January 20th , 2013
With only one win all season, things were looking desperate for Augsburg going into the Bundesliga winter break. A few key transfers later (including Ji Dong-Won from Sunderland) and the skies above Augsburg are beginning to clear. Today, Ji Dong-Won got the surprise green light to start for Augsburg against Fortuna Dusseldorf to join his Korean national teammate Koo Ja-Cheol on the pitch. Many in the Dusseldorf crowd had no idea who Ji was or what was in store for their side. Before the January transfer window opened, it was Koo Ja-Cheol who first introduced the idea to Markus Wienzierl and the FC Augsburg board to take a chance on the forgotten Sunderland forward. The gamble paid off: Ji was everywhere on the pitch, driving with pace, passing with precision and firing off powerful shots that nearly got past the keeper on several occasions. Augsburg offense was riding on high octane throughout the match and was constantly knocking on Dusseldorf’s goal line. But what the game may ultimately be remembered for was the most inept displays of defense we’ve witnessed all season (to be faIr from both sides -but ESPECIALLY from Dusseldorf). Take for instance the 40th minute: under some moderate pressure from Sascha Molders, Dusseldorf defenseman Juanan in a bout of miscommunication headed the ball towards netminder Giefer, which was misplayed through Giefer’s legs -leaving Molders alone to get a lucky tap in for Augsburg’s first goal. 3 minutes later, Ji Dong-Won intricately weaved the ball through several Dusseldorf players, passed it out to Tobias Werner, who then crossed it towards Koo. He brought the ball under control and through a narrow angle, delivered a shot across goal; it bounced off the other post and into the net to bring the score 0-2.
It was Koo’s 4th goal overall for his team, and suddenly Augsburg had a 2 goal lead going into halftime. 2nd half was more of the same, but with a caveat; when Dusseldorf was on the counter attack, Augsburg’s defense kept skirting with disaster with numerous fouls committed just outside the penalty areas. Fortunately Dusseldorf weren’t able to capitalize on any set pieces, and Augsburg’s offense kept hammering away inside Dusseldorf’s half of the field. Ji had several quality shots, 4 in all, 3 right on target, with the keeper just able to parry away his shots outbounds for Augsburg corner kicks -which in turn kept the pressure on the hosts. It was only a matter of time before Augsburg would score again -but oddly enough it happened on yet another disastrous defensive blunder. In the 71st minute, a panicked Dusseldorf defensemen passed the ball to Giefer. There again was Sascha Molders, this time charging straight towards Giefer for some routine pressure, but the next moment frozen in time would encapsulate the weirdness of this match; Giefer’s clearance hit Molders and bounced off his bum on into the net! I couldn’t even begin to write football fiction like that, but that’s how that he scored his brace. Augsburg ahead on 3 goals – 2 from the craziest blunders committed by any side all season. And yet only Augsburg could wind up nearly blowing a 3 goal lead from that moment onward. A Reisinger goal in the 78th minute and then another Reisinger goal in stoppage time and the impossible comeback was looking quite possible. The equalizer actually went into the net just a minute later but was called back: the fulltime whistle had already blown. And just like that, Augsburg lifted themselves out of the bottom of the Bundesliga table, moving to 17th place, still in the relegation zone, but with 12 total points, they are within 1 point of 16th place Hoffenheim and escape from the drop zone. An impressive day for both Ji and Koo, remarkable to think how well Ji did in spite of this being his first 90 minute game in 5 months! There’s a video recap of the game below:
Note: American international Michael Parkhurst was in the 18 man roster but didn’t feature for Augsburg. He was another January acquisition and his presence should help bolster Augsburg’s beleagered back line.
In other Bundesliga action today, Son Heung-Min was close several times to getting the game winner for Hamburg, but with the score deadlocked at Nurnberg 1-1 in stoppage time, Son lifted himself high in the box, got a clear header on target – and it clanged off the post. After a lackluster 1st half, Hamburg’s recharged offense came out in the 2nd half, their hard work finally paying off with Aogo’s cross finding Rudnev – who headed in the first goal in the 70th minute. It woke up the hosts from their daze and they knocked in the equalizer 5 minutes later. The Tavern tuned in to see the 2nd half, and despite not appearing on the scoreline, it looked like Son was quite prolific, a fine mix of crisp precise passing, quick dynamic movement and excellent positioning. He delivered a brilliant though ball to Diekmeier in the 52nd minute, but Diekmeier gave up the ball and the chance disappeared. Another fantastic opportunity for Son came in the 77th minute: his powerful header was about to go into the top corner, but last second reflexes from the keeper knocked it several feet in front of him. With the ball loose, in the subsequent scramble, Son crashed into the keeper to knock in his own rebound. Schafer got to the ball first and held on for dear life. A Van der Vaart through pass to Son in the 81st looked promising, but before Son could get to it, Schafer smothered it. Overall, while the stats deceptively makes it look like his finishing could use some tweaking, it can be argued that Son was simply unlucky today not to get a goal or two. Thems the breaks in football sometimes. With the draw, Hamburg ponders what could have been as those crucial 3 points might’ve placed them as high as 6th place. There is no doubt that the potential for Hamburg to make a final push towards qualifying for Europe is within reach this season, but obviously they’ve got to start winning games like today to take that feasible.
I caught a glimpse of a neat article about Korean players written by the official Bundesliga website. This (like many other great sources of information) came to my attention by way of the BigSoccer.com Koreans Abroad forum. Entitled “The Korean Factor,” it’s a concise summary of the impact of Koreans in the league like Koo, Son, Ji and now Park Jung-Bin is having. Park made his first appearance for Gruether Furth in Saturday’s game at Bayern Munich in the 89th minute. Speaking of Park, there’s a youtube snippet of his debut from a Korean broadcast of the game. Let’s take a quick look shall we? He got right into the thick of things from the looks of it. Looks promising from the former Wolfsburg Youth member.
So to quickly summarize, it’s been a fairly productive weekend at the Tavern with significant action from (most) Korean players in Europe. (In case you desire a more contextualized recap of Saturday’s games, go see yesterday’s post here):
SATURDAY Kim Bo-Kyung -Goal for Cardiff / played 90 minutes / quality performance in a 2-1 victory over Blackpool.
Lee Chung-Yong 90 minutes for Bolton in 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace. Good performance, but not too much offense to report.
Park Ji-Sung 9 minutes in QPR’s 1-1 draw at West Ham.
Ki Sung-Yeung 90 minutes / assist and brilliant performance, one of his best of the season in Swansea’s 3-1 victory over Stoke City.
Park Chu-Young in 18 man roster but didn’t play for Celta Vigo’s 1-1 draw at Malaga [UPDATE: Santiago Perez had a very interesting conversation recently with Celta’s manager Paco Herrera on why he didn’t start this match. According to Herrera, to fully take advantage of the kind of striker Chu-Young is, a structural roster problem dating back to their other summer transfers has come to light. The Tavern is going to discuss this further later in the week, but to find out what exactly Herrera was talking about, take a look at Perez’s blog at Rainmaker18.com]
Son Heung-Min 90 minutes / quality performance and 3 incredibly close chances to score for Hamburg. Draw 1-1 with Nurnberg.
Koo Ja-Cheol Goal for Augsburg / 90 minutes / vital energy and class performance as usual. Augsburg 3, Fortuna Dusseldorf 2.
Ji Dong-Won 90 minutes for Augsburg / great debut performance for his new club and 3 quality shots on target but no goals. Help start sequence for Koo’s goal in the 43rd minute. 1st full game since playing for the Taeguk Warriors Olympic medal winning team in August. Martin O’Neil may soon be wondering why the hell he didn’t play Ji this season for Sunderland.
Cha Du-Ri Not on the 18 man roster for Fortuna Dusseldorf. Reports indicate he may be out of favor and on his way out of the club, possibly for a K-League club in the January transfer period.
> Football Korea blog reported on their blog site that Kim In-Sung has been released by CSKA Moscow. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar until he tried out and somehow managed to make the first team squad last season. With less than a handful of appearances, it was only a matter of time before he was let go. Not sure if he will try to get onto a K-League Classic club or seek another European club.
>> FC Groningen is reporting on their website that Suk Hyun-Jun is close to a deal transfer to Portugese side CS Marítimo. The club currently is in 5th place in the Portgual Liga table.
Finally: the South Korean national team today released their roster of players to call up in a February 6th friendly against Croatia. Tentatively it is scheduled to take place in London (we’re hearing Fulham’s Craven Cottage). A few notes: Lee Keun-Ho is absent from the list. The former Ulsan midfielder was awarded the Asian Player of the Year last November and is now serving his military duty, and will be playing for Sangju/Army team in the new 2nd division K-League (they were relegated last season). Also centerback Twak Tae-Hwi has just transferred from Ulsan to Al Shabab, a Saudi team.