lee's North Korean counterpart, said his players won't back down from whatever challenges that might be thrown their way.
"I am sure our players are ready, too," Yun added. "We're going to do our best to demonstrate skills that we haven't shown before."
Lee said he's wary of North Korea's defense and its ability to launch quick counterattacks by utilizing speedy attackers. Yun said his team will have to play hard on both ends to hold off South Korea in the final.
While both teams have had little break in between knockout matches -- each team getting just one day off in between quarterfinals and semifinals, and then semifinals and the final -- North Korea had a tougher battle in the semis.
South Korea defeated Thailand 2-0 in regulation on Tuesday to reach the gold medal match. North Korea needed 30 minutes of extra period to beat Iraq 1-0, and the win also came at a cost. Jong Il-gwan, who scored the eventual winner early in the first extra period, was sent off on two yellow cards and will be ineligible for the gold medal game.
Jong is North Korea's leading scorer with five goals, and though his absence will leave a big void in his offense, Yun said he isn't the type to dwell on the past.
"I am only going to think about our remaining match," the coach said. "It's a shame that Jong Il-gwan won't be available, but we're going to have to find ways to plug the hole. We have players on the bench who are ready to step in."
Lee said he might have his injured striker, Kim Shin-wook, available to take the field in the second half if needed. Kim sustained a leg injury during a group stage match against Saudi Arabia on Sept. 17 and hasn't played since.
Lee added he would have inserted Kim into the semifinals game against Thailand if he felt he needed some offense. With South Korea taking a 2-0 lead into the second half, the coach said he wanted to further rest Kim, one of the leading scorers in the domestic K League Classic, for the gold medal match.
Yun also voiced his displeasure at officiating and said his team got the short end of the stick against Iraq in the semifinals.
"I don't think we're seeing fair officiating at this tournament," the North Korean coach said. "If the referees call a fair game in the final, then I think the two sides will play a great game."