South Korea 1, North Korea 0 (Ri Yongchol og 64′)
It was a very poor game in truth, with both managers claiming they would be progressive off the pitch, but both sides cancelling each other out on the pitch. Eventually, an unfortunate own goal by North Korean centreback Ri Yong-chol from a Kim Min-woo cross gave the South Koreans a fortuitous 1-0 win at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo, giving them a shot at the 2017 East Asian Cup title next Saturday.
We’ll have a proper recap of the match when our hard-working Tavern team gets some sleep — for now, some player ratings for you. Check back in a few hours to see if we’ve gotten our proper recap written up!
Shin Taeyong raised some eyebrows by bringing out the 3/5 back system yet again after it failed miserably against Russia and Morocco in the October friendlies. It’s a shape that he’s been persistent with for several years, but without recent success. Shin handed Jin Seongwook, who narrowly missed out of the Olympics squad, a senior team debut, while Jeong Seunghyeon, who stole hearts at the Olympic Games for his tall, dominant performances, also won his first senior cap. Daegu FC’s goalkeeper Cho Hyunwoo, who made that big save against Serbia in the November friendlies, got his second appearance between the sticks.
South Korea's lineup against North Korea in the #EAFF E-1 Championship.
A national team debut for Jeong Seunghyeon and Jin Seongwook as Shin returns to a 3-4-3 system. Kickoff in an hour.
— The Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) December 12, 2017
North Korea lined up in a 4-5-1 with Jong Ilgwan, the Swiss-based speed merchant, playing on the far left side.
There wasn’t much to talk about in this one. It was clear from the outset that North Korea was prepared to relinquish possession and wait patiently to counter attack, while the South Koreans were prepared to keep possession and wait patiently to fashion a chance. The North’s 5-man midfield caused the South Koreans some problem in their build-up play, which began with Jang Hyun-soo, the central centreback, but eventually led to passes being sprayed – either long-distance or via a centreback or midfielder – to the wingbacks and occasionally the wingers. This gave birth to the same U-shape passing South Korea often falls prey to, but it was clear on this occasion that it was very deliberate. Both Kim Min-woo and Go Yo-han came close in the first half with crosses turning into shots (because they weren’t very good crosses), while Lee Chang-min missed from a tight angle after Lee Jae-sung headed him in on goal from a throw-in. The best chance of the frame arguably came from Jin Seong-wook, who latched on to a Go Yo-han cross and swung his volley wide in the 37th minute.
In the second half, it was more of the same, but perhaps with a tinge more urgency from the South Koreans. Deliveries improved just a little bit as the fullbacks seemed to have gotten their angles much better, and Jin Seong-wook had a point blank chance in the 47th from a deep cross – but his header was right at evergreen North Korean custodian Ri Myong-guk. In the 59th Jin came close again, as Lee Jae-sung directed play to the middle of the pitch with a quick pass to Lee Chang-min – and the Jeju connection – Lee Chang-min to Jin Seong-wook – almost worked, with Jin’s dink shot cleared off of the line.
The goal came from a Kim Min-woo cross, looking for Jin, but the ball deflected awkwardly off of his defender, Ri Yong-chol, and caromed into the net. It was a simple, low cross, nothing remarkably difficult, but Jin forced the own goal in some way by threatening to latch on to the ball. The error lied in how easy it all was for South Korea to get the cross into the box, not necessarily with the defender. The North had a better share of possession and threatened to create some momentum in the rest of the game, but there really was no other chance for either side after the goal. It was a mediocre match, and a shineless 1-0 win.
If a fullback had the ball in the North Korean half, they would immediately be supported by a winger and one of the central midfielders pivoting over to try and create an overload for a cross. Indeed, South Korea’s entire gameplan was about getting crosses into the box. Unfortunately, as most commentators remarked, the deliveries from the fullbacks and wide players were mostly poor, save for a few exceptions.
What remains a mystery to me is how conservative Shin Tae-yong was, even in the latter part of the second half (around the 55th/60th minute) where the South Koreans seemed to continue be allergic to using the middle of the pitch. In a 3-back system typically the central centreback will push up to influence the play, like David Luiz did so often for Chelsea last season under Conte. Jang Hyun-soo, or even Kwon Kyung-won, both natural midfielders converted to centreback, should have had the license to push up and support the midfield – especially with one forward to worry about, not two.
Cho Hyun-woo – N/A – Cho had nothing to do. Absolutely nothing. Not even a major save.
Jeong Seung-hyeon – 6.5 – Not bad in his senior debut. Did his strengths well – aerial composure – but got a little over-aggressive near the end.
Jang Hyun-soo – 6.5 – Again, not bad. Led the attack from deep often enough and spotted out some good runs now and then. No glaring defensive mistakes.
Kwon Kyung-won – 6 – Glaring error: Lost his man on a set-piece — Jong Il-gwan should have scored. But in general the centrebacks weren’t too busy with defending so all is well that ends well. Good to see a clean sheet.
Ko Yo-han – 6 – Quick down the flank, good anticipation, but offered little going forward with stray passes and poor crosses.
Kim Jin-su – 7 (MOTM) – Certainly looked more comfortable in attacking positions than Ko. Quality of crosses (there were a lot) was poor and Kim shares the blame, but did create two chances for Jin and had a half-chance of his own (nearly latching on to a long ball thanks to a quick, unexpected run)
Jung Woo-young – 6 – Meh. Had a couple bright moments with longballs sprayed to the wings, but it didn’t always work – didn’t really get involved other than backpassing and basic ball retrieval.
Lee Chang-min – 7 – Had a couple good chances he should have buried. Didn’t dramatically affect the game but did well within measure.
Lee Jae-sung – 7 – Better player of the front three, but the whole attack unit did look rather disjointed. Flashes of the usual Lee Jaesung we come to expect, but again, not fantastic.
Kim Min-woo – 6.5 – Wasn’t that good in a more attacking role, but not a failing grade either. Didn’t bring much to the match, lacked a particular quality or reason for being in the side other than “he’s not Kim Shinwook”. Although he gets .5 bonus for “creating” the goal with his cross.
Jin Seong-wook – 6.5 – Made his senior debut, largely isolated. Quality of service was so poor you can’t blame him too much. Did get two or three good looks, including a volley off the bar and another shot cleared by the last defender.
Lee Myung-joo – N/A – Not enough to say
Kim Shin-wook – N/A – Not enough to say, didn’t get a chance in the box. Poor service, not his fault.
Shin Tae-yong – 5.5 – I mean a win is a win, but it wasn’t inspiring. Resorting to crosses and trying to create overloads in insanely wide positions instead of trying to pin North Korea back through the middle was strange and boring. North Korean defense never really got stretched by that approach. Sure, simple game plan of keep the ball and hope for a lucky goal worked, and it looked like the KNT of late against a generic Middle Eastern defensive side, but supporters will always want and expect something a bit more inspiring than the poor football we saw today. Better to win while playing badly, I guess…? On the positive side, there were a couple threats in the North Korean side, and to their credit the South did not allow a shot on goal. In the broader scheme of things, perhaps clean sheets as opposed to attacking fluidity is more valued leading up to the World Cup. It is the defense that is most concerning, to the KNT, but I’m not convinced, given that the opposition was good, but not better than the side, that a 3-4-3 remains the answer.
What They Said
“If in football you put weight on the defense, the attack cannot stop. On the other hand, focusing on the attack weakens the defense. However, today I focused more on defense and I admit that the movements of the strikers were dulled by it.” – Shin Taeyong
“I think for the first 30 minutes the players were a little bit nervous. They weren’t as free, like the game against Japan. We were unlucky to lose against Japan but I’m less satisfied today. I don’t know what the whole reason is that we didn’t play well.” – Jorn Andersen
It wasn’t remarkable, it wasn’t dazzling, it wasn’t worth writing home about. But a win is a win, and a clean sheet is a clean sheet. It seems strange to me that Shin claims this was his “defense-first” game, given that North Korea are technically the weakest opposition in the competition, and the backline wasn’t really stretched or tested in any significant way. As Japan beat China 2-1 in the other game, the men’s bracket will come down to a final showdown in the Haniljeon. Japan will win the cup with a draw, and the South Koreans will need a victory. Hopefully that match will be more of a spectacle.