One look at the final standings and results would make one think that the team is the same as the one under Choi Kang-Hee. But, if you watched there is some cause for optimism, and some cause for concern. Here we take a look at the East Asian Cup in it’s entirety.
Let’s start at the top. While his attitude towards this tournament (one of experimentation) is questionable in my mind, it was quite a breath of fresh air to see Hong on the touchline instead of Choi. Every time the camera showed Choi, he seemed disinterested and bored. Like he wished he was anywhere but where he was. No emotion. No interest. Goal scored? Whatever. Goal conceded? Whatever. And that attitude seems to have infected the team in the end. Hong, on the other hand, was constantly up and about, barking directions and orders. It is a relief to see a coach who cares and desperately wants the team to succeed.
Tactically, I thought Hong generally got it right. It would be hard to say that Korea didn’t deserve more given their general performances, thoroughly controlling all three matches. Yet, it also seems right to say that Korea got what they deserved (if that makes sense). Yes, Korea controlled the tempo and possession, but did they really create that many chances? Can we look back at any of the matches and feel we were robbed or cheated? Not really. I think Hong has a good basic feel for Korea’s general tactics, but needs to improve on his in game management. More on this below.
Player selection is the only area I found a bit wanting. And this mainly comes down to the second game against China. I understand Hong wanting to see some other players, but I feel that by making 9 changes, he really disrupted the play and connection between the players. I think one of the upcoming friendlies would have been better to do experimentation, and that this tournament would be better for building a core unit and momentum going forward.
Overall grade: B+
Here we come to an area where Korea is traditionally weak in. And while it’s improved, it still could use some work. I didn’t see a whole lot of variation from game to game, and really there should have been. I mentioned earlier that Hong has a good starting shape and idea, but needs to work on his in game management. Here’s what I mean.
Australia, from the get go, clearly came to set up shop and defend, and rely on set pieces and counter attacks to score. It also became clear that Australia was lacking in quality up top, and that they would have few chances. It seemed to me, that Hong should have instructed the players to really press the Australians high up the pitch and really, just go for it. When teams are intent on setting 9-10 men behind the ball, it’s virtually impossible to break them down without some individual brilliance. This team clearly does not have a player like that, so the only other way is to force a mistake. Korea’s idea of passing the ball from side-to-side isn’t going to do that. You have to be more direct. Running at defenders, moving the ball at speed, forcing the keeper to come out, defenders to move, and so on. Yet, Korea never did that, or at least not too much. Instead they kept trying to be patient, passing the ball, poking and prodding.
Compare that to the China match, who came out with a bit more intent. In order to counter China’s increased danger, a more cautious approach is needed. My concern here is that Hong didn’t really change his tactics to reflect his players’ ability. This second group, to me at least, is a more physical and direct group, yet their instructions still seemed to be to poke and prod. I don’t feel that this team was capable of really playing that game. A better in game change would have been to instruct the team, to again, be more vertical. To let Yeom Ki-Hoon and Cho Young-Cheol to run at them. To let the Chinese attacks come a bit further out, so space opens up behind the defense.
Japan, I actually thought was decent, except that his substitutions were a bit odd. I don’t feel that he really changed his tactics to match his subs, particularly the Cho Young-Cheol sub in. On a flip note, I thought Zaccheroni did a very good job with his in game management. Having his team sit deeper, and look to counter quickly. The goal aside, Japan never really looked troubled by Korea’s possession.
Overall Grade: C+
Player Selection – Forward
Forward remains our big problem area. Three true forwards appeared and none really looked that good. Kim Dong-Seob looked decent against Australia, but anonymous against Japan. Seo Dong-Hyun was poor against China. Kim Shin-Wook didn’t start any match, but came on as a late sub in all three. He didn’t really affect the game in any of his appearances. Hong also tried Cho Young-Cheol as a false 9 of sorts against Japan, and that didn’t work either. I’m not too sure where Hong will go from here, with the two experienced options on the outs (Park Chu-Young, Lee Dong-Gook) and the rest untested (Son Heung-Min, some other K League option, false 9). The Peru call ups will be an interesting one.
Overall Grade: D
Player Selection – Midfield
A mixed bag for me. The midfield was very good against Australia, but just average against China and Japan. I think Lee Myeong-Joo is the only one who really solidified his standing with the senior side. Lee Seung-Gi, Ha Dae-Sung, and Park Jong-Woo remain possible squad players. Han Kook-Young, Go Mu-Yeol, and Yoon Il-Rok show promise for the future. Cho Young-Cheol, Go Yo-Han, and Yeom Ki-Hoon don’t seem to be good enough.
Overall Grade: B
Player Selection – Defense
This group finally is showing some signs of progress. As long as Kim Young-Kwon can keep his focus, he’s a very good defender. Hong Jeong-Ho still needs more games to get back to his full fitness and performance level. Kim Chang-Soo, despite some shakiness against Japan and poor crossing, remains our best right back option for now. Kim Jin-Su is emerging as a possible left back should Park Joo-Ho and Yoon Suk-Young remain out of the side.
Overall Grade B-
Player Selection – Goalkeeper
The one change I would have liked to see is in goal. Jung Sung-Ryong is fairly well-known in terms of his ability and what you’ll get from him. It would have been nice to see if Lee Bum-Young has what it takes to really be the back-up keeper, or if a more veteran option should be there. Alas, we still don’t know. As far as Jung’s performances go, he stopped what he should, and didn’t do much to save us on the others. He remains a solidly average keeper.
Overall Grade – B
Overall, I like the new attitude the team displays. It is one of battling, being physical, and coming to play. All of which are a step up from the old group. The defense, while still a work in progress, certainly shows more signs of cohesion and defensive stability than before.
The team still seems hesitant. Hesitant on attacking and moving the ball. I know it’s a difficult skill to do, but the players always seem to need to look and see what’s happening before they pass. It’s always, receive the ball, turn, look around, take a dribble, then pass. The problem is that this gives the defense time to set. The other thing is that none of the players seem willing to be the selfish player who dribbles and runs at defenders, instead of passing. Some variation and chemistry would be nice.
Overall Grade – B-
There are certainly positives to take, and while the team is far from a finished product, they did take a step in the right direction. We must also remember, of course, that this really is a B team (defense aside). When you add Ki Sung-Yueng, Son Heung-Min, Lee Chung-Yong, Kim Bo-Kyung, and Koo Ja-Cheol to the attacking mix, one figures that it has to work a little better. Hong has said he’s thinking and focused on Brazil. Hopefully by the time that comes this team will look like a decent group.
The next match is August 14 against Peru. In will be held somewhere in Korea, but a final place has not been officially announced (although I read somewhere in will be in Suwon).