Ahead of the U20 World Cup final group game between England and South Korea, we decided to hold a Writer’s Chat (two-way Q&A) with Englishman and K League United contributor Scott Whitelock!
Scott asks, I answer about Korea
- Korea have made a flying start to this tournament and have already qualified for the knockout stages with a game to spare. How would you rate the teams performances so far and have they produced the type of football you would have expected pre-tournament?
A flying start indeed, certainly in terms of the results the team has been able to get. The team’s performance has been good, though not perfect, and there are several discernible weaknesses that have been swept under the rug in light of some moments of brilliance. I strongly doubt anyone is calculating pass completion rate for this kind of tournament, but you don’t need that to notice that the Koreans are far from being the accomplished, passing, flowing-attack side we saw under Shin Taeyong at the Rio Olympics. They generally try to play three kind of passes – backpasses/lateral passes in defense, long balls from the centrebacks in behind space for the attackers and penetrative throughballs from deep. The success rates aren’t obviously very high.
More worryingly, Lee Sangheon has failed to impose himself as an adequate distributor alongside Lee Jinhyeon, so I think this game will be the opportunity for squad captain Han Chanhee or FC Seoul startlet Lim Minhyeok to prove they can control a game’s tempo. It’s one thing to have 10 seconds of brilliance from the Barca Boys to get you two/three goals, but it’s another to be able to control the play. England sound like a very good test as to whether or not the Koreans are able to do that.
Pre-tournament expectations have been met, at least so far, and the Barca Boys have looked impressive. That being said, Paik wasn’t on his best against Argentina while Lee Seungwoo vanished for large swathes of the game against Guinea, so both seem to be still getting a feel for the team and vice-versa. They’re clearly on a higher level and it’s all about whether or not they can lift the team’s collective performance upwards in the games to come.
2. The standout performers so far have been the big name talents from Barcelona, Paik Seung-ho and Lee Seung-woo. Outside of these two players, who are the other key players in the squad and how have they performed thus far?
Cho Youngwook completes the attacking trident between Lee and Paik and so far the Koryo University forward has shown why he is the man for the job. On top of his high work rate (like most prototypical Korean forwards of his mould), Cho has shown a strong off the ball ability, playing a crucial role in both Korean goals, and decent chemistry with Lee in particular. Though he does not yet have a goal to his name, you get the feeling that it’s only a matter of time with Cho.
Lee Sangmin and Jeong Taewook, the squad’s two giant centrebacks, have imposed themselves aerially and were key in the side’s defensive clinic against the Argentines (apart from that one, forgivable goal conceded). Though Jeong in particular has been my favourite, given his surprising deftness on the ball and positional intelligence when the fullback on his side is beaten. Not to mention the heading assist leading to Korea’s third goal against Guinea.
Between the sticks, Song Bumkeun has made all the saves he’s had to make and with poise – a personal disappointment of mine is that somewhere along the way Han Chanhee, squad captain, was scratched from Shin’s starting plans – I expect that the Jeonnam playmaker will get a chance against England after Korea’s inability to really string together a few decent connections in midfield in both of their first two games (what I was talking about above).
3. With Korea already in the knockout stages, is it likely that Shin Tae-yong will take this opportunity to utilise the depth of his squad?
Yes. Shin Taeyong has said that Lee Seungwoo and Paik Seungho will be rested, among others. He is promising to show “fresh faces and brand new tactics” against England’s 4-4-2, claiming that “though they are physical and highly skilled, they are fatigued after two games and we will use this to our advantage by rotating.”
Though Shin will rotate, he is obviously still keeping expectations high, as any boss would on a team with this kind of momentum and so little to lose, promising that “we will play to win the game and win the group”.
Keep your eye then on the aforementioned Han, two-time substitute Lim Minhyeok, a goalkeeper prospect between the posts and forward Kang Jihoon (who scored a beautiful, thumping bicycle kick against Uruguay pre-tourney).
4.) What is your prediction for this game?
Whereas the Argentina game hinted that there may be big things to come from this team, the Guinea game revealed the true side of England national teams throughout the age groups. England were slow and sluggish, and lacked ideas and creativity. The midfield pairing of Lewis Cook and Ainsley Maitland-Niles did little to influence or dictate play and towards the end of the game, it appeared as though Guinea would be the team who would snatch an unlikely winner.
It looks as though England will qualify from this group, but there is still a major question mark as to whether they can make it to the latter stages of the tournament.
Armstrong, a small and stocky, number 9 has already proved that he is a deadly finisher in his fledgling career, having already scored 26 league goals during loan spells with Barnsley FC and Coventry City in the English lower leagues. The Newcastle native has returned to his parent club and is expected to be a part of their squad for the upcoming Premier League season. With pace to rival that of an Olympic 100 meter sprinter, this could be Armstrong’s breakout year and big things are expected of the youngster.
In contrast, Josh Onomah has already had his breakout year after having been part of the Tottenham Hotspur first team for much of the year. The strong, athletic midfielder can play on either wing or is equally as comfortable as a central midfielder. He was instrumental in England’s victory against Argentina and his lung bursting runs through the centre of the pitch carved open the Argentina defence on more than one occasion. If England are to progress in this tournament then his performances will be vital to their success.
Finally, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is having a fine beginning to 2017. After forcing his way into the Everton first team in early March, he has established himself as a first team player and is highly rated by Everton boss Ronald Koeman. A tall and rapid wide midfielder, Calvert-Lewin has quick feet and skills to match any winger in youth football. He has been ear marked by the FA as one player who may progress in the England U-21 setup after this tournament and he may be a player who will feature for the men’s national team over the coming year.
As they demonstrated against Argentina, England are very much a counter-attacking unit. During the Argentina game, there were occasions when they were penned back in their own half for long periods. However, England can break to devastating effect and have enough talent in the wide areas to trouble even the most dominant teams.
They have a strong and muscular backline, which makes scoring from crosses and direct runs difficult for the opposition. However, the defence is rather slow and positionally naive, so any quick and inventive movement could trouble them. If Korea are able to lure England out of their defensive deep backline, then they could have some joy running behind them.
With both teams being counter-attack minded, this game could be somewhat of a stalemate. There is talk of Shin Tae-yong resting some of his star players, and this would play into England’s hands. But with a vociferous home support in Suwon, I expect the 2nd string Korean players to rise to the occasion. Both teams would settle for a point a piece, and I think that is where my prediction lies.
Korea 2-2 England