A big question for me was how different Iran’s playstyle would be after the departure of Carlos Queiroz. A man who completely revolutionised their squad and built them a formidable defensive system that saw them leak only 2 goals at the 2018 WC in a group that featured the likes of Morocco, Spain and Portugal. With a (debatable) downgrade in Wilmot, how would they line up?
A new look side started for Korea at the Seoul World Cup Stadium, as Paulo Bento looked to finally bring in some new faces and tinker with his formation against a new-look Iranian squad.
Earlier on, Korea looked to offer much more going forward compared to the Australia match, carving open some early opportunities through their fullbacks. However, after some questionable substitutions which replaced players that were key to the system, Korea looked like they were lacking identity in attack, but managed to hold out, largely thanks to the efforts of Paik Seung-Ho, Kim Young-Gwon and Kim Min-Jae.
After Korea’s ‘adventurous’ attempt at deploying 3 at the back, Bento decided to revert back to his classic back 4, starting with a fairly unsurprising backline of Hong Chul, the two Kims and Lee Yong. Cho Hyun-Woo started ahead of Kim this match and much to the dismay of San Cho vocalists, had a relatively quiet game before an uncharacteristic blunder saw Iran equalise in the second half.
However, an extremely welcomed change was that of debutant Paik Seung-Ho at the root of midfield, who performed impeccably in his defensive role, often initiating the attack with surging forward passes from deep within midfield. A technically gifted midfield started ahead of Paik and much to the agony of Tottenham and KNT fans everywhere, Son played another excruciating 90 mins up top with Hwang Ui-Jo, turning in a performance where even the most diehard Son fans would agree that he should have been rested.
Team Melli lined up in a surprisingly attacking lineup, utilising a majority of their first team players, as Wilmots looked to continue Iran’s impressive record against Korea.
Arguably the best Asian goalkeeper in Beiranvand started for Iran between the sticks, as he picked up the MOTM award from Iran’s perspective (more on that later). Similarly to Korea, Iran started with a back 4, but it seemed to sit much flatter than Koreas, happy to absorb oncoming Pressure. At the centre of the park, they started with veteran Ehsan Hajsafi and surprisingly, Ebrahimi instead of Ezatohali. A dangerous pairing of Taremi and Torabi started on the wings and Ansarifard got the nod up top.
First Half: Korea start brightly, as Beiranvand comes up big for Iran
Iran and Korea both took some time to settle, as the two sides struggled to maintain possession for the first 5 minutes, treating fans to some good ol’ lower league ping pong football. Then as little as 3 touches later Paik Seung-Ho began to make his mark on the game, asserting himself in midfield and allowing Korea to spread wider with smart passing. He was fantastic from start to finish, giving Korea premature glimpses of a prime Yoo Sang-Chul.
Korea should have and almost ended up capitalising on their early momentum as Son’s whipped corner made strong contact with Kim Young-Gwon who could only manage to head straight at the keeper, forcing good hands from Beiranvand.
Iran were mostly limited to long-range efforts throughout the first half, but nonetheless looked dangerous when afforded room between midfield and defense. They came close with Torabi’s shot from distance curling just wide off the post, but were mostly quiet in attack until the latter stages of the half, when they began to ask questions of Korea’s defence.
Korea were mostly positive in transition and in midfield, the majority of their early efforts in the final third were one of: a) a tired Son trying too hard, b) Hwang In-Beom making a misplaced pass at the edge of the box, or c) Hwang Ui-Jo desperately fighting off several defenders and no-one being there to receive his lay off. Negativity aside, the fullbacks Lee Yong and Hong Chul turned in stellar performances, with most of their crosses actually threatening in and around the area. Korea did come close through a great feint and shot by Hwang Ui-Jo, as well as a low driven shot from distance by Son, but Beiranvand made superb saves on both occasions to deny a persistent Korean team.
As the first half drew to a close it became clear that a post-Queiroz Iran’s defence was not impenetrable, if not for the heroics of Beiranvand.
Second Half: Hwang Ui-Jo to the rescue as Korea fail to conjure up Plan-B
Iran came out looking the better team, but standout Korea players for Korea impressed throughout, soaking up Iranian pressure well apart from the occasional long shot. Substitute Nourollahi gave Korea a scare when he hit the crossbar early in the second half, but Korea responded well, winning back the ball in uncharacteristic resilience through Paik Seung-Ho and Kim Min-Jae. Resilience paid off for Korea in the 57th minute when good pressure from Lee Jae-Sung resulted in Hwang Ui-Jo running through on goal and deftly chipping the ball over Beiranvand.
The second half proved to be an ebb and flow affair, however, when Iran managed to equalise off a corner after an uncharacteristic mistake from Cho Hyun-Woo who let the cross slip by him and onto the outstretched leg of an unfortunate Kim Young-Gwon.
Right when it looked like Korea would push for a late winner, Bento made an extremely questionable substitution, bringing on Hwang Hee-Chan who seemed to further hinder Korea’s already disjoint efforts in the final third. Unfortunately for Hwang Hee-Chan, this was not his day, to say the least, with each pass seeming to elude him and each touch rocketing off for a throw-in on the right side. Shortly after, fans were left accepting the fate that Son would have to play another 90-minute game, as Lee Seung-Woo came on only to replace Na Sang-Ho. There was not much to be said for Lee Seung-Woo this game either, who struggled to come up with an end product. That being said, there were still some positives to take home for Korea late in the second half as Hwang In-Beom remained lively in a dysfunctional attack and the Kim pairing shined in defence.
And to close off the game with a huge metaphorical middle finger to the rest Sonny brigade, Bento made his last sub of the game in Lee Jeong-Hyup off for the goalscorer, Hwang Ui-Jo.
Best Players on the Pitch
Beiranvand was the best player on the pitch for a toothless Iran side today and a special shoutout goes out to Kim Min-Jae in the heart of the defence, but Korean fans will feel a sincere, wholehearted appreciation for Paik Seung-Ho today.
The 22-year-old finally made his much anticipated first-team debut today and asserted himself throughout the match, only coming off due to small injury concerns at the 78th minute. He showed a maturity beyond his years in midfield, orchestrating seamless transitions in play, dispossessing and recycling possession in Busquets-esque fashion.
Fantastic performance from a man with a bright future.