Stunning, that’s one of many ways to described a symbolically important victory over Uruguay, a perennial South American footballing powerhouse. Today’s 2:1 result gives Paulo Bento’s side more confidence that the team is trending in a positive direction after failing to advance past group stage in last summer’s World Cup. But that positive narrative is bolstered also by the U23 Asian Games vital gold medal win that gave Son Heung-min and company that desperately needed military exemption to continue with their careers. After miraculously dispatching Germany in the last game of the World Cup, those that attended the sold out Seoul World Cup Stadium and a national TV audience witnessed another historic first, grinding out a 2:1 win that broke the hex – that is the general inability to get good results over major CONEBOL opposition.
We’re short on time, let’s get to the game quickly:
Bento lined up a starting XI nearly identical to the scrimmage team 1 from midweek, though he opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Uruguay was without Luis Suarez (expecting a new child) but still had a very A looking squad:
— Selección Uruguaya (@Uruguay) October 12, 2018
The first half was marked by a reversal of the usual script. Against major footballing powers, Korea usually starts meekly, penned in their own half (sound of record player scratching) – rather it was Korea who was on the front foot, enjoying long spells of possession to start things off. Unfortunately, as a center forward, Hwang Ui-jo wasn’t able to get on the ends of balls directed his way, and otherwise missed other chances that fell his way. Son launched some pernicious corner kicks (a foreshadowing of things to come), but no Koreans were able to take advantage of those balls skipping near the goal line. Halftime and no advantage to either squad.
Things got far more interesting after the restart, Korea’s offense looked fluid and it was only a matter of time before a beautiful buildup received it’s just reward.
A lovely interchange between Hwang Hee-Chan, followed by Captain Son’s cheeky backheel to Nam Tae-Hee, the talented Al Duhail midfielder spotted both Son and Hwang Ui-Jo making runs into the area. He quickly opted for Hwang and he was hauled down. A moment later, the referee signaled a penalty despite loud appeals of the visitors.
Captain Son took the penalty but it was easily saved by Fernando Muslera who dove to his right. Fortunately for Hwang Ui-Jo, he was there to sweep in the rebound.
KOREA 1:0 URUGUAY
Korea would not have long to celebrate as Kim Young-Gwon slipped on the less than stellar pitch, allowing Lucas Torreira to race onto the entrance of the net. Kim Seung-Gyu came off his line to close the gap, but Matias Vecino was wide open to simply receive Torreiria’s pass and ease it on into the net.
KOREA 1:1 URUGUAY
Just as it would seem a victory would slip out of hand, Korea kept up the attack. On the 79th minute, it would be another dangerous corner kick from Son Heung-Min, Suk Hyun-Jun – who subbed in for Hwang Ui-Jo, connected with the ball and headed it down toward Edison Cavani’s feet; it bounced away and leaked out toward Jung Woo-Young near the far post. He did not miss the chance and comes away the unlikely hero (I can’t remember the last time he scored for Korea. The Tavern Stats man reports that the Al Sadd defensive midfielder scored only one other senior goal – sort of. It was during Korea’s 1:4 beatdown of Japan (in Tokyo I think) for the E1 tournament final match – a tournament that didn’t feature any European based players since it fell on a non FIFA international break timeframe.
KOREA 2:1 URUGUAY
Korea saw the game out and when the full time whistle blew, cue enthusiastic celebrations from the Seoul crowd.
Son Heung-min had a mixed performance but otherwise solid as a captain and leader for the team. He didn’t make himself the center of the attack, played deeper than usual, wasn’t as successful with his take-ons, but did well to move the ball around and direct the attack. Tack this in the negative column: his penalty taking abilities has waned, particularly in his last 2 times for the KNT. In the Costa Rica match, he hit the post -only for the ball to fall kindly to Lee Jae-Sung. Today the diving save rebounded to Hwang Ui-Jo. Uncannily, despite the misses, his sidemen were able to capitalize. He announced post match that he’s no longer taking PKs for the KNT. Despite that puzzlement, Son was instrumental in creating the opportunities, the quick thinking backheel to Nam right before Ui-jo was hauled down in the area & the corner kicks delivered was whipped in so well, Uruguay had difficulty defending those set pieces. Also: Korea under Captain Sonny has been quite decent, a win against Germany, Costa Rica, draw with Chile and a win against Uruguay – a nice unbeaten streak that’s making quite the statement.
Hwang Ui-Jo was another player that had a mixed performance, yet the narrative being spun is that he’s this talismanic forward that’s unstoppable. The reality is a little bit harsher. His first half performance was less than stellar and his could be called into account for being wasteful and ineffective. He did well on two occasions in the 2nd half: one for earning the penalty and the other for saving Son’s bacon by sweeping in his rebound. After that he was subbed out for Suk Hyun-Jun. Bento has some thinking to do as another stat is pertinent here: this breaks a very long goal drought for Ui-Jo, last having scored in October…2015. That’s almost exactly 3 years ago. Today marks only his 2nd goal in 14 caps. Sure Hwang did well in the Asian Games. Believe it or not, the jury is still out on whether he is the best center forward option for Korea.
The fullbacks Hong Chul and Lee Yong did not impress, they lost the ball frequently and looked generally sloppier than usual. Despite that, Korea managed to get a good team victory. Many were waiting for Jang Hyun-Su to put a bad foot forward – somehow he didn’t and while unspectacular, didn’t make any major glaring mistake. That would go to Kim Young-Gwon, the goal conceded would squarely fall on him – though to be fair, on replays it looked like the turf completely gave way underneath him – with a turf clod coming loose that made him lose his footing.
Paulo Bento: whoops gots to go and get kids – but he has to get credit – he’s brought in technical efficiency with this squad and getting the most out of these sets of players. Wasn’t a perfect team nor individual effort on display here, but enough to get a first win against Uruguay? That’s an accomplishment.