On Friday night, the Koreans welcomed a heavily experimental Australian squad to a packed Busan Asiad Stadium, where 52,213 fans experienced an U20 World Cup dejavu of sorts, as Korea grabbed an unconvincing victory. Graham Arnold set out to ‘test the depth’ of Australian football and will be happy with his inexperienced side, as they frustrated a close to full-strength Korean side for the better half of the game. Paulo Bento, however, should look to test other options to rectify growing concerns since the Asian Cup debacle.
Korea lined up in a 5-3-2 of sorts, similar to how the U20 Korean squad lined up against Japan. In Bento-like fashion, he started a beleaguered front-line of Son Heung-Min and Hwan Hee-Chan and gave Ju Se-Jong the reins in the midfield.
Korea’s back 3, who were all stellar throughout the match for Korea, were the only real bright spots until the introduction of Hwang Ui-Jo at the 67th minute, whose off-the-ball contribution and poacher’s instinct nabbed the win for Korea.
Conversely, Australia left most of their European-based core of players at home, instead opting to call-up a young and inexperienced side which featured 6 potential debutants in order to test depth at the highest level.
In the end, Arnold started with Andrew Redmayne in goal, off the back of his heroics for Sydney FC in the A-League Grand Final. He also handed a first-team debut to Brandon O’Neill, as Suwon Bluewings’ adopted son, Adam Taggart sat on the bench.
First Half: A one-sided affair
Australia were very much the better team as the match got underway, as the Koreans held their ground defensively, but looked to offer nothing going forward. For much of the first half, Korea relied too heavily on long balls pumped forward by their central midfield pairing, who were sat too deep and offered little on the counter.
Australia had much of the early chances, as they pressed the Koreans consistently and eventually it paid off, as O’Neill won the ball in midfield and set free Mitchell Duke in the box, who skewed the shot wide.
Their early momentum almost paid dividends, as a whipped corner from the debutant O’Neill glanced off the head of Duke before hitting the upright and pinging back into play.
Korea’s only half chance came in the form of the bigman Kim Min-Jae in the latter stages of the first half, as he latched on to a poor clearance and marauded past his man, sending in a low cross that was almost turned into his own net by Jurman.
Second Half: Quiet Korea creep back into the game
As Korea’s attack slowly began to creep back into the game, Australia deployed a more physical man-to-man system which saw Korean media outraged at the treatment of star player Son Heung-Min.
Korea started brightly, as the Socceroos were forced into niggling fouls and late challenges.
Injury concerns were aplenty throughout the second half, as Hwang In-Beom was clattered by O’Neill and had to limp off the pitch for a brief moment. Mustafa Amini, who should be credited for a brave display in which he kept Son quiet for the majority of the match, went off the rails in the 60th minute, earning himself a deserved yellow card after his harsh challenge on Son. The inexperience was starting to show through cracks in the Aussie defence and mentality.
After a frustrating game for a static Hwang Hee-Chan, Bento brought on Hwang Ui-Jo in hopes of refreshing his attack and that he did, to deadly effect.
Although early signs were not encouraging as Hwang blasted his first opportunity over the bar, his introduction provided the midfield with a much needed front man to play off. His constant diagonal runs began to cause problems for the Australian defence and it was in the 76th minute that the breakthrough came.
A long ball from Kim Min-Jae in the defense found K-League’s very own Kieran Trippier in the form of Hong Chul, whose cross found a fortunate defection straight into the patch of Hwang Ui-Jo to make it 1-0.
Moments later, Son garnered the last of his energy, slicing through the Australian defence with a mazy run, only to find his goal-bound shot turned around by a great save from Redmayne.
With that the game drew to a close, Korea setting up well defensively to prevent a young and hungry Australian side.
Takeaways from the game
Although the squad weren’t up to scratch, this match only further proved the significance of the two Kims and Hwang Ui-Jo to the national side.
Bento was unwilling to rest his core of European players who, in his defence, did say that they were ready to play. However, after a campaign with fixtures as hectic as Son Heung-Min, Hwang In-Beom and Hwang Hee-Chan, Bento should have taken the initiative to try out other players he had brought along, such as Lee Jeong-Hyup, Kim Bo-Kyung and Paik Seung-Ho.
Especially when we are as fortunate to come across a similarly matched opponent playing an experimental side, Bento must try and develop a plan B for Korea in terms of squad depth and not just ridiculous formation changes. Korea scraped a win today and although there were many variables, such as fatigue involved, it was a poor showing and reminiscent of the ineffective football from the Asian Cup.
Here’s to hoping some of the U20 World Cup talents and K-League talents are given more chances in the build up to World Cup Qualification.