For moment the country held it’s breath. Iran had won the match 1-0. Uzbekistan was winning theirs 5-1. And for a moment, it seemed like the impossible would happen. Uzbekistan would overturn Korea’s massive +6 goal difference, and send Korea into the playoffs. Luckily for Korea it didn’t happen. The famous quote, “We didn’t lose, we just ran out of time” seems quite apt for Uzbekistan. Korea will head to Brazil next summer after finishing second in the group.
Choi Kang-Hee went 4-4-2 this time. Trying the two-top pair of Lee Dong-Gook and Kim Shin-Wook. Son Heung-Min was wide on the left. Ji Dong-Won started on the right with Lee Chung-Yong missing due to an injury. Lee Myeong-Joo and Jang Hyun-Soo started in central midfield. The backline was all Kims with Kim Chang-Soo, Kim Ki-Hee, Kim Young-Kwon, and Kim Chi-Woo. Jung Sung-Ryong was once again between the sticks.
If Choi Kang-Hee got most of his tactics right against Uzbekistan, he seemed to get them all wrong against Iran. The backline was solid, barring the one, very costly mistake by Kim Young-Kwon, but the midfield and attack was a bit of a mess. The Lee Myeong-Joo/Hyun Jang-Soo pairing wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very effective either. Lee Myeong-Joo is a deeper central midfielder while Jang Hyun-Soo is a central defender. Jang showed good defensive capabilities, but his passing isn’t good enough to provide any sort of attacking platform to build off of.
The attacking quartet is where things really got ugly. Lee Dong-Gook and Kim Shin-Wook have yet to show they can play together effectively. So, why Choi decided to try it again is beyond me. My only guess is he was trying to give Lee Dong-Gook some sort of last match gift while also rewarding Kim Shin-Wook for a decent showing last week. The problem is further compounded by the use of Son Heung-Min and Ji Dong-Won wide. Both are really center forwards, and their natural game is to drift inwards (although Ji is working on becoming more of a wide player). Lee Dong-Gook and Kim Shin-Wook are not very mobile and both require good service (Lee to feet, Kim to head). Neither Son Heung-Min or Ji Dong-Won are going to provide that.
Beyond the player selection it became clear that Korea was quite willing to settle for a draw. There was no sense of urgency or real desire from the team as a whole to win that one, despite all the talk that preceded the match. Once the team went behind, it was too late to step it up another gear.
Jung Sung-Ryong 6.0 – A spectator for large parts of the game. Iran had one shot the entire game, but it was a goal. Little Jung could do about it.
Kim Chang-Soo 7.0 – The best player on the pitch in the first half. Completely dominated the right side. Faded a bit in the second half and wasn’t quite as influential.
Kim Ki-Hee 7.5 – Overall, my man of the match. Was solid in defense, snuffing out any Iranian counterattacks.
Kim Young-Kwon 6.0 – For 89 minutes he was fantastic. But one mistake cost him and the team. Hesitated when looking to make a back pass, and Ghoochannejhad got by him to score. Almost scored later, but was denied by a brilliant reaction save. Still a bright talent, hope this mistake doesn’t cost him.
Kim Chi-Woo 6.0 – Average. Didn’t offer much down the left, and his set piece delivery was lacking.
Ji Dong-Won 6.5 – Offered plenty of energy and grit on the right, but little in the final third. Still feel he should be moved back center.
Jang Hyun-Soo 6.0 – Fine defensive performance, but his passing won’t cut it at the international level in central midfield.
Lee Myeong-Joo 6.0 – After a breakout first performance, Lee’s follow-up left a bit to be desired. His passing was off a bit, and didn’t seem as composed.
Son Heung-Min 6.0 – I’ve gone back and forth about where Son is best. For Korea it clearly seems to be more central. Had trouble influencing the game from the left. Missed one good opportunity early. Strangely subbed off in the second half.
Lee Dong-Gook 5.0 – Did he do anything?
Kim Shin-Wook 5.5 – Won plenty of aerial battles, but offered little in terms of goal threats.
Lee Keun-Ho 5.5 – Came on and had one good chance late.
Kim Bo-Kyung 6.0 – Had very little time to make an impact, but put in a nice free kick. Should have started.
Short Reflections and Thoughts
I don’t really want to dwell or look at this match too much. Choi Kang-Hee will leave, and someone new will step in. Qualifying is over. It’s time to start anew. My only hope is that the KFA and the national team setup can learn from this experience. Not to fire and hire rashly. To be ruthless and always go for the win, not to settle for a draw or small victory. To build a cohesive team, and not cobble together bits and pieces that you know. If Korea fails to learn these lessons, Brazil will be a short and painful trip.
The East Asian Cup is next. The Tavern will bring full coverage as always. In between look for some posts about the prospective managers, why Korea can’t produce any world-class centerbacks, and another edition of the mailbag. If you have any article requests feel free to leave a note in the comments.
Until next time.