The headline has the starkest stat for today’s friendly – a tuneup against Iraq at Emirates Club Stadium in the UAE. Couple of quick observations as we’re giving a quick summary of what happened and anything to glean from today.
Starting lineup was a head-scratching surprise: 3-4-3 with captain Ki Sung-Yeung playing CB (!?!)
Stielike has never trotted out this formation with the KNT. Moreover -this was going to be further unpredictable given 3 players who have not played much or at all for their clubs this season including Park Joo-Ho for BVB, Lee Chung-Yong for Crystal Palace and Jang Hyun-Su for Guangzhou R&F. Also notable, Ji Dong-Won up top.
First half, other than sustained Korea holding onto possession, not much action as both teams played cautiously – Korea trying to probe but then backpassing against a congested Iraqi backfield (seemingly had what looked like 7 at the back). Son had the best shot of the 1st half, but it went wide and over the crossbar. That happened to be the first Korean shot at a decidedly late 36 minutes into the game. Good bit of skill there from Son to get in position to shoot, but unlike his scorching hot form at Spurs, Son was fairly quiet and didn’t try anything too audacious. Ki dribbled into space as the KNT’s most decisive player of the half, adventuring very far upfield at times – still it was a curiosity to see the holding mid to be playing so deep at CB with Hong Jeong-ho shifted to a makeshift RB / CB when Ki ventured on up. The distribution experiment kind of/sort of worked with Nam Tae-hee coming back and linking up with the rest of the midfield. Otherwise, Ji couldn’t get too much on the ball in what looked like a lack of service to the Augsburg man, and Park Joo-ho, while adequate at left wingback, showed some signs of rust, along with his other wing counterpart in Lee Chung-Yong. The Crystal Palace man made a good effort at notching a goal when this happened:
Last significant action before HT: not sure why ref didn't call penalty on iraq w/ very dangerous high kick to LCY's face. Scoreless https://t.co/HSiOeFJNaZ
— The Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) June 7, 2017
Poor refereeing there.
Second half 3-4-3 experiment over and a raft of subs came in. Lee Chung-Yong out/Lee Guen-ho in ; Son out/Hwang Hee-Chan in ; Nam Tae-hee out / Lee Myung-Ju in. Ki came forward as the formation shifted to 4-3-3. Hwang in particular got Korea going in the right direction, impactful and causing chaos for the Iraqi defense. However Lee Myung-Ju and Lee Guen-ho were unable to capitalize on Hwang’s adventures in the final third, Lee Myung-Ju on one occasion misreading a Hwang cross and unable to get in on in. Later Lee Myung-Ju squandered an excellent build up after a Kim Chang-Su cross was redirected by Hwang toward Lee – who was in an optimal position for a strike. His shot hit the side of the proverbial barn instead.
Lee Guen-ho looked out of place in his first outing for the KNT in quite some time. The Gangwon midfielder was upgraded to captain after Ki Sung-Yeung subbed off – probably due to seniority. No improvement after the armband was handed to him however. A number of what looked like promising build ups would eventually be extinguished with agonizingly poor touches and decision making by the former Asian Player of the Year (the 2012 edition). Meanwhile, Ji Dong-Won departed for Lee Jae-Sung. The Jeonbuk man, having recently returned from injury, had a slow start but got into the game as time ticked closer toward FT, deftly dribbling past the Iraqi midfield on several occasions. He got a shot in the 84th minute, but it was off target.
Stielike’s management -puzzling 3-4-3 formations (with players playing more cautiously perhaps as a result of an unfamiliar formation) and head scratching player selections like Lee Guen-Ho resulted in more goal scoring impotence in the end as the FT whistle blew and no goals, nor shots on target emerged.
Korea has been lackluster in a number of departments for over a year now. The last time Korea scored more than 2 goals was June 10th of last year – a 3 : 2 squeaking victory over Qatar – the opponent they face in next Tuesday’s vastly more important World Cup Qualifier. The defense, while registering a clean sheet – didn’t exactly come out too clean as holes emerged, with only Iraqi offensive lack of clinical finishing partly factoring in on scoreless draw. Kwak Tae-hwi coming on in the 88th minute might be a signal that Stielike doesn’t quite trust the aging Seoul FC veteran. If that was the case, why not give Kim Min-Hyeok a try? The Sagan Tosu CB has played almost all of his J1 side’s games thus far. We’ll have more thoughts later at the Tavern, but for now a quick note on some of the players today:
Ki Sung-Yeung: good shift today – great passes in distributing – and proper vision to dribble forward into space – scrambling the Iraq defenses. As makeshift CB, wasn’t too shabby -though it’s not his usual position. It’s been over 4 years since he last had to do that for Swansea in the League Cup final (though he might have been CB on one other occasion – Tavern Statistician -get to work- chop chop!)
Nam Tae-Hee: another good shift – my impression of him is changing – this is his 2nd consecutive good KNT outing for theLekhwiya midfielder (can a move to Germany happen for this guy please?)
Hwang Hee-Chan: not the perfect forward, has flaws, but football favors the bold –his successful (albeit slightly ungraceful) take-ons could have easily resulted in goals for Korea today.
Park Joo-Ho: utilitarian as left wingback. Decent -not spectacular -but as ok as anyone can expect given his lack of playing time for BVB this season. He has played in the BVB reserves so he wasn’t completely rusty, but some of his touches were a bit suspect.
Lee Jae-Sung: glad to see him back – expect impact if he continues to play for KNT
Hwang Il-su: debut for the Jeju midfielder who came in for Ki. I didn’t get to see too much of him, but seemed ok (I’ll have to admit that there was a 10 minute stretch of 2nd half where internet stream cut out). Tavern writers and readers – let me know your impression of his debut.
Disappointed to not see Jeju’s Lee Chang-Min nor Kim Min-Hyeok (who I mentioned earlier) on the pitch today. If this friendly was experimental – why not let them show their stuff and see how they fit in the grand scheme of things?
Referee: whoever he was did a abjectly terrible job. Of course the result is meaningless, but several pivotal fouls were missed including a high kick to Lee Chung-Yong’s face in the box and a deep run by Ki, cut down from the back near the area – for there to be no call was spectacularly incompetent and dangerous (or blatantly biased).
Korea leaves for Doha on Saturday. Next Tuesday at 3pm US EST Qatar will host Korea for a crucial World Cup Qualifier. Korea currently sits on razor edge of 2nd place behind Iran in this final stage of qualifying for Russia 2018 (interestingly, the Guardian and other media outlets discovered virtual slave laborers from North Korea working in atrocious conditions to build said World Cup stadiums in Russia. way to go FIFA).