World Cup qualifying is back and tomorrow morning, Korea will face off against Qatar at home in the Suwon Big Bird Stadium. On our end, we know we should win, but who knows what could happen considering the disastrous form we were in a month ago? Will we see a frustrating repeat of this old gem, or will we see something a little more refreshing, especially with a number of players (by which I mean two) playing the best football of their lives?
Note: check out Tim’s Q&A with Adhaaf contributor Ahmen Hashim here if you haven’t done so already! According to Tim, Adhaaf is “THE go-to site for Middle Eastern football news,” so check that out as well!
Qatar from the Korean perspective:
JTBC actually released a very interesting analysis of Qatar, and I will dissect the points they made below:
- We are currently 3rd place while Qatar are dead last. Qatar fell to Uzbek and Iran, the two teams that are above us in the table and are playing very well. Thus, this Qatar game is seen as a must win for us (on paper, you’d think this would be a walk in the park but the KNT never works that way does it?) Moreover, Qatar will be desperate for a win to ensure that their WC campaign in 2022 will not be their debut.
- Last time we played Qatar they played a 4-4-2 with a very low defensive line. They had an insane amount of clearances from their penalty box, and hardly ever applied pressure unless we were well into the final third. Korea, on the other hand, pressed high up and most of the defensive touches were concentrated among the fullbacks. JTCB suggests that to get through this ridiculously defensive setup we have to spread play with fullbacks. JTBC makes some very good points here because the fullbacks are going to be tactically very important this game, something I will explain later on in this review.
- A look at the Qatar heatmap shows that their touches are focused mainly in their own penalty box and the flanks. Indeed, their attacks aways start wide and classify as counterattacks. Qatar will certainly line up as defensively as Syria did, and worse, if we do not find ourselves in a winning position by the second half, the grassrolling will come out in full force. It may not be as ridiculous as the goalkeeper getting his hand injured every time he made a save, but Qatar has had some ridiculous moments of their own (goalkeeper fainting in the middle of the game). The obvious solution, of course, is to score first – something the KNT sorely needs to do to get wins since we seem to have very little creativity in breaking down defenses.
- Remember this?
Here is the JTBC vid that explains all of this a little more concisely:
Some other points regarding Qatar:
- Qatar’s new manager apparently has a record of success against Korean teams in the ACL, where he has defeated the likes of Suwon and Jeonbuk. He is known to be good at getting results with weak teams against bigger teams – precisely what Qatar need. Perhaps Qatar’s sudden managerial change was in order to go all in against us and try to salvage their campaign?
- They’ll certain follow the “anti-Korea” approach that Tunisia, Honduras, Syria etc. all demonstrated as a viable strategy: sit back and defend. That being said, if SHM can recreate his Tottenham form, no amount of defending is going to stop one of his outside-the-PK-box screamers.
- Our team has stayed pretty much the same since 2013, but Qatar has seen quite some turnover towards youth players. Abdelkarim Hassan, one of the best players for the recent 2016 AFC U23 tournament, and veteran striker Sebastian Soria are the starters from 2013 that have been called up again, but the rest seem to be new faces. Players to watch out for? Tim’s Q&A will have covered most of them, but ofc I will point out Akram Afif and Abdelkarim Hassan, who caused us some problems back in January and will certainly threaten our very fragile fullbacks. I keep bringing up fullbacks don’t I? They will almost certainly be the key to winning this match so again, more on that later…
We have a fairly standard callup list this time aside from the re-introduction of Kim Shinwook and Kim Bokyung and the fresh callup of Ko Kwangmin, who has been playing fairly well for FC Seoul. I don’t think any of them will start, though I do think KBK should start at least one of the games and Ko Kwang Min should start both. To me the either FB pairing would be Oh Jae Suk and Ko Kwang Min, because the two have apparently been playing well for Gamba and Seoul, respectively, although I wouldn’t mind Jeong Dong Ho either because Ulsan has been fairly solid defensively this season.
Fullbacks – They say the fullback role is the hardest outfield role there is to play. Not only do they often run the most, they also have to be good at both defense and attack. You have skewed players like (insert Brazilian fullback here) who can get away with lax defending, but it’s fair to say no one on the KNT can attack like Dani Alves to make up for their defensive lapses.
In fact, since the retirement of Lee Youngpyo and Cha Duri, the fullback position has been one of the biggest weaknesses on the team. It is most certainly the position that changes personnel the most on the KNT – within the past 12 months, we’ve called up TEN natural fullbacks + converted a CB into a RB. This becomes a little problematic because teams like Qatar counterattack through the flanks. As did Honduras (ok let’s not go there, I’m sorry for bringing it up again).
Look at this goal we conceded at the hands of Qatar. Kwak Tae Hwi gets rekt – ok so this was when KTH was particularly poor with the NT (he’s surprisingly gotten better over the years), but still – I could forsee this happening to Jang Hyun Soo / Oh Jae Suk. Granted, both are much faster than KTH, but they will still be looking to constantly exploit the space behind our fullbacks, especially because playmaker Akram Afif is particularly good with wide diagonal throughpasses.
The fullbacks are also important for other reasons – to break down any stubborn defense you need to create space for a shot. And to create space for a shot you need to break the defensive shape. And to break the defensive shape in a place where you want to shoot (center), the best thing to do is drag defenders wide. And the best way to drag defenders wide is to use both flanks wisely. This is why JTBC stressed “overlapping runs” so much. They showed a good example of one in the video – here’s another one from the FB master himself, where you’ll see that Roberto Carlos removes one of the two defenders marking Brazilian Ronaldo. This is why I’m stressing the importance of the FB’s so much. We lack creativity down the center despite silky-smooth players like KJC and LJS. And we love attacking down the flanks, so if the fullbacks don’t perform, 1) we won’t score and 2) we’re going to get scored on.
Will SHM and KSY play? – Our two most important players are having some polar opposite seasons. Against Qatar maybe we can get away with not playing either KSY or SHM but against Iran, we’re definitely going to need to KSY’s creativity and SHM’s attacking prowess. I think SHM for sure needs to be rested against Qatar after the game vs. Man City + jetlag. KSY certainly won’t be as tired, but he’s in perhaps the worst form of his career right now. If KSY starts and does not perform to his level against Qatar, at least we have very solid alternatives in Lee Jaesung + Kim Bokyung. In fact, those two have such a great chemistry going with Jeonbuk that if I were Stielike, I would just start those two in central midfield. After all, the European players are going to be jet lagged while LJS + KBK will certainly not be.
Shooting from distance: Something that I’ve been advocating for a long time, when it comes to Middle Eastern teams, is learning how to score from distance. The great problem with playing teams that turtle against us is that we try too hard to be like Japan/Arsenal – we’re not trigger happy enough and often try to walk it into the goal instead. If they’re going to defend like crazy anyway, I really do think the best way to score early is to try to launch Howitzers from outside the PK box. After all, we’re REALLY good at shooting straight at the keeper, so if we look to shoot whenever the space is afforded to us, and take some time picking the spot + aiming accurately (ugh Massimo Luongo), I think we have a pretty good shot at scoring early (pun intended).
Other form issues – on the offensive front, KJC, JDW, SHM, SHJ, LJS, KBK, KSW and HKY are probably fit to play a full 90′. KSY + LCY however, almost certainly cannot start two games because they haven’t been playing for their clubs and will definitely exhaust themselves by halftime. The problem is, Stielike will almost certainly start both of them for BOTH games and not sub them out until like the 80th minute.
Starting XI: This, in my opinion, is our strongest lineup right now, although 1) I wouldn’t use it against Qatar and 2) I wouldn’t complain if JDW was exchanged for LCY (form vs. proven ability? I’m not sure either). Again, if I were Stielike I would first of all rest Son HM. We really don’t have to rely on him to beat Qatar – on the flanks JDW + LCY should be enough.
What we’ll probably see is KSY + SHM along with JHS as RB. Because Stielike will probably end up starting his captain no matter what form he’s in (and not sub him out until late even if he plays poorly).
Prediction: 2-1 Win for Korea. Knowing us we’ll probably concede, but we should have the firepower to overcome Qatar.
Thanks for reading, and remember to catch our livestream at 7AM tomorrow!