A late recap because we all ended up running out of time yesterday, but the Korean national U-20 team opened up their home quest at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup with a resounding scoreline of 3-0 over African threat Guinea. Barca Boys Lee Seungwoo and Paik Seungho both got on the scoreboard and put in impressive shifts. Despite the result, did the Korean boys really play to their full potential? Answers to those questions and more later in this recap.
Shin Taeyong had only really experimented with two feasible formations in the latter stages of the pre-tournament: a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 shape and a 3-4-3 with Kim Seungwoo as the central centreback. Against Guinea, Shin opted for a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 with a defensive line of (from LB-RB) Woo Chanyang, Lee Sangmin, Jeong Taewook and Lee Yoohyeon. Lee Seungmo operated as a six while Lee Jinhyeon and Lee Sangheon were to his left and right. Korea’s best threats were that attacking trident of Lee Seungwoo-Cho Youngwook-Paik Seungho and their indomitable custodian Song Bumkeon.
There was a little bit of surprise at the line-up, but not too much – squad captain Han Chanhee was left out of the first game, but many expect that given the higher quality of the next two opponents, the Jeonnam man will feature. Over in the right back position, many wondered why Shin deployed a more cautious fullback in Lee Yoohyeon instead of the more bombastic Yoon Jonggyu.
A tepid start
Korea started slowly. One thing that was evident was that this game was going to be a fairly scrappy affair, with a lot of errant passes on show. This isn’t to say that there was one player who deserved to be singled out for criticism – the fact is that as a whole the team’s transition game wasn’t very strong and the linkups between the forwards and the midfield weren’t exactly the best. A problem that can be understood when the team’s more powerful midfielders (Han Chanhee and Lim Minhyeok) didn’t start.
Lee Seungwoo in particular seemed to be struggling, though again, not in a frustrated or vociferous fashion – he just wasn’t getting the ball the way he wanted to. As a result he was largely invisible as was, to a lesser extent, Paik and Cho Youngwook. Most of Lee Jinhyeon’s attempted throughballs didn’t find their mark – Lee Seungmo and Lee Sangheon weren’t really trying many important forward passes. Though possession was split evenly in the first 30 minutes or so between the sides, Korea was very cautious and retained the ball through their fullbacks while Guinea… well Guinea just counter-attacked to no end.
Keita Cruyff Jules
Seriously, this guy is a mix of hilarious and unbelievable. The Guinean attacking midfielder was the focal point of the African side’s attack with hustling speed and a Cruyff turn per three seconds. Operating on the left side while drifting centrally, it was for this reason Shin opted to play the more defensive minded fullback on Jules’ side. Good scouting there. Lee Yoohyeon only got caught out once or twice and when he did the Korean centrebacks positioned themselves very well. Though Guinea got a lot of shots largely thanks to Jules’ elusive skillful play and their strong, speedy transition game, they didn’t register very many scoring opportunities. Important indeed as Korea seized the end of the first half and generated a lot of momentum that they would not lose.
Lee Seungmo comes close and then the floodgates swing open
30th minute, a simple long ball from Jeong Taewook for the unexpected surging run of defensive mid Lee Seungmo. Lee wins his header against the centreback and the Guinean keeper, who came out into no man’s land, but his looping impromptu effort is off target and misses the vacant net. Strangely enough, that was a turning point of sorts in the frame, with Korea looking gradually more assured through the remainder of the half.
35th minute: the breakthrough. Lee Seungmo hit a simple pass to Lee Seungwoo, the Barca Boy having drifted down to collect the ball and finally get some touches… and oh, what touches they were. A quick turn and Lee brushed off two pinching Guinean midfielders with his lightning fast acceleration before taking a shot just outside the penalty box. A desperate tackle to block Lee’s attempt was actually what allowed it to take the spiraling deflection needed to beat the keeper. The Jeonju Castle erupted – 1:0 Korea.
At the end of the half, Korea looked to have made it 2-0 courtesy of some beautiful interplay between Lee and centre forward Cho Youngwook. A few stepovers from the centre forward before a picture perfect pass to Lee in space behind the lines – then Lee flip-flaps past one defender and puts it past another before cutting the ball back to Cho for a tap-in. Delirium – a magnificent goal right before the end of the period. However, the new Video Assistant Referee system, making its debut for the first time in FIFA competition, ruled (correctly) that Lee had taken the ball past the goal line during his skillful maneuver – the score remained 1-0 at halftime.
Guinea tires, Korea sits back on its laurels
The Guineans didn’t have the same speed or spunk as they did in the first frame after halftime and it became evident which side was more fit to endure the rigours of 90 minutes. With more room to breathe, we saw the occasional moments of brilliance from Paik and Lee but no clear cut chances were really created. Jinseok on our Tavern Facebook Live broadcast opined that even if Korea had been the better team in the second frame, there were still worrying signs of lack of fluidity. Worries that would subside as Lim Minhyeok came on in the 65th minute.
But before that…
Lee Seungwoo and Paik Seungho clashed in the 60th minute as both players got in each other’s way trying to clear a corner. A relatively bemused Shin watched on as Lee clasped his knee and was stretchered off, though he would return to finish the game. However, in a pathetic moment of low skullduggery, the Guineans used the subsequent drop ball to generate their best chance of the game instead of letting the Koreans return them the ball as is the custom. Your team really sucks when you resort to cheapshots like that.
65th minute: Lim Minhyeok on
And it helped make the difference. Lim’s introduction helped meant fresh legs on for Lee Sangheon, who had a mostly average showing, and the FC Seoul man made an immediate impact, picking up Lee Seungwoo’s throughball/nutmeg in the 76th minute, breaking the offside trap and waiting for the keeper to go down before slotting home comfortably.
Paik Seungho gets a goal too
A recycled set piece saw a long ball pumped up to centreback Jeong Taewook, who was hanging around the penalty box. The giant knocked down in the path of two Koreans who lost their markers decisively and this time it was Paik Seungho with a lovely right footed lob overtop of the Guinean netminder. Jinseok said it best: “Paik never seems to score goals from a proper shot… he’s just always in the right place in the right time.” Nothing can ever replace Paik’s football IQ.
Guinea completely eroded while Korea peaked at the end – a very good scoreline to send the fans home happy and put the Round of 16 firmly in sight for Shin Taeyong’s men.
6 is an average rating.
Song Bumkeon – 7.0 – He didn’t have much to do at all but did what he had to do well.
Woo Chanyang – 7.0 – Didn’t get to make as many lung bursting runs as he might have wanted to, but was highly competent when required.
Lee Sangmin (C) – 8.0 – Both centrebacks had good showings, not allowing Guinea anything, not making any discernable errors and having spot on positioning.
Jeong Taewook – 8.5 – Man of the Match – Special points to Jeong for his impressive footwork and calm handling of Jules whenever he broke past Lee Yoohyeon.
Lee Yoohyeon – 8.0 – And it’s not like Lee had a bad game – quite the contrary, he dealt very well with Guinea’s first half menace.
Lee Seungmo – 6.5 – Didn’t really do that much despite playing as the six in a 4-1-4-1… applied pressure when needed and defensively mostly sound, but oh mother of god of pass misses
Lee Sangheon – 6.0 – Oh mother of god of pass misses
Lee Jinhyeon – 7.0 – Errant passes – sure – but he was definitely trying to create with some aggressive forward play.
Lee Seungwoo – 7.5 – We honestly didn’t see the best of Lee. Had the ability to transform a game but hardly a flabbergasting 90 minutes.
Paik Seungho – 7.0 – Similar to Lee Seungwoo. They can do better.
Cho Youngwook – 7.0 – I like Cho. Very dynamic and great reaction time. Always looking to do something with the ball. Didn’t look out of place between two poster boy wingers.
The scoreline is maybe generous but Korea took their chances. They were opportunistic. They controlled the tempo of the game after the first 25-30 minutes and never looked like losing. Nothing much else to say, except curiosity about the starting lineup against Argentina – will it be more aggressive? Will there be a go-to attacking playmaker? Or will Shin opt for caution and balance like in this match? Also, hopefully Lee Seungwoo’s knee knock isn’t too much of a big deal. I doubt it is, since the contact may have been painful but it never looked like a tournament-threatening injury.
Argentina, who were whipped resoundingly by a triumphant England 3-0. Admittedly, I don’t know much about them, except that they may hail from a country with a rich football history but that they are not in reality as big of a menace. If Korea shows up and plays their A-game, I’m optimistic that they can make it 2-for-2 in Jeonju.