In the moments before Uli Stielike’s first game in charge of the KNT, there was uncertainty and apprehension in the air as the starting XI lineup was incredibly, how do you say… [ee-sang-ah] strange. It wasn’t the formation (4-2-3-1) that raised eyebrows (and unibrows), but Cho Young-Chol up top, Nam Tae-Hee in the hole, Kim Min-Woo on the left? Or how about Kim Jin-Hyeon, back as netminder!? As it turned out, ’twas a fine performance, a 2-0 win (should have been 3-0), and here’s another surprise: Ki Sung-Yeung’s first game captaining the senior squad…Before we go further, first a fixture alert: in a few hours on Saturday it’s the U19 AFC Championship Group C match Korea v China (8am EST/ 9pm Korea). And don’t forget to check out Jeremy’s player ratings from the Paraguay friendly here. Agree? Disagree? Check it out.
If you missed the match, check this video highlight reel. Goals by Kim Min-woo (’27 + assist by Lee Chung-Yong) and Nam Tae-Hee (32′ + assist by Lee Yong). That both goals were scored in the first half (including what should have been a 3rd goal by Cho Young-Chul, disallowed incorrectly by the line ref) reflected the flow the team was in – and let’s be real here – they were assisted by rubbish defending from Paraguay.
Tavern Owner’s notes :
Stielike appropriately treated the game as an experimental friendly – no doubt that was a weird lineup.
From Soccerway.com the starting XI (and substitutions during the match)
The not-so weird: Lee Chung-Yong’s short time in the center ended for now, shifted to the right. Ki Sung-Yeung remained a deep mid, paired with Han Kook-Young, and Kwak Tae-Hwi and Lee Yong as right back. Minor surprise was Kim Ki-Hee instead of Kim Young-Gwon at centerback.
Weird: as mentioned earlier, Kim Jin-Hyeon as goalkeeper, Nam Tae-Hee (Lekhwiya SC) in the center, Kim Min-Woo (Sagan Tosu) to his left and lone striker Cho Young-Cheol (Qatar SC).
So how was this going to work out? Stielike in pre-game press conference hinted that he would experiment with the lineup and formation, but made it clear he felt comfortable with players ability to adjust and be flexible during the match. To the relief of everyone watching, Korea played with a dynamic attacking style that – at least in the first half -was efficient and surprisingly effective.
It’s hard to single out an individual player, under captain Ki, the team as a whole did well as a unit, with individually smart decisions all adding up to a punishing 60% possession rate, keeping Paraguay hemmed in their own half.
But to single out a few : Lee Chung-Yong, who has seen some drop off in form for the KNT in recent games, was instrumental in getting the ball in open space and creating much for his teammates to score. Not to celebrate ‘s ankle injury as we hope he has a speedy recovery, but the Paraguayan midfielder was badly deceived with a class Lee Chung-Yong’s turn move; Estigarribia twisted or broke his leg in trying to adjust and had to sub out in the 36th minute. That allowed LCY to find Lee Yong (who sent in a killer ball which we’ll get to in a moment). Let’s talk about captain Ki. What can we say, Ki was Ki – his composure set the rhythm, deadly accurate distribution cut through Paraguay all day and the competency oozing from him transferred to his fellow peers. Let’s talk Nam Tae-Hee – he showed up today. He was far more impactful than I had previously remembered. Brilliant timing to slide home the ball on a Lee Yong cross. While Kim Min-Woo’s touch before the goal wasn’t exactly graceful, he had enough instincts and reflex to knock the ball into the net on a Lee Chung-Yong cross. Both Nam and Kim notched their first goals for the senior squad. Cho Young-Cheol made a nicely timed run to get behind the defense to score the 3rd goal, only for it to be disallowed as offsides. Looking back at the replays, the linesman clearly got the call wrong, Cho was very much onsides.
The first half performance also indicate a cohesive plan, whether it was intended or not. Was that Ki directing the show? Lee Chung-Yong corralling the troops in the final third? Or Uli’s rehearsed orchestrations delivered by his players according to plan?
Meanwhile, netminder Kim Jin-Hyeon, who many thought would not get another chance with the KNT with his mis-clearance against Venezuela, got a chance to show his stuff. The Cerezo Osaka man was able to block a number of shots and seemed to shake off the ghost of his previous KNT start.
The 2nd half was punctuated by missed opportunities and defensive lapses that luckily didn’t cost Team Korea. In a nutshell, Lee Chung-Yong was subbed out for Son Heung-Min. Not that the Bayer Leverkusen star was absent from his duties, but the Blue Dragon had established himself earlier as the playmaker during the first half. LCY’s presence was clearly missed, but it didn’t help that Lee Dong-Gook then came on in the latter stages. He resumed his typical role with the KNT – that is botching golden opportunities and slowing down the offense. Paraguay’s hapless offense came back to life in brief spurts, their substitutes showing some flair, but were done in by their lack of clinical finishing. Behind the superficial the clean sheet result, Korea’s central defense was lucky not to concede a goal or two. Han Gyo-wan, coming in for Kim Min-Woo, for his first act, as he approached the 18 yards line, whiffed badly on rebounded ball. He made up for it a few minutes later with a nifty shot that initially looked like a goal, only for everyone to discover it was in the side-net. If you compare the 1st to the 2nd half, there was quite a difference, and Lee Chung-Yong was at the heart of it. That and the likes of Kim Min-Woo and Nam Tae-Hee were able to make the most of their opportunities.
Notable unused subs : Park Joo-Ho, Cha Du-Ri and ‘Asia Gold’ Jang Hyun-Soo – those 3 will likely be on the pitch against Costa Rica on Tuesday.
Post Match: This is the first of 4 tune up matches before the Asia Cup begins in January. The match needs to be taken in perspective, it’s a friendly and it’s on Korean soil. It’s a feel good win – but it’s only one game -the verdict is still out on Stielike’s tenure at the helm of Team Korea. We can say however – so far so good. The experimenting was wild, but for this match it worked and very appropriate at the moment in order for Uli and his coaching staff to see what they have to work with. Nam and Kim scoring their first KNT goals is very encouraging – could we be seeing the rise of new stars and new faces to the fold? In a few days, Costa Rica should be a more interesting test for the Taeguk Warriors. Stay tuned.