If you had to choose just one of our five matches so far to watch at 4 AM in the morning, you should’ve chosen this one. All the previous games were pretty darn frustrating minus maybe the Australia match but this one was absolutely worth getting three hours of sleep.
Starting XI and First/Second Half Review:
See Roy’s post – he does a much better job of narrating the course of a game than I can. In a nutshell: We score out of nowhere in the 20th minute, endure some ridiculously intense pressure but hang on to the lead, again score out of nowhere in the 50th minute, and proceed to win.
The game plan of the two teams were very simple. Korea as usual, looked to build up from the back and slowly make it to the penalty box. Iraq, on the other hand, is a team that excels at intercepting the ball in midfield and making QUICK counterattacks – LYP’s prematch analysis showed many examples of them succeeding, and many times they almost succeeded against us. Take the 7th minute for example, when KSY had to make the yellow card tackle – their #7 I believe just shot across that right flank all of a sudden after stealing the ball. However, after falling behind, Iraq started to attack with more vigor instead of staying back and looking for interceptions. But instead of genuine chances I saw way too many crosses, many of which were easily dealt with by our CBs.
It turns out Iraq’s biggest weakness is set-pieces. Iran scored from two corners, and we also scored from two set pieces. The guy who was supposed to mark LJH lost him COMPLETELY, which I guess is understandable given the majority of the INT (Iraq national team) is composed of U23 players, a couple of whom were of the U20 generation that beat us in penalties in the 2012 U20 WC and got the SF. It seems like Iraq wants to begin their Golden Generation with their talisman Mahmoud providing the leadership. However, Iraq’s inexperience really showed. They made quite a few mistakes on both halves of the pitch, allowing us to advance into the finals pretty easily.
Overall Team Thoughts:
What makes this game so special? Because for the first time in YEARS I didn’t have “heart attacks” or “nail-biter” moments. I can’t remember off the top of my head the last time we scored in both halves and won a game “comfortably.” The Uzbekistan game was pretty frustrating until the end and on multiple occasions I just wanted to close my laptop and fall asleep but this one… made me feel at ease. Which coming from the recent form of the KNT, I see as a massive improvement. That being said you can’t look at this game and make the judgment that Stielike has “fixed” the team’s problems and that the path will be brighter going forward, but I do like how this team has progressed and I am certainly looking more and more favorably towards Stielike with each game we play. The defense looks far more cohesive than usual, though it might just seem this way considering the level of opposition we’ve faced so far. In this sense, we really lucked out by not having to face Iran or Japan and getting very easy QF/SF opponents, and now we have a full 5 days of rest before the final. We lost our starting striker, our two vice captains in KJC and LCY, and we also don’t have arguably our most talented defender HJH due to injury, yet our results really does attest to something about Stielike and perhaps Shin Tae Yong’s coaching that’s making a difference.
Speaking of luck, I can’t quantify how lucky this team has been in defense. I can think of two instances where I honestly thought Iraq would score only for their offense to make a dumb mistake. Cahill, Kruse, and Leckie won’t make those dumb mistakes. As Stielike said, the team still has a lot to work on, but the good thing is that we seem to be improving in those key areas, namely defensive organization, communication between players, and set pieces. Perhaps a new one to be added to the KNT to-do-list could be “mentality,” and this is absolutely something that I think has gotten better throughout the tournament, because the players have progressively become better focused and more error-free. I don’t even want to think about the Oman and Kuwait games.
The Defense: Much Improvement but Still Work to Do
KTH – KYK are actually doing surprisingly well. KTH continued his trend of aerial dominance, and there’s one instance when the Iraqis backpassed so KTH signaled for the entire backline to move up, which worked and got Mahmoud offside. KYK also had a solid outing, capped off with a great goal that I honestly didn’t even see coming. Are KTH and KYK due a massive brain fart? I really hope not, but it does make me nervous for the final.
That being said, I can’t give the defense a full A (probably an A- or B+) grade because well we did nearly concede one or two times, but we definitely kept Iraq at bay better than we did vs. Uzbekistan. We haven’t eliminated these pesky mental lapses, but when we do make them we’ve been very good as covering them up, something that was noticeably not there under CKH/HMB.
But the real highlight of the defense (actually maybe the entire match) was the fullbacks. Kim Jin Su has easily been our best player for the past two games, rarely making mistakes or doing anything wrong for that matter. He has undoubtedly locked down the LB spot, and I don’t think YSY can catch up anytime soon. KJS has been that consistently good, even though he is our only player who has played literally every minute of the tournament so far. His aerial ability, tackling, and especially his pressure timing and workrate are fantastic! Don’t you see flashes of PJS in this GIF?
LYP has praised KJS as “way better than I was at that age” and for good reason. Remember, KJS and SHM are still 22, even though it fees like I’ve watched them forever (2009 U17, 2011 U20, etc.)
CDR likewise has been absolutely solid. I remember multiple instances of CDR making crucial clearances and showing solid defensive prowess. His experience really showed especially when he stood in front of Mahmoud to prevent him from getting a free header, won the ball back from our corner multiple times, and on top of a top-notch defensive showing he was also able to contribute to the attack, almost getting an Uzbekistan-esque run there at the very end only to be sandwiched and taken down by two defenders. KJS was undoubtedly the MotM, yet CDR would have to be a close second. Why couldn’t he play like this in 2011? (it was probably the level of opposition to be honest).
There’s not much to note for the GK position, other than that weird moment when KJH thought he was Neuer and needlessly raced deep upfield to intercept an innocuous ball.
The Midfield: The Same Old.
PJH and KSY were solid as usual. I’m increasingly becoming convinced that PJH is the answer to Ki’s MF partner because he’s doing a damn good job. It’s too bad it took so long to discover that PJH has SO much more to offer than HKY or JHS. Though I must admit, I was VERY nervous that PJH might have gotten a second yellow; thank goodness he calmed down soon enough.
I’m a little ambivalent about NTH because he is certainly not showing his pre-tournament form. I feel like he tried a little too hard to justify his shortcomings from the Uzbekistan match, because his energy levels were insane… in a bad way. All of his shots were way too strong and heavy – he had a very good chance early on but skied it higher than Honda skied his PK. This guy needs to bring up his confidence for the final and take a chill pill because we’ll need him at his finest vs. AUS/UAE.
I also liked what I saw from HKW and LKH.
As for SHM… he was ok. Nothing fantastic but he wasn’t as bad as he was vs. Uzbekistan. Speaking of which, can we all agree that Son had a VERY bad game against Uzbekistan until he started scoring near the end?
The Attack: Thank Goodness for LJH
I don’t think I would field LJH against higher quality opponents like in the WC – to me he is kind of a limited player who would quickly get shut down vs quality defenses – but against Asian teams LJH has been not bad. He was pretty frustrating vs. Uzbekistan as he couldn’t win a header to save his life or hold the ball up top, but today he was GOOD. He never stopped running to pressure the Iraq backline, scored a great header (thanks to the defense losing him completely), and assisted the second (I think?). He’s not the fastest nor the most technical FW and I’m pretty sure he’ll never create a chance on his own or score from a shot outside the box, but his positioning and finishing is decent, and I am sure we will see him called up again and again in the near future. Without Ji Dong Won, Kim Shin Wook, Lee Dong Gook, or Kim Seung Dae, LJH is certainly the FW answer, though if JDW starts playing for Augsburg again, I want him playing up top for us ASAP. Knowing Stielike, his go-to FWs moving forward and during the WCQs will most likely be JDW KSW and LJH.
What to work on before the final:
Shooting accuracy – I know this is an obvious one, but I was actually really frustrated how literally ALL of our shots went STRAIGHT at the keeper. SHM and KSY shot some venomous shots… but I remember distinctly having a major WTF moment when SHM’s third dangerous shot on target appeared to be heading towards the right upper 90, yet curved… straight towards the keeper. We have yet to score from a conventional “shot from buildup play” so I really hope SHM can get one of those soon.
Keeping focus: As I’ve said before we’ve definitely improved in this regard but after we scored in 20′, we were PEGGED BACK and pretty much forced to defend for the rest of the first half. It made me very nervous that we couldn’t cut their momentum / tempo, and I worry that with that much pressure, a team of Australia’s caliber could very well score one.
I probably could think of more but I have to work so I’ll be updating this with whatever comes to mind.
I really like the way this team has progressed and the Iraq match has certainly given deserved optimism for the final. LJH, KJS, CDR, KJH, KTH, KYK, and PJH have been “pleasant surprises” for me because I didn’t expect them to be so good. We have a full 5 days of rest, and if Australia-UAE goes to extra time that’d be a massive benefit on our part. I’d be very worried though, if one of those teams won decisively before extra time. UAE has been scary good this tournament and Australia have been usual solid self. If it does go into ET and perhaps PKs pretty much every variable will have gone our way (tbh every variable HAS gone our way so far, but them going into overtime would be just so much better).
But remember, we barely won vs. Australia in the group stages and any other day that could have easily been a loss. That team also did not have four of its important players. Fortunately, we’ve made great improvements throughout the course of this tournament and though I was certain we’d crash out in the SF or QF or something, we’ve been playing pretty well given the circumstances and I say we have a chance at winning this damn tournament for once. We can’t celebrate yet, but I’m back to my usual optimistic self.
And for those of you who missed the match… it’s actually not a bad idea to watch the whole thing.
Also, here’s a nice YT channel for player ball touches and a YT channel that has SHM ball touches for literally every KNT match he’s played in