The East Asian Cup is admittedly one of the more meaningless ones in the football world. However, there’s no denying that any trophy is still a sweet sight to behold, and the Korean men’s team allowed us to relish the victory of this niche tournament this year. But underneath this victory lies the discovery of new talents and a triumph for the K League. Number 5 on our list – the East Asian Cup.
As you know, the EAFF Cup is held during non-FIFA dates, which means that national teams do not have access to European-based players. Therefore, this tournament was is essence a battle of the C.League, the J-League, the K-League and the North Korean league. The championship began for the men against China. The hosts seemed favorites, as they came off of an impressive Asian Cup and retained most of their squad (too few European based players). But they were hardly spurred on by these advantages or the home crowd in the sweltering heat of Wuhan. It was instead the Koreans who dissected the Chinese in every corner and moment of the game. A solid performance and it was the K League-based midfield that shone. Kim Seungdae and Lee Jongho were the scorers – the second goal the result of a particularly delicious pass from Lee Jaesung that had Stielike pumping his fists.
The much anticipated Haniljeon was next, and it was anticlimactic at most. Stielike made drastic changes to the K League-oriented midfield/attack that had slain China and opted to give players like Kim Minwoo and Lee Yongjae a shout. The strategy? Have these J. League midfielders cross to Kim Shinwook in the hope that he scores. And let’s just all collectively agree to never do anything like that ever again. It was god awful. Like fucking awful. Lee Yongjae’s foot was like a death touch to the attack – nothing ever happens when he touches the ball. I genuinely feel like I can cross the ball better than Kim Minwoo. And Kim Shinwook really can’t head the ball. He’s tall but that’s pretty much it. I’ve already ranted on this before, so let’s close this wound. The score was 1-1 – Jang Hyunsoo’s penalty (won by Lee Yongjae forgetting how to cross the ball and fortuitously hitting a Japanese arm) was cancelled out by Yamaguchi’s wondergoal. (By the way Lee Jaesung was a sub for 20 minutes in this game and created more than the entire team for 70 minutes. Eat your heart out Lee Yongjae…)
It set the stage for a meaningful clash with our brothers up north – a victory would give the South Koreans the tournament win. We saw a return to the squad that defeated China – Kwon Changhoon, Lee Jaesung, Kim Seungdae and Lee Jongho all featured in the attack. I sense another rant coming on, but for all the wonderful chemistry and raw potential that was on full display in this tournament from these players, they simply cannot finish. And it became comical! The North Koreans were outclassed from kickoff to final whistle, but none other than Ri “Bukfon” Myong Guk stood in the way. The match finished 0-0, when it could have finished 10-0. However, the Japanese and Chinese drew their match, allowing the South Koreans to celebrate their coronation as Champions of East Asia a few hours later.
The Women had a fantastic tournament of their own. Jung Seolbin hit a screamer to make it 2 out of 2 for South Korean victories against the Chinese, before a stunning comeback against the World runners-up Japan, thanks to a picture-perfect free kick by Jeon Gaeul at the death. Although they fell against the North Koreans at the final hurdle, a second place finish and some highlight worthy goals against China and Japan are satisfying takeaways from the tournament. There were also a few discoveries at this tournament, which is the most important long-term product of these tournaments. Lee Mina, a speedy midfielder, impressed the Korean media so much that she made it onto the front pages of the sport sections on Korean news portals, while Jung Seolbin and Lee Geummin both had noteworthy performances. But these players only got a chance to show their true colours because of the absence of Ji Soyun, who was, as our next article will explain, putting her talents on display in England…