Exams are finished – some which I did well on, others which went poorly and ruined an otherwise pretty good year – which meant I finally had the chance to tune into a replay of the Korea-Myanmar. Here are a ten thoughts I had while watching the match.
1. Sing the anthem for God’s sake!
This is a pretty random observation, but it is something that annoys me a little. I know the Aegukga isn’t the most rousing anthem in the world, nor does it have a massively uplifting tune like the hymns of Brazil or Uruguay, but for God’s sake, it would be nice if our KNT sung the anthem? Son Heungmin looks like he’s sleeping, and most of the other players are quietly mumbling the words. The only person actually singing it properly was Kwak Taehwi. On contrast, Myanmar (whose anthem is strange with the whole trumpet tune on the track they played) players sung their anthem loud and proud. Is it too much to ask? Show a bit of national pride…
2. Stielike’s team selection
Uli Stielike’s team selection was a bit weird. He stuck with the 4-2-3-1 (something I’ll complain a bit about below) but also made some strange selections, or more specifically, some strange non-selections. After starting against the UAE (and not really doing anything?) Stielike decided to give Kim Seunggyu yet another game against Myanmar. Perhaps Kim Jinhyeon was nursing an injury, as he wasn’t even listed among the substitutes, but it certainly was a bit unorthodox if that isn’t the case. My main gripe though was that the back four stayed the same (except at right back, where Kim Changsoo started). Trying to build consistency? Sure, except one of our best centre-backs (if not the) when in form, Hong Jeongho, is on the bench.
3. Jung Wooyoung
The J2 League midfielder had a pretty good game against the UAE, but his performance against Myanmar was quite lacking. As expected the Southeast Asians defended in numbers, contrary to the UAE, who were less tighter than the Burmese. As a result, his longer passes were often inaccurate (I counted at least 15 poor passes in the first half) and he didn’t really offer an attacking threat when he was dragged into the more attacking phase. All in all, he’s a poor man’s Ki Sungyueng, meaning he’s far from perfect, prone to mistakes but can still, on his good day, offer a dangerous deep killer pass, like against the UAE.
Holy sh*t it was bad. Our only idea seemed to be to let Myanmar set up, and then force everything up the middle, trying to shove our attack plan down the throat of Myanmar’s defense. It didn’t make sense? On 51 minutes, we had Yeom Kihun, Lee Jaesung, Son Heungmin, Lee Junghyup and Jung Wooyoung all in the same area, somewhat successfully playing some tiki taka on top of the Myanmar box and eventually letting Son have a shot which he wasted. Was that our game plan? When given the opportunity to take a risk and play a one-two or a dangerous pass into space that had perhaps a 50/50 chance of working, the KNT reverted to the backpass to the centrebacks or to Han Kookyoung. Also… our counter-attack… take notes, Korea, take notes. Myanmar showed how to counter. Granted, we had less numbers back than they did, even when Myanmar was transitioning from attack to defense. Regardless, there was no desire to go out and counter ferociously and ruthlessly. Is it our DNA? Is it something coaching can’t fix?
5. Can’t we try another formation?
The 4-2-3-1 works. For the style of football it seems like we are going to play under Stielike, the 4-2-3-1 works. We get good coverage for our fullbacks. There’s always that backpass option which, although we use it too much for my liking, is always better than the do-nothing-and-cough-the-ball-up-option. It’s naturally flexible and is something our players are familiar with. It also allows us to use Ki Sungyueng in his best position (or so I believe).
Despite this, I’m not entirely convinced we needed 2 defensive midfielders for this game. We were playing Myanmar. They had like, maximum 10 counter-attacks, and they didn’t get really far in any of them. People say the best attribute of the 4-2-3-1 is that it is the most flexible position out there. But in a game where you aren’t playing a two-sided game, where you’re going to be attacking 75% of the time, not defending, surely something like a 4-1-4-1 would have been more effective. Play Choi Bokyung or Han Kookyoung in the 6 position (Choi since he’s played in a 4-1-4-1 before with Jeonbuk) and use the whole pitch. It’s certainly better than having a DM doing nothing most of the time who gets most of his touches in attacking positions, and is only needed for about one slide tackle and to stop about two counters that actually made it past a couple passes. Cough Han Kookyoung cough.
6. Lee Junghyub
I’m sort of echoing what everyone else is saying here, but Lee Junghyub’s whole-Asian-Cup-the-Cinderella-story narrative has worn off on me. In these two matches (UAE and Myanmar), Lee Yongjae was better than Lee Junghyub. The latter just doesn’t make enough runs, and although he works hard and has a good scoring rate for Sangju Sangmu, he can’t be the number one option to Korea’s forward problems going forward in WCQ.
7. Pathetic crossing
Seriously. On the rare occasions when we opted to go wide, the crosses into the box (by Kim Changsoo and Kim Jinsu) were pretty poor; I counted 6 in the first half, none of which found their marker. To be fair, the tallest player on the pitch, Lee Junghyub, who, you know, also happens to be the striker, didn’t get in the box often enough for these crosses for my liking. (Or Huh Jungmoo’s, for that matter, who voiced his frustrations from the commentary box, even yelling at one point “What is Lee Junghyub seonsu doing? Lee Junghyub seonsu?!”)
8. Hey, at least we defended well
Though our backline was never put under serious duress, Kwak Taehwi and Jang Hyunsoo did their jobs, quietly and calmly, putting in the odd tackle and not making a serious error. We’ve conceded 2 goals in 11 games (excluding extra time) which certainly is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully it remains like this throughout qualifying, although, like I said, Myanmar is certainly not a test of their ability.
9. Still standing
In an international break full of upsets (Wales-Belgium (though is that an upset anymore with the way Bale has been playing for country?), Faroe Islands-Greece, Japan-Singapore, Iran-Turkmenistan, Guam leading their group, Australia conceding to Kyrgyzstan) and in a hot, humid atmosphere in a nearly empty stadium on the road, ultimately, the result matters most. And no matter the two fortunate goals (can someone tell Son Heungmin his free kick goal was actually really bad, and that any half-decent keeper would have stopped it?), the bottom line is that we have three points to start our World Cup campaign. In this round, we probably get the right to not come out with maximum points in 1 game, maybe 2. It’s important to keep that small cushion for as long as possible. (I’m mentally prepared for a goalless draw in Kuwait.)
Ultimately, Uli Stielike is no grand tactician. His two big tactical moves – the weird 4-5-1 against Australia and the weirder Kwak Taehwi as striker in the latter stages of that game (which ended up working) – have had mixed success. What I’m trying to get at is, the 4-2-3-1, slow, cautious buildup tactic seems like it will be the Plan A which Stielike will continue to work on throughout this second round. Which leads me to accept that we will not be blowing out Laos or Myanmar 6 or 7-0. And we have good chances to struggle to break down a team such as Kuwait. We did in the Asian Cup, and it hasn’t really changed. But at the end of the day, a result is a result, and as long as we are getting three points (and start getting some goals in open play).
Jalgayo from the TSQ…