At least we won – that’s about as much as fans could say after a lackluster and rather lucky 1-0 win to Syria. A loss would’ve spelled disaster for WCQ hopes – at least we avoided that (check out Jae’s thoughts for why not qualifying for the WC could be a good thing). A number of news outlets announced that this Syria game was an improvement from the 1-0 loss to China, but let’s be real: we couldn’t make more than three passes in a row, had absolutely no end product, and got dominated at times by SYRIA. I’m willing to say that Stielike is every bit as frustrating as CKH was. How much of our team’s woes is the players’ fault vs. the manager’s fault can be left to debate, but let’s be clear, Korean media – we didn’t win because we player well – we won because 1) we got lucky and 2) Syria had even worse finishing than we did.
We saw a typical *yawn* lineup against Syria (though I must say I was quite happy that Hwang Heechan started up top), but with something weird going on on the right flank:
Ko Myungjin on the right wing – surely that was a mistake? Surely, NTH was the RW and Ko Myungjin was the CM? Nope. KMJ actually played wide, and contributed literally nothing offensively. He had a nice dribble or two but with 0 crosses, 0 shots, and nothing else of note, the KMJ at RW experiment was a resounding failure. Stielike actually defended himself saying that he wanted to put a left-footed player on the right wing so he could cut in / deliver more balls to HHC. Sounds quite a bit like elementary FIFA tactics, no?
▶왼발을 쓰는 선수라서 오른쪽 윙으로 배치했다. 안으로 잘라 들어와서 왼발을 활용해 황희찬에게 더욱 많은 볼이 갈 수 있도록 했다.
Otherwise we had the standard Stielike lineup – it’s probably the best we could do with the players called up, tbh. Looking at the bench, it’s clear that the squad is very thin.
I’m not gonna lie when I first tuned in right before the HJH goal I thought this game was going to turn out to be slightly less of an eyesore. The passes actually connected at times in the first 15 minutes at least (I wondered at times whether I was watching the senior NT or the U20 NT). Most notably, we defied all KNT precedents to score early and from a corner no less. In the 4th minute SHM whipped in the corner which failed to get cleared by Syrian defenders and somehow fell straight at the feet of HJH, who instinctively slammed the ball into the lower right corner:
I also thought that in the first 15-20 minutes, at least, SHM and KJS linked up pretty well. Later on in the game they would go onto become the two worst performers with some truly cringeworthy pass-misses and losses of possession, but in the first couple minutes they rushed down the wings, connected passes, and even teed each other up for a shot on target from time to time. SHM even had two really good corner deliveries in this early phase (the rest, predictably, fell straight at the feet of a defender).
What surprised me even more than the goal was how Syria took the initiative this time around. We have talked at length about the infamous “idea claro,” where all you have to do to beat Korea is defend and counter. Syria used this strategy on us in late 2016 and snatched a point in a 0-0 draw (but got their goalkeeper injured like 5 times in the process). Yesterday, however, Syria attacked and pressed pretty proactively, presumably realizing that we were weaker than ever. A number of Syrian attacks actually got me worried, with a number of balls over the top failing to be cleared. They also succeeded in making a LOT of interceptions, though I wonder if that’s their tactical organization or our general inability to connect passes. I’m really starting to sound like a broken record criticizing our passing game but it’s a problem that just won’t go away.
The majority of the first half was a classic KNT snooze-fest. At least against China, Korea sort of took a direct attacking approach and drove the ball forward whenever they could. Against Syria, the team seemed more content to move the ball around – unfortunately, someone misplaced a pass every time (to me, our passing accuracy felt like it was in the low 80’s – high 70’s). It seemed as if SHM was supposed to be the man to lead the attack – players seemed eager to pass to him. We attacked down the left FAR more than we attacked down the right or the middle, but SHM faded really hard after maybe the first 10 minutes or so. It would have been great to see Stielike react to this stagnant offense and actually get players running forward and finding space, but
Just to make my point, I will post the extended HL reel right here – it contains some of the good attacking plays from the first 15 minutes, and shows some examples of “bad Korean defending + bad Syrian finishing.” It’s too bad it doesn’t show the number of times where our players straight up pass the ball out of play.
The second half felt a little more end-to-end than the first. Syria had some periods of domination, Korea had good chances here and there largely thanks to the efforts of our midfielders KSY HKY and NTH, but the finishing was truly off on both sides.
I think in this half I started to lose any shred of faith I had left for Kim Jinsu – perhaps the worst player on the pitch today, he probably contributed to the Syrian attack more than he contributed to ours – in fact, he was a negative influence in our offense to the point where I really thought Stielike was going to sub him out. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to have him start considering he was frozen out at Hoffenheim for so long before finally joining Jeonbuk, but hopefully he can regain his form soon. Until he does he really shouldn’t be called up anymore.
If I were to pick out highlights from this second half, I would probably single out Ki Sungyong, Kwon Suntae, and Han Kookyoung. The real surprise on this list, of course, is Han Kookyoung. He made a number of crucial pass interceptions and facilitated play really well. It makes you think what could have happened had we played HKY from the start against China and Syria. OK fine it likely would have made no difference, but HKY actually made a noticeable impact on the senior NT for once.
Kwon Suntae put in a solid shift in goal and as you guys may have seen already, made rounds on the internet for saving a shot with his face. Though imo that’s not the best way to put it; the Syrian striker was in really close range and shot it straight at KST’s head, leaving KST with no chance even if he really didn’t want to save that shot with his face.
Ki Sungyong was probably our most important player for these last two friendlies – captain Ki was everywhere and was one of the few players who was somewhat enjoyable to watch. It’s not too surprising that Ki was our most important passer and creator of chances; he either assisted every shot or personally engineered pretty much every chance we had. That being said it wasn’t a perfect performance, with a handful of passmisses and failed dribbles from time to time. I wonder if he sympathizes with how PJS felt – leading a team that’s performing a lot worse than he would like / having to deal with the public’s frustration.
People deemed KSY’s performance good enough to warrant a balltouch reel:
It’s general wisdom you don’t sack coaches within a qualifying cycle like this, but I think Stielike makes an exception. Every match for the last couple years, except for maybe the 2-1 against Czech Republic, has been stagnant, boring, tactically lacking, and slightly painful to watch. I feel bad acting like a judge considering I probably couldn’t do any better and considering that our players ARE indeed really out of form, but the truth is that Stielike is not a very good coach. Our best chances recently have come from set pieces. And we all know how bad we are at set pieces – it says more about how awful we are from open play. Would I be for sacking Stielike? I don’t know – there’s no alternative right now. If the KFA goes domestic they’ll definitely go STY (ultimate disaster), if they go foreign they’ll have to find someone who fits their ludicrously narrow profile (willing to live in Korea, speaks fluent English, etc.) and will probably end up ignoring candidates like van Marwijk or Gunes like last time. Maybe the best bet is to just accept that we’re going to crash out of the 2018 WC prematurely and look long term.
Two quotes by KSY are also worth mentioning:
“공을 패스하면 다 뺏기더라…대표팀 수준이 아니다”
“감독 전술보다 선수들 경기력 문제”
“when we passed the ball it kept getting intercepted/taken away – this is not the level that a national team should be at” and “the problem was more of our fitness than the coach’s tactics”
Ki sure has matured from his monkey-celebration days. Almost every picture taken of him in the last couple days saw him wearing a massive frown – he’s clearly frustrated and is taking responsibility for what’s going on on the pitch. I do agree the media does like to scapegoat Stielike, just like us fans. Ideally, the last couple of worrisome displays would make the players more motivated to actually get playing time at their clubs – we’ll see how things go before the next round of qualifiers.
Speaking of which, we have to face Qatar in June, Iran in August, and Uzbekistan in September. Fortunately, that’s a lot of time for players to regain form. Korea is probably THE most volatile team in Asia because our players fluctuate so much from brilliant to invisibility (KSY, SHM, etc.) so a lot will depend on how the players are faring for their clubs, especially considering that Stielike surely isn’t going to change his ways. Knowing we’re going to lose to Iran, a lot will rest on us being able to beat Uzbeksitan, but it’s way too early to say anything about something so far ahead in the future.
For a night and day contrast, check out Japan 4-0 Thailand. Halilhodzic really fixed up that team in the last couple of months. I wouldn’t say Japanese players abroad are playing any better than Korean players abroad (the KPA and the JPA are all kind of in a rut right now) but the difference is truly dramatic. You may say their opposition is weaker but 1) are Syria and China much better? and 2) we would probably go 0-0 against that same Thai team the way we’ve been playing.