The team made their first foray onto foreign shores under Hong Myeong-Bo last night, as the team faced off against Russia in Dubai. In the end it was a disappointing match that ended up being a 2-1 Russian victory. While the end result was disappointing, the way the team played, and in some ways approached the match, was even more disappointing for me. We just recorded the latest podcast, but I fear I was a bit on the rambling and incoherent side (6am, slept about 4.5 hours), so this will be a more comprehensive review.
Hong made five changes to the side that started against Switzerland. Out went Kim Bo-Kyung, Jang Hyun-Soo, Lee Yong, Kim Jin-Su, and Kim Seung-Kyu. In came Lee Keun-Ho, Park Jong-Woo, Shin Kwang-Hoon, Park Joo-Ho, and Jung Sung-Ryong. On paper, Korea maintained their 4-2-3-1 shape, but in reality the team functioned more like a 4-4-2 or 4-2-4.
The first half was a very open game. Both teams attempted to gain the upper hand, but both were guilty of some very sloppy play. Russia in the first 10-15 minutes or so, often passed the ball straight to Korean players, allowing some dangerous chances. Korea’s goal, scored by Kim Shin-Wook, was another example of poor play. A corner came in, was headed back in from the far post, and the Russian defender simply knocked the ball down to the feet of Kim Shin-Wook. Russia’s equalizer was of equally, if not more, poor play, when a tame cross squirmed under Jung Sung-Ryong, allowing the Russian player to easily tap in.
Korea asserted more pressure after the Russian goal, but few real chances came. The attack seemed far to disconnected from the defense, and the team was forced to resort to a very direct style of play, which Russia seemed quite comfortable in dealing with. Similarly, Russia was unable to really create any chances at the other end, with Hong Jeong-Ho and Kim Young-Gwon generally marshaling any Russian attacks.
In the second half, the game really ceased to be a contest of teams. Rather it became a chance for individuals to show what they could do. Both teams eventually made wholesale changes, and the shape and styles of play were generally lost. Nam Tae-Hee was the first to enter for Korea, with Kim Shin-Wook making way. This was an attempt, perhaps to re-shape Korea more like they were against Mali, with the more diminutive Lee Keun-Ho up top, and three attacking players behind him. Shortly after Kim Bo-Kyung entered for Lee Chung-Yong. Then Ji Dong-Won for Son Heung-Min, and Ko Myeong-Jin for Ki Sung-Yueng. By then, Korea looked extremely disjointed with each player just kind of doing their own thing and hoping that they linked up. Russia’s winner came from a corner. Their was nothing special to it. He just out-jumped the defender.
Tactically, I feel this match can only really be looked at for the 1st half. In the 2nd half both teams made so many changes that it really lost it’s shape, and became more of an individual run-out for other players to show what they have (rather than a match where a team was trying to win).
Hong had said in the build-up prior to the match that since this was the last friendly until next year, that he would try out some different things. And certainly that appeared to be the case. As mentioned earlier, the team seemed to operate more as a 4-2-4. A very attack-minded formation, that is predicated on pressing high and pinning the opposition deep in their half. The slightly more open defense is (supposedly) shielded by this. Opposing teams don’t have time to build from the back, and are forced to play more hopeful long passes to the forwards, who are often isolated, thus allowing the team to win the ball back quickly and re-assert attacking pressure.
To an extent, the tactic worked. During the first half, Korea had the bulk of the possession, and Russia struggled to create much. In that aspect the plan worked. The problem came in attack, where the attacking four didn’t create much, and later when Russia realized that if they could get the ball into midfield, they had a man advantage (usually 3v2) and Korea would have to retreat into a more standard 4-4-2 shape. Once Korea did that, Russia was able to attack with more conviction. But back to the bigger problem, the lack of fluidity in attack. A slight surprise, given that those same four players did quite well against the Swiss in the second half of that match.
In this match though, three of them, Lee Keun-Ho, Son Heung-Min, and Lee Chung-Yong seemed much more subdued. Perhaps the travel did them in a bit, or maybe a bit of Russian physicality, but either way, they didn’t have the same impact as last week. The trio looked slightly less fluid, and a bit sluggish. Their touches often heavy, and nothing really seemed to go like they wanted. I don’t have any long-term worries about them, and suspect it was probably more of a one-off.
Jung Sung-Ryong 5.0 – An absolute howler for him, and one that likely cost him (at least for now) the number 1 shirt.
Shin Kwang-Hoon 6.0 – Nothing good or bad from the Pohang man. Didn’t contribute much to the attack, and wasn’t really tested defensively.
Hong Jeong-Ho 6.5 – Decent night for Hong. Almost got caught out again attempting to play the offside trap, but was bailed out by a slightly wayward pass.
Kim Young-Gwon 6.5 – Decent night. Nothing really of note.
Park Joo-Ho 6.0 – Looked a bit lethargic. Didn’t seem to have the energy that Kim Jin-Su does.
Park Jong-Woo 6.0 – Can’t really remember much from Park Jong-Woo. Doesn’t seem to partner Ki extremely well. Tried to stay deeper and more defensive, but it’s really not his natural game.
Ki Sung-Yueng 6.0 – Muted performance. Got forward a bit, but wasteful when shooting.
Lee Chung-Yong 6.5 – Looked the brightest of the attackers, but his touch was off and his decision-making seemed a tad too slow.
Lee Keun-Ho 6.0 – Brought a spark to proceedings against the Swiss, looked lost against the Russians. Didn’t seem to know when to make runs into space or drop deeper.
Son Heung-Min 6.0 – Fairly anonymous. His touch let him down, and he seemed to lack that burst to beat defenders.
Kim Shin-Wook 6.0 – Knocked down passes, played some others in.
Nam Tae-Hee 6.0 – Sub 46′. Had a nice free kick saved. Made a couple runs. Doesn’t seem quite ready to deal with bigger, more physical teams.
Kim Bo-Kyung 6.5 – Sub 59′. The closest to a standout performer, but even his performance wasn’t outstanding. Brought some energy to things, and seemed a legit goal threat. Unfortunately most of the other starters departed already or were about to.
Ji Dong-Won 5.5 – Sub 66′. Failed to make any real impact.
Ko Myeong-Jin 5.5 – Sub 70′. Same as Ji, failed to really make any impact on things.
Hong Myeong-Bo 5.5 – Thought he chopped and changed a bit too much, and that by doing so he disrupted the momentum the team was building.
Disappointing to say the least. The result is a bit harsh, and 1-1 would have been fairer. Neither side played well, and neither really deserved to win. I understand Hong’s desire to test out some other players and ideas, but felt that he went too far this time. Matches, ‘A’ matches more specifically, are few and far between from now until the World Cup, and it seems to me that Hong needs to be focusing more on solidifying his team and ideas, rather than experimenting and mixing things up. His decision to start Jung Sung-Ryong in goal was baffling as was the decision to start Park Joo-Ho. Why was Jung dropped for the Swiss game? His poor form for Suwon. Did he suddenly get better overnight? No. And in that case, Kim Seung-Kyu should have continued between the posts. Kim Jin-Su was on the receiving end of plenty of praise last week, so to suddenly drop him for a player that wasn’t even on the initial list is a bit strange to me.
Kim Shin-Wook was the player under the biggest spotlight coming in. He showed enough for us to say that he deserves, and should, go to Brazil, but he certainly isn’t the answer to our striking woes. Personally, I don’t feel like we’ve learned anything new about Kim. I saw basically the same things that I saw when he played against Iran under Choi Kang-Hee. People say he improved his ground game, I didn’t really see it. He’s useful, but that’s about it.
If there’s any lesson that was learned from these two matches, it’s that Korea can compete with very good teams when they play together and work well as a team. Individually they aren’t good enough. And to be honest few are capable of breaking other teams down by themselves at the international level. Against Switzerland they did this, and were rewarded with a solid performance and win. Against Russia they didn’t, and it showed.
World Cup Rounding Into Shape
Virtually all of the playoffs are done with, and in the end there were few surprises. In Europe, Portugal, Croatia, France, and Greece won their matches to advance to Brazil. In Africa, Algeria, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon all advanced. Tonight and tomorrow, the two inter-continental ties will officially be decided (although Mexico and Uruguay would need monumental collapses to not make it). It’s not official yet, but the pots would appear to be:
Pot 1: Brazil, Spain, Columbia, Germany, Uruguay, Switzerland, Argentina, Belgium
Pot 2: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Iran
Pot 3: Chile, Ecuador, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Algeria
Pot 4: Netherlands, Italy, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Portugal, Croatia, Greece, Russia, England
Special Pot: France (lowest ranked pot 4 UEFA team)
The final draw is on December 6.