Shin Taeyong has his first win as national team manager as South Korea stunned Colombia 2-1 at Suwon World Cup Stadium. Son Heungmin had a brace, but there is praise to share all across the side as the senior team bounced back from a dismal October with a professional performance against the 13th-ranked side in the world.
Shin Taeyong had been keeping his cards close to his chest and no journalist really could guess what kind of line-up Korea was going to put out there. It was quite a surprising revelation indeed when the KFA reported that the side was trotting out in a 4-4-2 formation:
In defense, you would wonder what Shin Taeyong has against Kim Younggwon, who seemed like a more obvious fit for a top-choice central defence pairing, but the biggest head-scratcher was deploying usual wingback/winger Ko Yohan in central midfield alongside Ki Sungyeung. Of all the rumoured pairings that was not an obvious partner to the captain. We will see however that Shin got his tactics right on this night and that Ko was used to devastating effect. Also of interest is Son Heungmin making his KNT debut (?) as one of the two strikers – though let’s be honest, a pairing up top of Lee Jeonghyeop and Lee Keunho would have horrified us all, so in retrospect it made sense for this player pool and formation.
I know very little about Colombia, but based off of their previous lineups, the shape today was rather similar, a standard 4-2-3-1. There were some personnel changes, with Castellanos making his debut in goal, and Bacca starting on the bench in place of Zapata, but some familiar names including Davinson Sanches and James Rodriguez started.
First Half – Son Heungmin and Lee Keunho shine
Korea started the first half well, unbowed and unintimidated. Between two teams just trying to figure things out tactically and as a unit, Korea looked more assured and composed from the get-go. Strangely, Lee Keunho showed he was ready to play when making a couple of dangerous runs into the box after picking up the ball in wide spaces, and that led to the first chance of the game when he made space to whip a cross and the ball trickled out to Ko Yohan, who got a solid connection on a volley from the lip of the box, only to be denied well by the debutant Colombian netminder. This was just the 4th minute.
A few minutes later, Korea got their goal. After a Colombian hiccup in possession, Korea switched the play and aggressively countered, with Lee Keunho running the play – he tried to switch the flank to an open man, but the ball grazed Kwon’s chest and re-directed into the path of Son. Though entirely accidental and not ideal (Son was drawing CBs away from Lee Jaesung who was open), Son made the most of it, waiting on the ball for a couple seconds before at stand-still nutmegging his teammate Davinson Sanchez to score his first open-play goal for the national team in over a year, making the most by patiently finding a gap between 3 tepid centrebacks and a goalkeeper who came far out and was jumping around.
Korea continued to be relentless on the counter throughout the half. Go Yohan, the fullback-cum-central midfielder, reverted to his usual fullback form by sprinting steadily down the right channel before hitting a deep cross to Son Heungmin, who opted for an ambitious volley instead of taking it down. Selfish: yes. But it spoke of the confidence he had, and the composure that the team was playing with.
Colombia had their best chance of the half around the 30 minute mark, when Choi Chulsoon switched off and let Shanghai Shenhua’s Moreno slip into goal from a tight angle. Luckily, Moreno couldn’t pull of a good finish from such close range and tight angle. The other highlights were all Korea. Kwon Changhoon, Kim Jinsu having long range efforts; Lee Keunho’s header flashing just wide; and later Lee had a golden opportunity to end the frame 2-0 after running on to a good ball from Kwon, but quintessential Lee Keunho meant that the Gangwon forward could only comically fluff the opportunity.
Defensively, the side was composed, and going forward, aggressive and quick. A good half. 1-0 Korea.
Lee Keunho came off at halftime due to a knock – Lee Jeongheop came on (groans). Colombia also made a flurry of changes and actually brought in a couple more regulars, possibly to try and salvage the encounter. (I’m told Colombian media is as merciless and unrelenting as the Korean press).
Korea continued to grow in confidence in the second frame, demonstrating some really sweet passing manouevers, orchestrated by Ki, of course, in central midfield, all while using every inch of the pitch by using the fullbacks (the way Korea always does) to provide width. But for a good 15 minutes, neither side really created any chances, with both settling in and playing a fairly average phase of football. James’ free kick was handily collected by Kim Seunggyu, who hadn’t had much to do, and Kwon Changhoon’s shot from a recycled corner kick missed the mark.
In the 60th minute, Korea got an equally fortunate second goal, and it was signed Son Heungmin once again. Choi Chulsoon, who looked ready for the challenge tonight for perhaps the first time in a KNT shirt, surged into space and threaded an excellent ball to Son. The Spurs forward took the first touch with his right boot from about 25 years, and his second touch was a shot at goal. Castellanos’ spilled it, let’s be honest, and it really shouldn’t have gone in. But Son had his brace, Choi had probably his first national team assist. If you shoot 10 times from distance, maybe 1 will go in, and that’s what happened here.
Christian Zapata set the game up for grandstand finish with just over 15 minutes to play when the AC Milan centreback nodded home a James Rodriguez’ free kick to make it 2-1. It put a damper on the scoreline and was again caused by evitable defensive confusion, with Kim Seunggyu calling for the ball and not getting there, and the defensive line kind of looking at each other without fully following their man until the end.
But the Colombians again couldn’t create anything from open play, due to Korea’s organization and Colombia’s sloppiness, and only James’ free kick from 35 yards late in the match would threaten Kim Seunggyu’s net after the goal, with the ball swivelling wide and not worrying Kim too much.
Whereas Colombia had made a flurry of 6 substitutions throughout the match, Korea had only made 4, with Yeom Kihun and Koo Jacheol coming on with 8 minutes in regular time for Lee Jaesung and Ko Yohan. Koo shored up the midfield, while Yeom proved once again why he has the best left foot in the K League, with a sweet deep cross landing perfectly on the boot of former teammate Kwon Changhoon, whose volley just missed the frame. That Bluewings connection is still alive. And in the dwindling stages, Yeom had another chance from the top of the box to curl it in right his right boot, but he scuffed his chance and put it wide. Nonetheless, it was an effectual substitution that kept Korea on the front foot despite conceding, and this throughout the entirely of the remaining minutes.
Though it was only a small crowd of about 25,000 that came to brace Suwon’s cold, autumnal air, they roared at the final whistle, with Korea fully deserving their 2-1 victory. It was their 2nd win against Colombia, and now they boast a winning record against the South American mainstays, and their first win since March of this year against Syria. Son has his 5th career multi-goal game for the national team, and his first goals from open play since October 6th of last year. Ki Sungyeung registered his 96th cap in a national team shirt, and will likely get his century either before or during the FIFA World Cup. And Shin Taeyong has his first win as Korean national team boss. It was a good night.
Kim Seunggyu – 5.5 – Didn’t have much to do, in truth, but I wish he did more on that Colombian goal.
Kim Jinsu – 7.5 – Nice. Confident pair of efforts from long distance, dynamic going forward.
Kwon Kyungwon & Jang Hyunsoo – 7 – No complaints. Under more duress, maybe they will struggle, but they weren’t tested as much as they could have been tonight.
Choi Chulsoon – 7.5 – Best game in a KNT shirt from him for me. Got skinned once, but otherwise contributed to attack nicely while doing his job on the backend. Got to practice crossing though, which brings him down to a still generous 8.
Ki Sungyueng – 8 – Almost gave him a 9, if it wasn’t for the fact that he seems to have lost his man on the Colombia goal. We needed him back. Calmed the goal in his prototypical way, but also was the instigator of counter-attacks and aggressive switch-plays that only an apt passer like Ki can do. Found some good angles and pulled a few strings. Good.
Ko Yohan – 8 – Didn’t think he’d cope, but he shut down James. A few rash tackles and an early yellow, sure, but he gave Shin a reason to take him to Russia on that performance alone. Man-marked, rarely lost him, pushed him out of dangerous positions and prevented him from turning and running. Good job.
Lee Jaesung – 7 – Though in truth sometimes invisible, favorite moment of the game is when he slide tackled James Rodriguez to the roar of the crowd.
Kwon Changhoon – 7.5 – Kwon was good on his flank, collecting sloppy passes well and pushing forward aggressively with speed. Good things will come.
Lee Keunho – 8 – Almost a “what happened to the old Lee Keunho?” until he started wasting chances, but has done well and showed determination in a KNT shirt of late. Against the odds he might just be part of Shin’s squad to Russia with that form. Didn’t expect to see him beat players like that at his age.
Son Heungmin – 8 – A fortunate brace, and yeah, selfish at times, but sometimes you need a couple selfish players in a team. Dynamic, hard working. Hopefully this will boost him to a higher level in future games.
Lee Jeonghyeop – 6 – Nothing special, bad yellow.
Koo Jacheol – NA – Didn’t do enough to get rating.
Yeom Kihun – 7.5 – Instant impact… interesting.
Lee Changmin – NA – Garbage minutes.
There were some lucky bounces here and there, but the truth is, when you’re down for the count, sometimes you need a few lucky breaks. That luck, if unearned in modest amounts, was fully deserved in others, with Shin playing simple, opposition-adjusted tactics, star players seizing their roles with gusto, and the other, more underwhelming selections rising to the occasion and capitalizing on a sloppy Colombian opponent. It wasn’t a game for the history books, but it was a morale booster, and the players, coaching staff, media and fans alike needed one. Maybe we’re not as bad as we thought.
Next up is Serbia, on Tuesday at 6am in Ulsan. They’ve just beaten China 2-0. We’ll see if we can finish the season on a high note.
I’ve just posted a “notes” post on the home page, since this one was already quite long.