Lot to take away from a feel good World Cup tuneup match friendly against Honduras in Daegu today, but we are short on time at the moment, let’s recap quickly and go to some talking points. We have a podcast recorded immediately after FT whistle, we’ll get that edited and out soon, stay tuned.
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) May 28, 2018
Shin Tae-Yong trots out a quasi experimental roster in 4-4-2 shape, with Son and Lee Seung-Woo roaming freely and overlapping in the attacking third. No Ki Sung-Yeung and Lee Jae-Sung (recovery from niggling injuries), no Koo Ja-Cheol, Kim Jin-Su racing to recover in time for Russia and Kwon Chang-Hoon tragically missing out with a severe ankle injury (just had surgery in France). Injuries have forced Shin Tae-Yong’s hand with the need to experiment – particularly with Lee Seung-Woo and Lee Chung-Yong coming into the starting XI. While the Blue Dragon looked a bit rusty (not bad, but definitely not up to par with 2009 version of Lee Chung-Yong), Lee Seung-Woo was a revelation for his first KNT cap. Incisive dribbling, vision for crucial passing, fantastic hustle to win the ball more often than not, and good composure and maturity beyond his years, the former Barcelona academy player clearly looked like a natural fit in uniform for the KNT. He had a couple of swash buckling runs and fired off Korea’s first several shots on goal. Korea dominated possession in the half, had a few half chances (Lee’s throughball to Son on the right flank produced some headaches for their keeper) but ultimately couldn’t find that killer pass in the final third. Meanwhile Honduras didn’t offer much trouble for Korea’s backline.
Here’s Jae Chee, who manned the Tavern Twitter during the match on Lee Seung-Woo
I am now of the opinion that Lee Seungwoo MUST be a prominent factor at the World Cup. His ability to make space, pass, and win fouls deep is vital for Korea's attacking hopes.
— Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) May 28, 2018
In the second half, Hong Chul, who struggled at LB with imprecise dribbling and crossing went out for Kim Min-Woo, while Lee Chong-Yong left with a minor injury, Moon Seon-Min getting the surprising nod off the bench. These substitutions would prove to be game changers -more on that later. The moment of Lee Seung-Woo’s vital impact in the match -his pressure helped take the ball off a Honduran, then driving forward with defenders starting swarm en mass, Lee calmly found Son Heung-Min, his 30 yard shot rocketed past Hondura’s Izaguirre outstreched hands (and nearly took out the netting behind him).
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) May 28, 2018
It’s here that the narrative takes us through another surprising twist: Hwang Hee-Chan did well to get past his mark on the left, passed to none other than the journeyman Moon Seon-Min. The Incheon midfielder, who had his share of nervous touches and erratic passing coming into the game, did well with being in the right place at the right time to show for the ball. With a defender stretching out to knock the ball away from him, Moon deftly shimmied from him and reflexively shot the ball into the left corner for his first international goal. A remarkable moment for the journeyman.
FT Korea 2:0 Honduras. Not definitive of how Korea will do in Russia but a glimmer of hope that things could go better than expected.
We need to wrap things up but a few more talking points before getting ready to face Bosnia:
- Go Yo-Han with a solid shift at RB. If Shin Tae-Yong wanted to experiment to see how Go would do, he might be pleased to see more options on the table with Lee Yong also available to him. Expect Lee Yong to get his chance on Friday.
- Hong Chul disappointed with his day at LB. If Kim Jin-Su can recover in time, the Jeonbuk man will be the preferred option. But let’s not forget Kim Min-Woo, who Steve Han noted on Twitter provided the “needed width to open up the final third. He played the through ball (to Hwang) that led to the 2nd goal.”
- Son Heung-Min was appointed the captain’s armband today, he eventually placed it on Kim Young-Gwan after being subbed off. He showed everything that he usually does – not the greatest playmaker or dribbler – but given a bit of time and space can severely punish opponents.
- Ju Se-Jong with a decent shift in a deeper mid role – the question remains, with Ki healthy, could he find a position on the pitch?
- 4-4-2 mixed verdict. The first half was a bit more chaotic, but defensively the formation seemed to smother Honduras in their tacks. Previewing the podcast on Korea v Honduras, Michael Welch argues going forward, would Lee Seung-Woo be better served up front and Hwang Hee-Chan wider right?
- Lee Jae-Sung returning on Friday will be much welcomed back to the starting XI … but where to place him with Lee Seung-Woo now proving his worth in an attacking setup?
- Kwon Kyung-Won – might be interesting who will win out the CB race vs Jeong Seung-hyeon. Or maybe Shin needs them both for rotational purposes in Russia? Oh Ban-Suk received his first cap, replacing Jeong, the Sagan Tosu centerback put in a quietly competent performance and may have booked his spot for Russia.
Last word: Lee Seung-Woo —some will now ask, why hasn’t he played sooner for the senior KNT squad? For the Tavern in particular, we’ve been tracking Lee’s progress since he was 14 years old at La Masia in Barcelona. Of course, not every La Masia product goes on to world class footballing fame, and Lee certainly hasn’t been helped by the hype in the Korean media as the “Korean Messi.” We’ve seen his trials and tribulations, through the long 3 year ban as collective punishment for Barcelona’s underage transfer policy. We’ve seen his highs, his U16 Korea AFC tournament and U20 World Cup glorious runs that just made for picture perfect viral videos screened across the world. We’ve seen his lows, the frustration of coming back to Barcelona to see friends and teammates like Carlos Aleña go up the Barca ladder while his future with Barca B in doubt. And the reality of how difficult it is to crack top flight professional football, particularly in his first season at the now relegated Hellas Verona in Serie A. But through it all, there was always the sense that he is one vital cog in Korea’s football future. His desire to be among the best has never been in doubt. And through the unlikeliest of circumstances, the devastating injury in particular to Kwon Chang-Hoon in the last minutes of the season finale for Dijon, Lee has found his way, despite his young age into the senior squad. It’s hard not to overplay the meaning of Lee Seung-Woo’s first cap, but the cheering, the oohs and ahhs from the Daegu crowd, and the rousing standing ovation for him as he left the game, THAT was a fair, honest and objective indication from the crowd that Lee Seung-Woo has on a number of levels, arrived for the KNT. Whatever happens in this World Cup, there is still the future. There’s still players like Lee Kang-In who are on the radar for Korea. There’s still a good number of years for the ballers in Europe in Kwon Chang-Hoon who had a breakout year with 11 goals for Dijon, Hwang Hee-Chan with double figures in Salzburg, and of course Son Heung-Min’s goals for Spurs that has made him a higher profile on the international stage. And there’s Lee Seung-Woo, with swagger and with agility, he made it finally and there’s no reason to doubt that he will continue to be a bright spot in Korea’s footballing future.
Extra time: The LSW lovetrain continues apparently. Let’s continue: part of what was impressive about LSW’s performance was how well he gelled with his teammates. In post match conference, Lee said this of his first cap: “I’ve worked with the manager whilst playing for the U-20 team. I understand how he wants players to pass and attack. The ‘hyungs’ helped me a lot, and I’m quite satisfied with how I played with them today, considering that this was my first game…I’d obviously be really happy to score, but I’d be happier to help the ‘hyungs’ score. I want [Son] Heung-min hyung, [Hwang] Hee-chan hyung and [Kim] Shin-wook hyung to score more goals than me.” (thanks to Steve Han on twitter for the quotes)
and this from Hondura’s manager:
Honduras manager Carlos Tabora on Lee Seung-woo: “His skills are already as good as any experienced player he played with today. He’s a player who deserves the attention he’s getting.”
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) May 28, 2018
AND Here’s what awaits Korea on Friday – a much stiffer test defensively for Team Korea.
A much tougher test awaits Korea this Friday. Bosnia bringing their big name players, including Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic. Could be a fantastic send off game in Jeonju if Korea can put in a good performance.
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) May 28, 2018
That game will be on Friday 7am US EST / 8pm Korea time. Dae Han Min Guk ya’ll.