Group F will come to a close tomorrow as Korea goes into its final match against the Germans, and Shin Tae-yong with his bag of tricks has guided the Korean national side exactly where they should be at this very moment.
One goal scored, zero points secured, and a hope in hell so frozen over it’d be a miracle if we were to see any semblance of promise once we take the pitch.
Because, incredibly, Korea still has a chance to qualify; we would require a two goal margin of victory against current World Cup holders Germany with the mercy of a Mexican win against the Swedes to sit 2nd in the group. There also exists the possibility of scoring just one goal and getting through, but that would depend on a minimum two goal margin victory by the Mexicans against the defensively stalwart Swedes. In other words, unless Mexico win, postulating is moot.
But don’t count on an upset. As long as the acronym JHS exists within our starting 11, we’re going to leak a goal minimum, and Korea’s talent to score no more than two goals in a tournament match means that even if we do manage the improbable of securing a win, we’ll be knocked out on goal differential; Mexico and Sweden would take first a second place, with Germany and Korea languishing with three points a piece – in that order.
But to be frank, it isn’t qualifying into the round of 16 that should take priority. After all, lightning never strikes the same place twice, and if were to someway–somehow–save our blushes and qualify, we’d most likely be facing Brasil. And then not even God would be able to save us. Not from a result, mind you, but from sheer embarrassment.
Because as a side, we’re still lost. We have a back four consisting of a 3rd string fullback on the left while on the right we have a player representing his national side despite seemingly never learning how to whip in a decent cross. In between the two we have a centerback who’s actually redeemed himself, fair play, but beside him a secret-agent that will always manage to someway, somehow, benefit the side he’s facing rather than the side he’s playing for. A center-back who plays the ball into pressure or hoofs upfield with a prayer it’ll find a red shirt. Who’s positionally aloof or just situationally unaware. Who incredibly manages to consistently make all the wrong decisions, yet somehow possess 50 odd caps under his belt.
As if coming into this tournament missing our starting left-back, right midfielder, and two veteran forwards wasn’t bad enough; we’re facing Germany short our next best left-back and now our captain, who had basically been playing the role of both a defensive anchor and main distributor of the ball this tournament. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s tied down with more responsibility than he can handle. The drop in quality with our alternatives are startling; Ju Se-jong and Jung Woo-young are classic fill-in players that will probably no longer be in the national team picture after this tournament cycle.
So what does that mean for us against Germany? We’re playing a second string side that could honestly even be our third, since we’re selecting from a pool of 23 that Shin Tae-yong has slapped together with just about as much thought as he puts into his tactics.
It’s telling that even now, it would not surprise if we lined up with a back 3, but for sanity’s sake, expectations will remain that we will play with the same back four that we have the last two games. Hopefully with the exception of one center-back, but considering how it’s been literal years of wishing for that change without it coming, don’t count on it. Pray for Cho Hyun-woo.
In midfield, Koo Ja-cheol undoubtedly deserves to start, considering his experience in the side as well as his time in Germany. He’d share most of the offensive responsibilities with the more nimble Lee Jae-sung.
Alongside the two would be a player who’s not currently in the Korean second division. Not to say that Ju Se-jong was lacking in his performance against Mexico. It was just forgettable – although that has been the norm for any of our midfielders who play the enforcer role alongside our creative center midfielder. Whatever. Give Go Yo-han a run out.
Moon Sun-min had a similar performance to that of Ju Se-jong against Mexico. Ordinary. Nothing worth noting. He will also probably not be part of the national team picture after this tournament, so give the time to players who most likely will.
Lee Seung-woo is a particular case; in this case, he’d be playing a dead rubber match tournament match after the expectation and noise surrounding him has died down like our tournament hopes and dreams. But for once, I applaud Shin Tae-yong for not heaping the pressure on him with starts against Sweden and Mexico, as it would have been unwise to start a player who’s played a bit-rate role for his club. He’s literally just started his professional career–to hoist a nation’s expectations on his shoulders would have been tantamount to professional homicide.
But at this point, I’d start him. With the first two games done and dusted, the bulk of responsibility and failure resting on our starters’ shoulders, he will have the opportunity to play relatively freely without having to worry about the repercussions of playing his game – even if it might end up being for naught. A shame that this opportunity arises against one of the world’s best sides, rather than one where we stand head-to-head with, but hopefully the lack of pressure will ease him to play his game – and that would be an exciting prospect.
If it hasn’t been made clear already, there really should not be any expectation going into this match. Germany will be bringing its strongest side possible to secure progress into the round of 16, and they will have their eye on goal differential as well, since a simple six points may not be enough.
With that being said, we should play our game against them; fearless, going forward when we can, trying to make the most of what little possession we will actually see. Bunkering against the Germans would not only be suicidal, as it requires us to focus on the weakest part of our game, but also be extremely demoralizing. Shin Tae-yong needs to remember that at this point, he’s playing for pride, really. He should not be thinking about the possibilities of next-round qualification. He should be thinking about how we can send our slapdash side off with our head held high. There are plenty of tournaments to look forward to; the Asian Cup is just half a year away.
Furthermore, there is some uncertain promise that this may be a decent game; this has been one of the most memorable World Cups of recent memory due to the parity across the board for all sides – yesterday’s conclusion of Group B just being one of the many examples. Not only that, but Germany has yet to really click on all cylinders. Losing against the quick Mexicans on the break, and conceding against the offensively dull Swedes, if we play our own game of moving the ball quickly, especially once we’ve soaked pressure from a German side that will undoubtedly going for a win and perhaps a romping one if they get it, if we play it smart, we could pull up a surprise.
Do I see a victory? No. But do I see a game? Yes.
I can see us spray passes out to Lee Seung-woo, exploiting Germany’s right if Kimmich leaves that for us like he did against the Mexicans. I can see Lee Jae-sung moving the ball from one wing to the other, spreading Germany out and creating space. And then of course, I can’t deny a Son Heung-min screamer.
As long as we play. As long as we fight. That’ll be enough for me.
And if we do it right, I’m certain we can make Germany at least work for those 3 points.