Whew. I’m glad I got to write this on time, with a lot of other personal stuff getting in the way. Such is the life of a high school student who made the unfortunate choice of signing up for enriched academic maths. But, among all the x’s and the y’s, I hadn’t forgotten that in a few hours, South Korea will take the pitch in their 2nd World Cup Qualifier, this time against Laos. What lineups are the media predicting this time? And what do we know about Laos? I interviewed their manager, Steve Darby, to know a little bit more about Thim Xad.
Yonhap News is predicting a fairly full strength lineup, but with one oddity. Kim Seunggyu is expected to start in goal, unless Stielike breaks from what he did at the EAFF Cup and lets one of the back-ups play. Leftback is predicted to be Kim Jinsu, though I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if we see Hong Chul in that position instead, seeing that he is the second string LB in this selection, and we don’t need to play as much of an all-round game as we will against Lebanon. Kwak Taehwi-Kim Younggwon is predicted to the be CB pairing, but somehow this feels like Stielike’s first string pairing – I’d expect Hong Jeongho to be in the mix.
The one thing that gives Yonhap’s prediction a bit of weirdness is the listing of Jang Hyunsoo at right back. Im Changwoo and Kim Kihee are the two players Stielike selected in that position, surely.
With Park Jooho only available for the Lebanon match, I hope this game will be a test for my preferred vs minnows defensive midfield pairing, Ki Sungyueng and Kwon Changhoon. We don’t need to play a Jung Wooyoung (who seems to have more of Ki’s attributes than the bursts of pace from Kwon) against a team who we will dominate in terms of possession. Son Heungmin is only available for Laos, so he will start on the left wing, while I believe Koo, like Park Jooho, will be absent from this match. That leaves things open to a Kim Seungdae centrally/Lee Jaesung outwide to complete the midfield. Striker – take your pick. Suk Hyunjun and Hwang Uijo are both fairly new to the KNT, having not been called up in a longtime.
THE OPPO: LAOS
Needless to say, I was pretty clueless when it came to information about our opponent in this match. Usually, I’d reach out to a blogger or journalist with some knowledge of the side, but this time, with help by some kind folks on Twitter, I managed to get an interview (through email) with the Laos manager himself, Steve Darby.
Laos are entering this match on a high note. They drew Myanmar on the 11th of June in their first qualifier, with a brace from Khampheng Sayavutthi, and prior to this match, beat fellow ASEAN nation team Cambodia 2-1. Despite this, Laos are having no illusions about the quality of the opponent they will be facing, nor are they having any realistic World Cup dreams – Darby jokes that he doesn’t think he’ll be needing any Russian lessons.
So what is Laos’ goal in this game? “We hope to make life difficult for Korea,” Steve Darby explains. “Big scores are no god for anybody in the game, so we want professional results. A draw would be a dream come true.” For Laos, the goal from this World Cup Qualification campaign seems to be a broader one. “We want to close the gap on ASEAN leaders Thailand, and no longer get beaten by big scores,” hopes Darby. Even bigger than that, Darby says that “it would be fantastic for a Laos player to play in the J or K Leagues,” but he acknowledges that “the first step is to get the whole Laos team into the Thai Premier League.”
It’s quite humbling, really, when you put this into perspective. As Koreans, we expect results and nothing less from our national team. But in other countries, they dream of the day they will draw an Asian powerhouse such as us. Another comparison, brought to light by the Laos manager, “I would love to have Stielike’s problems of having players in the Bundesliga and EPL,” he says, all while he needs to write letters to player’s employers to get them off work for the match.
Ultimately, does Laos think they have a chance of winning this match? Darby certainly admits that keeping possession of the ball will be difficult enough against fitter athletes. It seems to them that the only way they can win this match on the scoresheet will be if their goalkeeper can have “one of those days”, like Izwan Mahmud against Japan.
8pm KST/7am EST – September 3rd, 2015
Hwaseong Stadium, Hwaseong