We’ve covered the E-1 Championship games quite a bit the past few days on the Tavern, so we’re not going to re-hash too much of that. However, we never got around to a recap of the Korea-Japan final. For that, we turn to new Tavern contributor Kevin Kim. You saw his last work in this previous article.
Previous results: 2-2 D vs China, 1-0 W over North Korea
It may have been a fringe tournament composed of just four teams, but the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) Championship concluded with two of Asia’s finest pitted against one another for the first time in just over two years.
A rivalry that needs no introduction, the 78th Haniljeon had Korea facing Japan in Tokyo, and the Taegeuk Warriors needed a win to take home the title. With two matches played in a round-robin tournament, the Koreans had amassed four points through a draw against China and a win against their northern neighbors. Japan had won both its games, and all the Samurai Blue needed was a draw to celebrate in their own backyard.
But one wouldn’t be blamed if lost beyond the technicalities. It had been seven years since the Korean National Team had come out of a Haniljeon with a victory, and Shin Tae-yong made quite the declaration in his pre-match conference: he’d “never lost against Japan,” and Korea would come out victorious in Tokyo.
Quite the statement, considering the state of the national side.
The starting line-up provided some backing to Shin’s statement. The Taegeuk Warriors started with a 4-4-2; Jo Hyun-woo deputized in goal, with Kim Jin-soo and Go Yo-han on the left and the right, accompanied by the centre back pair of Yun Young-sun, and tournament captain Jang Hyun-soo–the former making just his second appearance for the national side.
Kim Min-woo and Lee Jae-sung played on the left and right of Korea’s flat midfield, with Jung Woo-young and Ju Se-jong playing in the middle. Up top stood the veterans of this national side, Kim Shin-wook playing the classic target man and Lee Keun-ho playing the pacey striker.
This was not an experimental side. As of late, the Taegeuk Warriors have been at their best when lined up a 4-4-2, opposed to a 4-2-3-1, or Shin’s ambitious 3-4-3. Thank God for that, since Korea found themselves on the back foot just three minutes into the game.
A half-chance of a pass was lobbed into the box, and captain Jang Hyun-soo brought Junya Ito down at the edge of the six-yard box. Not much to it, as it was more of an aimless arm across Ito’s chest that was taken full advantage of, but it was a fair penalty nonetheless, with Jang’s pleas fell on rightfully deaf ears.
Yu Kobayashi converted the spot kick, too much pace behind it for Jo Hyun-woo to get to his bottom right corner in time, and almost immediately kick-off, Japan was up one-nil in Tokyo.
That didn’t deter the Taegeuk Warriors. Rising to the challenge, the Koreans played well, hanging onto possession and moving the ball with dangerous forward play. Either the Japanese were content with sitting deep, or didn’t seem mind the early barrage. Just nine minutes into the game, Ju Se-jong nicked the ball in Japan’s own third, whipping in a dangerous, unanswered cross, and Kim Shin-wook forced a save with a low header following a set-piece delivery. Lee Jae-Sung also tested the keeper with an awkward half-volley inches off target just three minutes after.
Sure enough, it only took ten minutes after the penalty kick before the Taegeuk Warriors found an answer. Running down the left, Kim Jin-soo released a dangerous cross that found Kim Shin-wook perfectly, who lost his marker and guided his header well past the keeper. A tied game in Tokyo, and only thirteen minutes gone.
One would think that a goal would change the dynamic of the game, even if slightly, yet it was more of the same from the Taegeuk Warriors, who continued to look comfortable on the ball, and the Samurai Blue were seemingly unable to answer. A combination of good counter-attacking, link up play, and route-one football promised optimism for the Koreans, and, after another convincing break, ending with an parried shot by Kim Shin-wook from the top of the box, the traveling Korean supporters could be clearly heard urging their team on.
It would be just minutes after that chance when the away supporters would be rewarded with one of the greatest free kicks Jung Woo-young probably scored in his entire life.
Korea received a free kick a couple meters outside the box, and after some debate, it was Jung Woo-young who knuckled in a ball that swerved awkwardly and dipped right underneath the crossbar in time. Nakamura could do nothing more but shimmy and fall as the ball somehow managed to squeeze its way into his net. Cristiano, eat your heart out.
The Taegeuk Warriors wanted it more; any loose ball the Koreans could compete, they fought for. Any opportunity they had to press, they did so unrelentingly. A combination of decisive movement on the ball along with constant harassment to retain possession led to a refreshing performance that was beyond welcome to see. Seven years of hurt, maybe? You decide.
But things got even sweeter when Lee Jae-sung, who has continued to grow more and more into the national side, received a decent ball and drifted inside just before finding Kim Shin-wook with plenty of space. Credit must be given to Lee Jae-sung for drawing the attention of three different defenders before releasing the final ball to Kim Shin-wook, who had no problem taking a neat touch before finding the back of the net.
It was a comfortable half for the Taegeuk Warriors–the penalty to start the match an afterthought after 45 minutes. Korea created multiple chances, fought for any loose ball, and left the pitch with an relatively untested back four.
Oh, and two goals up.
The second half started the same way the the first had ended. Three minutes in, Lee Keun-ho drew a foul for aggressively fighting for possession, and constant pressure by the Taegeuk Warriors continued to force errors from a toothless Japanese side.
The team had started with a swagger, and was unafraid to let the Japanese know–Yun Young-sun no different, as he received a yellow for getting in the keeper’s way while he attempted to clear the ball. Petulant, perhaps, but no complaints from the Koreans, as Yun caught a high five on his way back to the defensive line.
Kim Min-woo was also feeling himself with a great half-volley twenty-odd meters out, matched just as well by Nakamura, and Jung Woo-young tested his luck once again–having a very decent go well beyond the box–just agonizingly zipping past the outstretched keeper and the post.
Twenty two minutes into the second half, Korea made its first sub of the match, and Yeom Ki-hoon came in to replace the subdued Lee Keun-ho, who received a nice chorus of cheers while leaving the pitch. It was a like-for-like change, with Yeom playing alongside Kim Shin-wook, who had been playing well throughout the match as Korea’s target man.
Almost two minutes into the change, Yeom made his mark; the Koreans received yet another free kick in a decent position to put in a cross, but Yeom opted to whip in a curling free kick to the keeper’s near post with his renown left foot. The awkward missed clearance of Kobayashi before Nakamura led to the bouncing shot finding the back of the net, and Yeom’s attempt was registered as an own goal for the Japanese penalty converter. Four goals for the Koreans now, still with twenty minutes left to play.
But Shin opted to take the foot off the gas with his second substitution of the game. In the 71st minute, the impressive Lee Jae-sung came out for defender Jung Sung-hyun.
Perhaps it was from this point onward that Korea had been more fortunate than it was good. Playing with five defenders led to Korea sitting deeper, and as the game continued, so did the side grow complacent. The Taegeuk Warriors soaked pressure, and it was due to Japan’s poor technical ability, or inability to link passes together, that the Samurai Blue failed to reduce its deficit. The final Korean substitution of Kim Shin-wook for Jin Seong-wook, a positional like-for-like switch, did nothing to ease the pressure.
The final moments of the game were played in Korea’s half, and Japan’s most dangerous opportunity from open play came from Kengo Kawamata. The ball found a completely unmarked Hiroyuki Abe down the right, and his dangerous cross found Kawamata, who escaped Yun Young-sun and placed a header where keeper Jo Hyun-woo was equal to the challenge.
Just a simple example to the Korean national side’s ineptitude with playing a back-line beyond four. Either it be five at the back, or three with two wingbacks, the unfamiliarity of the system not only disoriented the defense, but also exposed the quality which is lacking in its center backs–evident once again when Kawamata managed to get another shot away when surrounded by three defenders. One can’t help but shudder to think of the possibilities against more punishing sides.
Food for thought – but overall, a performance to celebrate. The Taegeuk Warriors came out resounding winners in Tokyo, and Shin Tae-yong’s bark matched his bite–dispelling the seven year drought in the process. If anything, the tournament was an opportunity for domestic talent to provide a selection headache with the World Cup months away, but what can be universally agreed upon is a performance to be proud of, and bragging rights to boot.
On to the next one.