On paper it wasn’t even supposed to be close. South Korea drew with Uzbekistan 2-2 today, getting an away point in this World Cup qualifying match, but it seemed like Korea came away the poorer team in the endeavor. Coach Choi Kang-Hee is going to face a lot of questions concerning his in-game management and apparent lack of preparedness, but more on that later.
Right from the opening ten minutes, Uzbekistan had 52% possession of the ball, creating some dangerous chances. Ulughbek Bakaev nearly scored in the 11th minute; moments later off a Sanjar Tursunov header from a corner kick, Ki Sung-Yeung tried to head it away but had an unlucky own goal and suddenly Uzbekistan shockingly were on top. The Taeguk Warriors could not get into gear, relying heavily on the long ball, and didn’t offer much coherence in organizing themselves offensively. The unsuccessful long ball attacks allowed the Uzbeks possession back quickly from which they launched punishing waves of counterattacks. The several times in the first half when the Red Devils threatened, the attacks became unglued with ill-advised passes that were intercepted or missed their intended targets all together. Korea’s fullbacks were found wanting in this match, in particular defensive midfielder Ko Yo-Han, allowing Uzbekistan to make virtually every set piece and corner kick in the Korean side of the field a scrambling misadventure for the Red Devils.
In going with a 4-3-2-1 formation, Boss Choi chose Lee Dong-Gook as his main striker; to borrow a baseball colloquialism, the 33 year old Jeonbuk Hyundai man struck out several times, squandering several excellent opportunities to score. Take for instance the 16th minute: Lee Keun-Ho delivered a stellar cross to Lee Dong-Gook, and the ball sailed high, over the post and over the moon.
Kim Bo-Kyung and Ki Sung-Yeung looked to be out of sync as well, though Kim had 2 shots right on target blocked by keeper Ignatiy Nesterov, who had made several key saves for his side. The early own goal got Ki-Sung Yeung off his game; afterwards he played more conservatively and seemed much more pensive. His ‘pass-master’ role in the South Korean Olympic side wasn’t on display today; Choi’s longball strategy didn’t suit the kind of finesse style of play that Ki usually excels at.
Things turned around for the Taeguk Warrior at the 42nd minute on what looked like a routine free kick by Ki Sung-Yeung. On the right post, Kwak Tae-Hwi headed the ball on target, with Artyom Filiposyan lunging with his foot unsuccessfully to boot it away – replays showed a clear own goal, but Kwak still got the credit. Score tied 1-1 at the half.
Lee Chung-Yong and Lee Keun-Ho gave some of the brightest performances for the Korean side, and by the second half managed from the midfield to string some creative chances collectively. Then there was Lee Dong-Gook, whiffing at the ball at the Uzbek goalmouth yet again at the 57th minute. A moment later Korea regains possession and Park Joo-Ho cross gets to Lee who didn’t leave his spot; from goat to goal scored and suddenly South Korea took the lead.
Less than 4 minutes later, Korea blew the lead on yet another corner kick, same player and almost exactly the same way scored from a header, but without the own goal. It was almost too easy. Despite the lead slip, it could’ve been worse had it not been for Jung Sung-Ryong. The South Korean goalkeeper blocked shot after shot throughout the game and knocked the ball away from what surely looked to be a go ahead header from Ulughbek Bakaev in the 71th minute.
It’s midway through the 2nd half that Coach Choi commits to a series of head scratching substitutions. Forward “Wookie” Kim Shin-Wook came in for Lee Chung-Yong, despite Chungy constancy as one of the more productive members on the field. Though he scored the 2nd goal, Lee Dong-Gook was largely clogging up the offense, yet Choi didn’t sub him out for the obvious choice of forward Park Chu-Young. He did sub Chu-Young, but subbed out another productive midfielder in Lee Keun-Ho. His final substitution was Yoon Bit-Garam in for Ha Dae-Sung, but with less than 10 minutes till the end, he didn’t get to factor in this one.
Last minute of regulation, South Korea gave a last go of it, 3 points in sight with just one more goal. Kim Bo Kyung made an excellent timed tackle prying the ball loose from an Uzbek player in Korean territory. Suddenly a long pass connected with an open Park Chu-Young, and with defenders at his back, got clearance to put the game away. Racing toward the oncoming goal keeper, his flick shot was deflected by Nestorov and with that, Uzbek disaster averted; Park Chu-Young looked up disappointed and no goal to show for his efforts.
So let’s sum up.
- Korea’s 2 goals -ungraceful in form [that said, a goal is a goal, and you take ‘em however they come]. 2 goals squandered to corner kicks –as if they didn’t practice defending set pieces in preparation. One factor I nearly forgot to bring up, the field was a muddy muddy mess, players slipping everywhere– will Fifa allow for special technologically advanced cleat teeths to compensate? Only the shadow knows.
- 2 unused defenders that may have had more impact: Oh Beom-Suk and Yun Suk-Young.
- Clearly the team could benefit from Koo Ja-Cheol coming back from his ankle tendon injury – sooner than later.
- Finally, boss Choi has to get over his fetish with striker Lee Dong-Gook. At age 33, he most likely will not be in Brazil in 2 years. The future of forward strikers belongs to the likes of Park Chu-Young (age 27) and Kim Shin-Wook (age 24) -and needed more minutes to get that team chemistry clicking. They should’ve started, especially Park –who despite some misplays of his own today, has been extremely productive for the Korean side. Lest we forget in this modern tech/short term age of ours, the Olympics really wasn’t that long ago when Park scored that mind-blowing game winner v Japan to win the bronze medal.
The next World Cup Qualifier is October 16 v Iran at Tehran. It’s back to the drawing boards for the Taeguk Warriors, and despite leading their World Cup qualifying group, the performance today was very troubling, especially in contrast to the goal blitzing form England and Spain showed last week -putting away their weaker opponents with wide scoring margins. More than soul searching, there ought to be serious questions for head coach Choi Kang-Hee. With Brazil looming over their shoulders, this performance might see calls for Choi’s resignation and demands for Hong Myung-Bo to take the helm.