Korea begins a new cycle with life under newly installed manager Paulo Bento; if there was any momentum carried from the fervor winning the Asian Games gold (and most importantly, military exemption for the squad) and the last senior match beating Germany at last summer’s World Cup, it surely manifested in a new confident sheen as Korea saw out a relatively comprehensive 2:0 victory over Costa Rica at a sold out Goyang Stadium.
Let’s take a look at Bento’s XI
Rather than utilize his go-to 4-3-3 formation, Bento initially lined up with Korea’s familiar 4-2-3-1, Ji on top, Son and Lee Jae-sung out wide with Nam Tae-hee in the hole. Ki of course in his defensive mid role with Jung Woo-young returning as his double pivot partner. Hong Chul got the nod today over Yun Suk-Young at LB, Kim Young-gwon at CB a no brainer and Lee Yong in his World Cup role at RB. The only head scratcher: Jang Hyun-soo back at CB.
The game itself was fairly open, Korea would soon dominate possession over the travel weary Costa Ricans.
Elias Aguilar proved to be an early danger to Korea, the Incheon United midfielder’s pace got the best of Lee Yong. However the rest of the backline came to the rescue and soon enough Aguilar and company had difficulty returning to attack mode, with the Korean midfield squeezing out most of their counter attacks.
Son, wearing the captain’s armband (another indication that Ki may indeed be thinking about retiring from international duty) guided his teammates to stay fluid and keeping the ball moving around at a fast clip. Korea’s buildup and early shot by Lee Jae-sung, hitting side netting set the tone. Augsburg’s Ji Dong-won worked hard up top, proving to be a dangerman to the Costa Rican defenders by getting into space effectively and linking up well with teammates. He’s run hot and cold for Korea over the years, but today he looked sharp for Korea. Several quality shots by Ji, Son and Lee Jae-sung forced saves from Costa Rica’s Alvarado, filling in for Navas.
From Korea’s own half in the 35th minute, Ki Sung-Yeung sees Nam Tae-Hee making a run, launches a pinpoint accurate ball to Nam who’s brought down inside the area by Gamboa Luna. The referee swats aside the Costa Rican protests and points to the spot indicating a penalty. Captain Son lines up to take the kick, then hits the right post! Fortunately it rebounds squarely to Lee Jae-sung, who immediately redirects it into the back of the net. Bento can be seen non-plussed on the bench as his assistants jump to their feet to celebrate.
KOREA 1:0 Costa Rica
Son and company keep up the high tempo attack on Costa Rica’s defenders, moving the ball spritely and with an organized poise that long time Korea watchers haven’t seen in quite some time. Quick give and gos between Son, Lee Jae-sung and Nam Tae-hee nearly results in doubling the score. Son’s drives down the left and with Costa Rica scrambling, passes to Lee Jae-sung, he quickly finds Ji Dong-won – with his back to goal, deftly launches a quasi-overhead kick on target but unlucky with a defender in the way.
In the 2nd half, Korea continues their waves of attacks, with swaggering forays into Costa Rican territory. Son, in particular would launch pacy runs down the left channels, finding an array of attacking options in Nam, Ji, and Lee Jae-sung. Shot after shot, but Korea can’t find the insurance goal. Cue the 78th minute and we find Son again on another fast counter. He tips it off to Nam Tae-hee who burns Guzman Perez (Perez falls into a heap failing to anticipate Nam turning up a gear) and freezes Duarte Gaitán with a tek-tacular shake and bake move, sails past him before nailing his shot past Alvarado in the upper left net.
Korea 2:0 Costa Rica
[on the Bento watch, kind of fascinating to see him give directions to Hwang In-beom on the sidelines – then calmly raises his arms in a muted celebration. He immediately returns to give instructions to Hwang. Already getting vibes that he’s a cerebral manager].
Korea would see the game out with several more tantalizing chances on goal. Costa Rica didn’t offer much to bother Korea’s defense, however Korea’s backline in the 2nd half would get a workout in disaster prevention, with some adventurous (read: dangerous) playing out the back situations.
Notes on this friendly result:
- Confidence seems high. The passing looked crisp, the defense organized, the offense actually had a tangible gameplan which they seemed to have executed fairly well. Might have been more clinical, yes, but overall that could be harsh to complain about given the circumstances of Bento’s first game in charge. Back to confidence, that may have translated to what those in Goyang Stadium were witness to, some swashbucking and swaggering display of technical footwork, very pleasing to the eye that garnered ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ in the stands. Not a bad way to start a new era.
- Positive possession game may set the tone for how Bento wants to create Korea’s identity going forward. The tempo kept Costa Rica on their heels most of the game. As Pep Guardiola once opined about effective football, you can keep a defense scrambling to keep it’s shape by simply moving the ball around well.
- Evolution of Son and his role in the KNT – we saw elements of this last week where he psychologically unburdened himself of carrying the whole team on his dribbling shoulders, so to speak. By playing a little deeper, Son draws defenders away, and in a chess match tactical sense able to then relay the ball to other attackers to cause reciprocal havoc. Despite so many games in a short span of time in the Asian Games, Son seemed renewed. We saw today more swagger and are reminded that Son still can carry the ball adroitly, making split second risk assessment to carve out space in enemy territory. And he’s still got it in his locker his patented and deadly cut inside and shoot weaponized option, which he nearly scored from today. Captain Son, as a leader and a KNT player has absorbed some great lessons from the Asian Games, to which his learning curve seems to be on a decent trajectory. (Interestingly, Son is now 7 for 7 as Korea’s captain if you start with his first stint in the World Cup win against Germany, include the Asian Games tournament matches and today’s friendly result).
- Debuts for Hwang In-beom and Kim Moon-Hwan – both deserved for their stellar Asian Games performances. Kim in particular after his intro replacing Lee Yong in the 86th minute, impressed the coaching staff by threatening to score after almost immediately coming onto the field. Running into space on the right flank, he darted to Alvarado’s left, then slid a narrow angled shot that nearly resulted in an own goal – the keeper lucky swat the ball out of bounds for a Korean corner.
- Ki‘s vision shows just how valuable he is to a team that is now carving a new identity with a raft of new kids about to come in. Bento wisely subbed him out at HT for Kim Min-jae to give the Newcastle United man some rest before Tuesday’s test with Chile.
- Nam Tae-hee and Ji Dong-won showed that some of the old guard, particularly some of those excluded from Shin Tae-yong’s World Cup roster – probably should have had a place in Russia. Both looked very dangerous and Nam’s skillset also demonstrated that he’s too good to stay at clubs in the Middle East.
- Lee Jae-sung – the ex Jeonbuk Hyundai and current Holstein Kiel midfielder is such a joy to watch. He was everywhere, being at the right place at the right time, reading Son well, transitioning and being the vital link up between the Tottenham winger and Augburg’s Ji along with Al Duhail’s Nam. He’s got it all, incisive dribbling, passing, shooting and now scoring; the clinical finishing element to his game that eluded him in the past is much more improved and is now part of a more effective and complete package. His stock continues to rise.
- The much maligned Jang Hyun-soo and his campaign to rehabilitate his tattered imaged began in earnest in the last group match of the World Cup where he found better success in front of the defense. While he started today at CB, he would eventually push farther up with the introduction of CB Kim Min-jae (who was solid today at the back, pairing well with Kim Young-Gwon in shutting down Costa Rica) – morphing to a 4-3-3 as the game wore on. Other than a few of his patented mispasses, he looked more comfortable as a defensive midfielder, but even at CB, surprisingly there wasn’t the usual defending blunders emblematic of his tenure in the role for the KNT in the past several years.
- Moon Seon-min was introduced in the 68th minute, enough time for Bento to take a look at the Incheon United man. He’s been effective for his club as of late, but a number of analysts would point out that while he has excellent workrate, in uniform for the KNT his touches betray him with discomforting frequency. That was the case during the World Cup in Russia and it would again be the case today. It was right to test him out in a friendly; our guess is that Moon has some ways to go in convincing Bento for the few spots that remain open in the KNT midfield.
- Lee Seung-woo symbolically came in for Son and while his 7 minutes on the pitch wasn’t enough to make much impact, there was enough there for Bento to want to see more of him in the Chile match on Tuesday.
- Kim Seung-Gyu was mostly solid as Korea’s netminder, but honestly he didn’t have too much to do. Constructive critique: he seemed tentative in getting off his line to receive back passes, as if there was some sort of mental delay in that decision making. Perhaps it was nerves since Daegu’s Cho Hyun-woo is now the uncontested #1 (and currently recovering from knee injury) but that tentativeness is duly noted. However, he has a clean sheet -though context wise it’s worth noting that Costa Rica weren’t able to get many quality shots on goal. I’ll venture to speculate Kim Jin-Hyeon will have his turn between the sticks against Chile.
- Nice spectacle in Goyang by supporters, the stadium lights dimmed in the stands with thousands of glow in the dark lights sparkling in the night. The sellout crowd is a return to form of sorts for the KNT, who has seen attendance averages dip in recent years due to pessimism following poor World Cup qualifying form. The Germany win last June on top of the Asian Games Gold (watched by an astonishing 60% of Korean television viewers last Saturday) has fueled renewed optimism. It doesn’t hurt to have some telegenic stars in Son and Lee Seung-woo on board. Just wait until they get a load of Lee Kang-in in the near distant future. (Now can we see some of that good attendance figures translate to the K League? We hope so -cross your fingers and toes).
Highlights of the game (thanks to Dohun Studio – they have been our recent go to with stellar highlights from the Asian Games):
UPDATE: this just came on our radar – we have extended highlights of the match, this comes courtesy of the KFA. Choose your own adventure!
There were questions immediately after the KFA brought in Paulo Bento to manage the KNT. Bento had been wandering as a coach in the proverbial wilderness after an impressive Euro 2012 with Portugal, leaving said team after a poor showing in the 2014 World Cup – his career then taking him to Brazil, Greece and finally a short 6 month tenure at Chongquig Dangdai Lifering in the CSL.
New lease on coaching life: since the surprise summer hiring (in which a number of high profile names were thrown into the hat) Bento has been quick to methodically organize his staff and assess the players he has at his disposal. The Portuguese manager seems intent on learning from the mistakes of the past and using his experience, continually studying the game and having applied it with Portugal and at Sporting to hit the ground running hard. Good first outing for Bento, a better test will come in the form of Chile next Tuesday.
Korea v Chile on Tuesday September 11th at 7am US EST / 8pm Korea time in Suwon