Well that was ugly. Really, really ugly. Korean mistakes let Ghana get a couple cheap goals in, and it was all downhill from there. Criticism of Hong Myeong-Bo and the team have reached an all-time high, and at the worst possible time with just a week until the team plays Russia in the opening group game of the World Cup. One of the headlines from Naver read, “믿 고 싶은데, 믿을 구석이 없다’ (meed go shipeunde, meedeul guseoki eopda), which roughly means (I think) ‘We want to believe, but there is none left’.
Okay, so technically the above quote refers to Hong Myeong-Bo, but I think it applies to the vast majority of people. But is it right? Is there no belief, no trust in this team left? Something we’ll consider later.
Hong made two changes to the side that lost 1-0 to Tunisia (and that will likely start against Russia). Kwak Tae-Hwi came in for the still recovering Hong Jeong-Ho, and Kim Chang-Soo got a chance to impress ahead of Lee Yong. Otherwise, Hong stuck with his usual formation and players.
The Game and Goals
The first minutes of the game were actually fairly promising, and even after the first goal Korea responded fairly well. The team certainly looked to have more zip in their step, with more pressing and aggressive defensive, preventing Ghana from really getting going. Lee Chung-Yong and Son Heung-Min both flashed warning signs as they found space to get behind the Ghana defense. Korea’s defense also looked decent. Not being too troubled by Asamoah Gyan or Ghana’s pacey wide attackers.
But there is the small issue of the first goal. A sloppy backpass from Kim Chang-Soo was cut out by Gyan. Panic set into the Korean team (defense and deeper midfielders) and they failed to take up good defensive positions and clear the danger. In the end, it was a bit unfortunate to concede, Jordan Ayew’s shot deflected off of Ki Sung-Yueng and went over Jung Sung-Ryong who had already gone to ground to try and save the shot.
After the goal, things settled with neither side getting an big advantage over the other. Ghana was content on being direct and playing on the break, but the long balls over the top were usually collect by Korea’s center backs pretty easily. Problems did occur when Ghana won the second ball as Korea’s midfield and fullbacks were often out of position.
The second goal came shortly before the break. A goal kick from Jung Sung-Ryong was headed back towards the Korea half. Kwak Tae-Hwi battled with Gyan for the ball. Kwak felt Gyan’s hand on his back, and after a second went tumbling to the ground looking for a foul. It never came, leaving Gyan free to run at goal with only Kim Young-Gwon and Jung Sung-Ryong to beat. Kim, possibly mindful of getting sent off as a last man, didn’t really challenge Gyan for the ball, trying instead just to be in the way of any shot. It didn’t work though as Gyan stepped to the right and fired a low shot past Jung to make it 2-0.
Goal three came shortly after the break. Park Chu-Young lost the ball just outside the Ghana box, and Ghana worked the ball with ease up the pitch. Poor defensive positioning and lazy backtracking the culprits here. Ki Sung-Yueng couldn’t get back in time, and Son Heung-Min didn’t come back on the left to help cover. Now at 3-0 early in the second half the game was virtually over, and both teams started to make their changes.
In the end, Ghana got a fourth and Jordan Ayew got his hattrick. It was really the simplest of goals. Ball goes wide to midfielder, passes up the line to attacker moving out, cross it back in for the simplest of tap ins. Again, laziness probably the biggest culprit. Kim Young-Gwon was slow in tracking the attacker’s run wide and then never really made any attempt to challenge/block the cross. Hong Jeong-Ho was marking Ayew in the box and he simply let him run by him.
After the Tunisia loss, there was a feeling that the loss/game was a potential blessing in disguise. A kick in the ass to get going, a moment to damper (perhaps) an overly expectant public, a warning that many lingering problems still exist in the team. Such sentiment is around after the Ghana loss, but at a much lower level. Hong Myeong-Bo, for his part, has tried to keep the mood positive, saying that “I don’t think it was systematical errors but rather mistakes of a few individual players,” that allowed the goals (one and two). In theory those errors can be avoided, and it’s highly likely neither Kim Chang-Soo nor Kwak Tae-Hwi will feature in Brazil.
The fact that the goals were largely conceded to individual errors (Kim’s backpass, Kwak’s slip, Hong’s failure to fully mark his man) is both good and bad. It is good in that they are, in theory, easily fixable problems. It is bad in that, individual errors have long been a problem in this team, and as much as we may wish it, that they’ll go away in a week seems a bit unlikely.
Ultimately, this game serves a test of how strong your optimism and belief in this team and manager are. Do you want to see things as a quarter-full (not enough went right to say half-full) or three-quarters empty?
Because honestly, I feel better about the team’s performance after this game than the Tunisia game. That game was a complete let down. At home, against a weaker team that just wanted to defend, Korea looked pathetic. Troubled defensively, no energy, no creativity in attack. While the scoreline against Ghana is much worse, there were good things in that performance. For long stretches the defense did fairly well. The attack had more pace in it, more life, and more creativity (once Koo Ja-Cheol went off).
Luck is always needed in big tournaments, and on Tuesday Korea just had none. On another day maybe that deflection off Ki goes out for a corner. On another day maybe the referee (rightly or wrongly) gives a foul on the little contact on Kwak Tae-Hwi. On another day the teams go into the half 0-0, and Korea doesn’t need to come out more and be more open in search of goals. Am I grasping at straws here? Maybe a bit, but in complete honesty I would take this 4-0 loss to Ghana over the 1-0 loss to Tunisia any day.
Where from here?
That probably is the biggest question. Where does Hong and the team go from here? Fans, and Korea in general, seems to have given up on the team (at least according to Twitter). And compared to the positivity in the build up to the World Cup (pre-Tunisia), the ultimate result in Brazil may be disappointing. But, it shouldn’t be forgotten that these friendlies count for nothing. Russia, Algeria, and Belgium don’t get any points for these losses.
Hong Myeong-Bo has a week. One week to make some big decisions about which XI players take the field. The defense, despite it’s problems seems set. Ki Sung-Yueng and Han Kook-Young have done enough to warrant their spots. Lee Chung-Yong and Son Heung-Min the same. It’s those two in the middle that Hong will need to do some deep soul-searching on. Both Park Chu-Young and Koo Ja-Cheol have been completely underwhelming in the two matches. Hong will need to decide if he’s willing to stick with his (completely predictably) misfiring striker and out-of-form captain or if he’ll gamble on others.
When asked about the players’ attitudes after conceding the first goals, Hong said that he thought, “they had to play under huge pressure. They failed to show impressive play (in the previous games) and that was the reason, I think.” The pressure certainly won’t be any less following this result, and with the next game being the (potentially) vital game against Russia, the team will need to get their heads right quickly. Hong also realizes this telling reporters, “We have a young team, and how quickly they can overcome their disappointments will be key.”
A more detailed analysis of the match will be up in a couple days. My player ratings can be viewed on the earlier post by Tim Lee. If you’d like to see the match again, it is viewable below.