Better late than never – the Haniljeon didn’t live up to the hype as Korea and Japan played to a 1-1 draw in Wuhan China on their 2nd games of the East Asian Cup. I don’t really think I need to go through all the highlights, because 1) the game happened a couple days ago and 2) there isn’t much to recap. Rather, this post will be my reflections on what we can conclude from this match.
The Korean Lineup
Stielike made 8 changes to the side that beat China 2-0, and it was by no accident. This drastic lineup change merely confirmed that he was intending to test most if not all the players in his 23 man arsenal. There were many ways this lineup could function on the pitch – as a 4-3-3 with Joo Sejong dropping back as opposed to interchanging with the striker, or as more of a 3-5-2 with Lee Yongjae playing off of Kim Shinwook, and Jang Hyunsoo dropping into central defense. Ultimately, it was the former that was the most descriptive of Korea’s 11 players and their general positioning. Unsurprisingly, Stielike’s strategy was quite predictable – longballs to Kim Shinwook.
The beginning of the first half was rather timid from both sides, Japan hesitant to press the Koreans in their own half and happily conceding possession far too often for comprehension. The Koreans unsurprisingly began hitting longballs to Kim Shinwook – the aerial passes coming from the fullbacks Jeong Dongho and Lee Juyong, and wingers Kim Minwoo and Lee Yongjae. However, throughout the entirety of the match, and despite the overlaps and at-times very high positioning of the fullbacks, the service to Kim Shinwook was very poor.
Korea’s first goal was somewhat fortunate – I don’t recollect the Taeguk Warriors taking a shot on goal before the goal. A cross was swung into the box by Lee Yongjae, but not to Kim Shinwook, perhaps the first ball intentionally not aimed at the head of the Ulsan centre forward (though tbf the longballs were so bad you wouldn’t know for sure at whom they were aiming). Kim Minwoo’s header struct the trailing arm of Japanese captain Morishige, and the referee pointed to the spot. Jang Hyunsoo, team vice-captain and penalty taker during the 2014 Asian Games, stepped up to the spot and sent Nishikawa the wrong way. The Koreans had an fortuitous lead, but one they too easily relinquished.
The Blue Samurai’s goal was out of the blue as well. (See what I did there? Blue… Samurai… out of the bl- ok that wasn’t funny). It was a recycled free kick which the Koreans failed twice to properly clear. Cerezo Osaka’s Yamaguchi had a pocket of space on top of the box which no Korean was able to adeptly close down in time – Kim Shinwook and company were already jogging off to start a Korean counterattack (why even bother we never counter attack anyways) while Kim Younggwon and the backline/most of the set piece defenders were caught flatfooted in the penalty box. Basically the Japanese got slightly fortunate that we had this gaping home on top of the box. Nonetheless, the opportunity offered to the Japanese was duly taken, and in exceptional style. Yamaguchi curled the ball into the bottom corner, which even a full-stretch Kim Seunggyu could not get his fingers on. We may dislike the Japanese, but credit where credit is due. That was a cracking finish.
The rest of the half was fairly uneventful, as was the beginning of the second half. On Twitter, Jae quipped this:
Ahhhh, my eyes…. And I'm not talking about the LASEK. Zing!
— Jae (이재혁) (@ArmchairRegista) August 5, 2015
Fair play, he was spot on (I sounded so British there aah)… the game was dull, uneventful and at times painful. Japan offered nothing in attack, seemingly disinterested at certain moments. In fact, for the remainder of the match I can’t really recall any dangerous Japanese opportunity. There were moments where they infiltrated our half and penalty box that had me squirm a bit in my seat, but Kim Seunggyu was never tested.
Shortly after the 60 minute mark, Lee Jaesung and Hong Chul were brought on for Joo Sejong and Lee Juyong, neither of whom had a particularly good match. The subs, however, fared much better. Well, Hong Chul actually didn’t do that match, but he’s a fullback and what’s a fullback to do when Kim Shinwook can’t win an aerial ball? Besides, the strategy of the game shifted with Lee’s introduction in the attacking midfield role. It was now through the Jeonbuk Hyundai player Korea had to play, and how wonderfully exasperating the game became. Let me explain myself:
LEE JAESUNG IS A GOD. In 20+ minutes he did more than any other player on the match for either side. He is literally up there with the best players of the continent. I kid you not. This guy is seriously good. Literally seconds after his introduction, his header caromed off of the bar (meanwhile, Kim Shinwook still trying to win an aerial challenge here). There were several intricate passing moves starting by the Jeonbuk playmaker, and for the last phase of the game, my entire family was in agreement (odd): Korea was going to score. For the first time in the entire match, I actually had belief that we would nick a winner. A late cameo by Kwon Changhoon also proved what Korea lacked in this match – a midfield threat. But more on that later. In nearly Jeon Gaeul-esque style, Kwon hit a freekick in the 92nd minute, though he probably didn’t get as much curve or elevation on the set piece than he would have liked. It stung the fists of Nishikawa and that was that. Korea had drawn Japan 1-1.
Let’s all just agree to say goodbye for now to the following players
Kim Shinwook – is the epitome that just because you’re tall doesn’t make you good at winning headers. Makino was marking him all night and he struggled to complete a successful flick-on. Even when the Korean attack got to perhaps the “fourth phase” (1. longball to Kim Shinwook 2. flick on to the wings by Kim Shinwook 3. Cross into box to Kim Shinwook 4. attacking header by Kim Shinwook 5. Rinse and repeat if goal is not scored), he was unable to threaten the Japanese goalframe. What’s the use of selecting a player for his aerial ability when he doesn’t have aerial ability? It’s not working for Ulsan Hyundai, it’s not working for Korea Republic. Play more mobile, slightly more complex centre forwards and the team becomes far better. (ie Yang Donghyun for Ulsan, Lee Junghyub for Korea)
Kim Minwoo, Lee Juyong – Did either of them do anything? Granted, maybe they have their upsides. But crossing into the box for Kim Shinwook isn’t one of them. Kim Minwoo looked far from the Kim Minwoo we saw in his debut, and the poor man’s Son Heungmin was just a bad player all game long. Lee Juyong couldn’t cross… like at all. He doesn’t 뻥축구.
These players were really fckin awful
Lee Yongjae – Everything just died through him. And what was he supposed to be exactly – crossing to Kim Shinwook? A second striker? He didn’t do any of that very well, he didn’t do anything very well. I’m hesitant to rip into him too much however, because he certainly seems to be a player who has a skillset that doesn’t include crossing, but a skillset nonetheless. From the little I’ve seen, I much prefer him as a striker than as a winger.
Jung Wooyoung, Jang Hyunsoo – Jung had a brilliant debut vs the UAE and an absolutely shitty match against Myanmar. We saw Myanmar Jung in this match. To be fair, the entire tactic wasn’t well suited for a player more adept as passing and controlling the tempo, but too often this DM pair opted to backpass when we could have been countering, or exploiting Japan’s laxness. Jang Hyunsoo played waaaay too far up. He’s more of a traditional defensive mid playing in front of the two CB’s for cover than a Ki Sungyueng-esque player who finds himself in advanced positions. God, please, I don’t want to see Jang Hyunsoo in the penalty box during an attack again unless it’s a set piece or penalty kick. He doesn’t belong there, he’s in over his head, he doesn’t offer anything there. No, Uli. No.
So we have a simply beautiful 2-0 win over China and a flashback provoking long ball failure against Japan. We still managed to draw, but that was more due to Japan’s overall shittiness (their short passes were actually really good despite this) than anything else. Here we have the contrast.
Against China, we used three, mobile, complimentary midfielders, and a more complex (Lee Jeonghyub, complex? Okay, relatively complex) striker. Lee Jongho’s got the dynamism and vision, but the unselfishness sometimes ignored by a Son Heungmin. Kim Seungdae knows when to switch up top and let Lee Jeonghyub drop back. He’s fluid, he’s a good passer, he makes smart decisions. Lee Jaesung is the playmaker. He’s aggressive, he wants that ball and he’ll let you know he wants it, and when he has it, something dangerous always seems to happen.
Against Japan, our tactic was longballs, crosses, rinse and repeat. Neither the delivery nor the execution were half-decent. Joo Sejong just didn’t get involved much, Kim Minwoo was slow as a slug, and Lee Yongjae didn’t seem comfortable at all. Our defensive midfield was fairly nonexistant, a stark contrast to the glorious (and at times, naive in the “keep your head down and run”) running of Kwon Changhoon. Somehow, the centre back chemistry also seems better with Kim Juyoung and Kim Younggwon than Kim Kihee and Kim Younggwon.
The point I am trying to make is this – in a time when Korea offers a legitimate threat when keeping the ball on the fucking ground, why long ball? I get that this was a test match, but we cannot afford to take this approach anytime in the near future. Japan was wrecked by North Korea in their previous match because the Norks actually used a target man efficiently. It’s been quite evident for years that South Korea is not able to do this, and therefore, and especially when there are better options available, let’s not attempt to play 뻥축구 again.
The final game of the East Asian Cup for the men is against North Korea on Sunday. And it’s quite simple. For the first time since 2008, we can win the East Asian Cup if we defeat the Norks. If we draw, then get ready to cheer for Japan everyone – a draw or Japanese win in that match would also see us hoist the trophy if we share the spoils against North Korea.
Let’s send our best players on the pitch against North Korea. Let’s see that running of Kwon Changhoon, the playmaking of Lee Jaesung, the dynamism of Lee Jongho and the smarts of Kim Seungdae. Let’s have the solid backline, with defensive solidity and leadership from Kim Younggwon. There is something to be taken away from this tournament, and its potential is real and genuine. Some of these players can realistically play a role in the World Cup Qualifying campaign. Why not have Lee Jaesung become a mainstay on the team, with Son Heungmin and Lee Chungyong to his left and right? Why not have Lee Jongho or Kim Seungdae come on as subs or play as rotation players? Why not tackle a significantly weaker opponent with the one-two offensive defensive midfield punch of Ki Sungyueng and Kwon Changhoon, or use Kwon’s running late in matches? And somebody, anybody, please raise your hand if you want to be our starting rightback!
Some of these questions can be answered against North Korea. And probably because of my fandom of the K League, I hope that the K League midfield trio can impress once more against the Norks. For these players, and for the K League in general, winning the EAFF Cup isn’t just about bringing a trophy home and saying that the K League won it – some of them can grow into mainstays in the first team’s 23 man roster. It’s all about Stielike giving them a chance. If he starts them on Sunday, they’ve got one.
To that, I say – YES PLEASE.