Son Heungmin missed three great opportunities as the South Korean Olympic team struggled to convert chances against Honduras in the 2016 Rio Olympics quarter-final. As a result, the team crashes out of the tournament and will not win military exemption.
Shin Taeyong’s starting lineup selection was largely the same as the team that beat Mexico. The one noticeable change was Moon Changjin being re-introduced, replacing Lee Changmin, meaning that Kwon Changhoon set-up (on paper) in defensive midfield. In practice, it was more of a 4-1-4-1 with Kwon and Moon pushing up while Park Yongwoo was cover for the fullbacks.
Honduras, as predicted, lined up in their 5-4-1 defensive shape – discussed at length in the latest Tavern Podcast. There were no surprises in the team selection.
God, I don’t even want to re-live this… but here I go anyways.
The first half was so predictable it wasn’t surprising in the slightest. Not in the slightest.
Korea started early with a couple of bright moments. Gu Sungyun’s distribution from deep was decent as he sought out the speedy runs of Hwang Heechan, though his final ball in the box was lacking disappointingly. The Hondurans were hoping for Korea to make mistakes in defense, with a 4-man press from that side, making the Koreans uncomfortable while knocking the ball around the back.
Whenever the Koreans lost the ball, the Hondurans were quick to counter through their wingers, Quioto and Elis. It was the job of Park Yongwoo and the centrebacks, more specifically Jung Seunghyeon, to cover for the fullbacks who tried to push up the pitch.
Surprisingly, Shim Sangmin, our favorite fullback of the Group Stage, seemed like he was going to have a good game. He was doing the simple thing, making simple passes, reading when Jung Seunghyeon wanted to cover for him and coming back down the pitch adequately. He was doing well to frustrate Elis, the Honduran danger man, and although we saw glimpses of what Honduras can do on the counter-attack, we didn’t see any sort of breakthrough.
Any sort of breakthrough sums up the Korean offensive performance however. First off, a continuing trend with all Korean teams ever, the team’s passing was quite deficient, despite a 4-1-4-1 formation that should have allowed the team to play that passing game. 66% passing completion, worse than the counter-attacking Hondurans! Despite having the vast majority of possession, the passing game was nonexistant.
By the 30th minute, it was easy to figure Korea out – they only had two plans for this match – longballs to Hwang Heechan or any other player making a run into the box; and trying to break down the front door of Honduras’ 5-back by crashing the box, looking to play one-twos and cute passes while storming the box. However, there was no dice for Korea, no true opportunity, until the end of the half.
In the 39th minute, Son Heungmin hit a powerful free kick that was well saved by Honduran keeper Lopez. The rebound fell to Jung Seunghyeon but he could not redirect it into the net, with his marker making things difficult for the tall centreback. Then, in the 45th minute, Ryu Seungwoo went “ah, fuck it”, and fired at goal. The ball deflected off of a Honduran and seemed set to loop into the left corner of net, but once again, Lopez got over to make an acrobatic save.
Then, right before the half, Son Heungmin took a volley at the top of the box, but his drive was perhaps directed too close to the keeper, as once again the netminder’s acrobatics meant that the halftime whistle came without either side leading the match.
For the first time, there was no barrage of “halftime sub now!” on Twitter, as there was no individual performance to single out as disappointing but rather the entire the team. Honduras set up to defend and counter, while the Koreans resorted to long balls, crashing the box, or setting a man free through some passing in wide positions. Neither of the three strategies had worked of yet, with the team’s best chances coming from when they threw the script out of the window.
The second half began promisingly for Korea, much as the first half did. Strangely, the Hondurans were weakest right after both kickoffs, but Korea failed to capitalize. Shim Sangmin, Ryu Seungwoo and Moon Changjin made simple, smart passes and Son Heungmin found himself in the box with only the keeper to beat… but an acrobatic save by the Honduran keeper denied Son’s low shot.
10 minutes later, a fantastic, soft pass from Hwang Heechan split two Honduran defenders. Kwon Changhoon received his pass on the right side, then ran dangerously in an arc, skimming the penalty box, then released Ryu Seungwoo on the left! But instead of letting the ball go through and playing a dummy, Son Heungmin intercepted the pass… and slid his shot wide, skimming perhaps the fingertips of Lopez. Ryu Seungwoo gestured angrily at his former Bayer teammate.
Son could have redeemed himself seconds later when Kwon Changhoon released Son on the right side this time. He ran into a tight angle but his low shot didn’t even make it on target, whistling across the 6-yard box to no avail.
Frustration was mounting for a Korean team who had created 3 golden opportunities in this half but had seen Son fail to convert. Fears were growing for Korean fans that this would not be their day. That this would not be our day. It was all too familiar, it was so evidently deja vu.
For the millionth time in this game, the predictable happened. Honduras, as they so mercilessly do, took their luck in stride and countered… this time, successfully. Both fullbacks had pushed far too up the pitch – something they were careful not to both do – and a Son Heungmin turnover meant the Hondurans countered with ruthless pace. Defensive midfielder Park Yongwoo was beaten out of the picture. Lee Seulchan didn’t have the speed to come back in time. Both centrebacks had to be wary of the oncoming Quioto and the striker, Lozano. And over at leftback, Shim Sangmin was a good 5 metres behind Albertho Elis.
One touch finish. Honduras ahead.
It was so predictable! Yet the sinking feeling hurt nonetheless. Korea now had half an hour to break down a Honduran side who would inevitably resort to parking the bus even further as well as time-wasting tactics. Knowing this, and knowing Honduras’ aerial vulnerabilities, Shin Taeyong brought on Suk Hyunjun once again.
In the 70th minute, hero of the Mexico match Kwon Changhoon had a golden opportunity as Hwang Heechan’s low cross fell to him, with a clear look on goal from pretty much the penalty spot. But again, his shot was right at the keeper, and a nation collectively yelled in frustration as another opportunity was inexcusably wasted.
But as time went on, no breakthrough came, the Hondurans taking off midfielder and forward for more defensive options. With 2 minutes left until 90 minutes were up, goalscorer Elis was “injured” by Jung Seunghyun pushing the Honduran over in an effort to retrieve the ball. He rolled around for a minute, then refused to get up when the referee asked him to, then when medical help came, the staff refused to heed to advice of the seemingly powerless referee for Elis to take treatment off the pitch.
Elis pretty much was injured for 3 and 1/2 minutes, but this, tacked on with other Honduran timewasting, plus the usual injury time for balls going into touch/substitutions/goal celebrations = 3 minutes of injury time.
Now as a Korean fan, it’s inevitable that I whine about the referees all the time. But I truly felt that the officiating in the Mexico and Honduras games were to our deficit, as harsh or persistent fouling was seemingly ignored for our opponents. This was a disgrace of another level, however, and I am sure that when the referee reflects on this match, he will be wondering why on earth his fourth official chose to allocate so little time despite so many stoppages.
But no excuses. The team should have won. No opportunity came as balls were punted into the penalty box hopefully. The referee blew the whistle just 30 seconds after the 3 minutes expired. Military exemption and medal dreams over. The “easiest” opponent since Fiji was our downfall. And in a quintessentially Korean way, our opportunities were not be seized upon and just one clear cut chance on the counter was our downfall.
Gu Sungyun – 6 – Nothing he could do on the goal.
Shim Sangmin – 4.5 – He had a strong first half under he got rekt by Quioto near the end… but you can’t look past the fact that Elis was his man and he scored the winning goal.
Jung Seunghyeon – 6.5 – I feel really bad for this guy, who had another great game, covering for Shim, rock solid. He should be moving to Europe. Instead he’s going to Sangju.
Jang Hyunsoo – 6 – Didn’t have much to do and I can’t blame him for much at all really.
Lee Seulchan – 5.5 – That pivotal step forward meant that he couldn’t be within reach to foul Quioto’s searing run.
Park Yongwoo – 5.5 – As defensive midfielder, covered well, but you’d want him to be in a better position on that Honduran goal.
Ryu Seungwoo – 5.5 – My memory is so blurred that I don’t know what he did. Sorry.
Moon Changjin – 5 – Where’s the creativity in the middle?
Kwon Changhoon – 5 – Spark at times but let team down with the shocking miss near the end there.
Son Heungmin – 4.5 – Three chances to score. Three misses. Don’t complain with the ref about injury time after. He can blame nobody but himself.
Hwang Heechan – 6 – Final touch let him down today, but he was vital to a couple of should-have-been Son goals. Will be instrumental part of 2018 Asian Games side as a U-23. (I think he’s still under the cut-off, since the AG is in 2016?).
SUB: Suk Hyunjun – N/A – He had twenty minutes but he didn’t really do anything.
Choi Kyubaek – N/A – Weird sub by STY to bring on a centreback in the 90th minute…
How does that song go again?
“I see your true colors, shining through…”
The easiest way to beat any Korean team in history is to sit deep and counter attack. This old adage came true once again today, as Jorge Luis Pinto’s hallowing words: “I have a clear idea of what to do.” rang true.
Military exemption evades our boys, and a crushing blow it is indeed. Son Heungmin, Suk Hyunjun, Kwon Changhoon and Hwang Heechan’s careers in limbo. After drawing Germany, beating Mexico, of all teams it is Honduras who is this team’s pitfall.
And now, for Son, an anxious wait. The Asian Games, his final hope at military exemption as another overrage call-up.
But in failing to convert his chances today, he’s let his hoobae’s down. Players who never again will get a crack at military exemption.
He’s let Spurs down. Why would any European club ever want to sign another Korean player with military exemption so out of reach?
He’s let his nation down. A country anxious for something to brighten up what has been a poor Games.
But most of all, Son Heungmin has let himself down.
All I can say is: what can you say? It was all but a mirage. At the end of the day, Korea doesn’t beat these teams. These kinds of opponents are our downfall, now and always.
Because Korea is Korea is Korea is Korea.
Folks, I can’t help but say it…. it feels like we’re back to the drawing board once again.