In the midst of the Asian Games, the KNT’s brand-new manager was busy preparing for his first set of friendlies. On Friday the KNT will face off against Costa Rica in Goyang followed by a Tuesday match with Chile in Suwon. The squad has been out since August 26 but I wanted to take the time to give my takeaways from a very positive first squad from Paulo Bento!
Let’s go through position by position!
No surprise here because these are right now the 3 best GKs Korea has. Jo Hyeon-woo, fresh off Asian Games Gold and military exemption, will probably continue between the sticks and Bento will have a look at the two veterans backing him up. My takeaway: this group is solid for now but don’t be surprised to see Bento have a look at his other GK options in the October and November friendlies. He could certainly call up Gu Sung-yun, Song Bum-keun, Kim Dong-jun (if healthy), and any other K League keepers he’s impressed with.
There’s quite a few things to talk about in this defender list. Let’s all address the elephant in the room: Jang Hyun-soo is not listed as a defender! What does this mean? Well, I hope it means he won’t be played as a CB! Let’s finally have a look at the Kim Young-gwon+Kim Min-jae pairing! For the FBs, we get to see the return of Yoon Suk-young, back in the K League and getting a lot of minutes for FC Seoul. Hong Chul and Lee Yong are KNT mainstays but the surprise pick is Kim Moon-hwan from the Asian Games!
I really like the Kim Moon-hwan pick. As a RB for the U23 squad at the Asian Games, Kim showed flashes of potential as the RB of the future for the KNT. One thing that really jumped out at me in terms of his skills was his willingness to cut inside when receiving the ball in space. We’ve gotten used to RBs, Lee Yong especially, getting the ball out wide and driving down the sideline before lobbing in a cross. While that can work, it’s important to also have the dribbling skill to cut inside a defender and then open up more passing options. Kim Moon-hwan offers something a little bit different at the RB position and it’s nice that his form at the Asian Games earned him his first senior call-up.
Jang Hyun-soo is listed as a midfielder. This means that Bento watched the Germany match and decided that Jang does have some value as a CDM. This is certainly a more sensible decision than playing him as a CB. In other news, I like the other 5 midfielders picked way more than Jang Hyun-soo!
This squad sees the return of Nam Tae-hee, who is still playing well in Qatar with Al Duhail SC. Jung Woo-young, fresh off a move to Qatar with Al Sadd SC, is also in the squad. Lee Jae-sung, Ki Sung-yeung, Ju Se-jong, and Hwang In-beom round out the midfielders.
Overall, Bento has gone with dependable KNT stalwarts while also giving himself a chance to look at some form calls as well. Hwang In-beom had a stellar Asian Games campaign where he showed off impressive passing vision to set up so much of Korea’s attacking moves. Nam Tae-hee is having a stellar season with Al Duhail in the AFC Champions League and deserves a chance to show whether he can translate that form into a KNT kit. Finally, Ju Se-jong (HYPE TRAIN) has played a huge part in leading Asan Mugunghwa to 2nd place in the K League 2 standings.
To start, there are six players classified as forwards! This is surprising and could point to Bento favoring a 3-man forward line? Also, these six players are each very different types of forwards so it will be interesting to see how they are paired in attack.
From the Asian Games, Lee Seung-woo, Hwang Hee-chan, Hwang Ui-jo, and of course Son Heung-min will continue on in the KNT kit. I saw some really good chemistry developed at that tournament. Lee Seung-woo and Hwang Hee-chan enjoy playing a one-touch passing game together. Sonny did a lot of hold-up play while waiting for the right moment to spring Hwang Ui-jo free with a through ball.
Ji Dong-won is also finally back in a KNT kit and I think he will probably feature prominently in both matches because the Asian Games stars will need some rest. I’m not an avid Bundesliga watcher so I want you guys to get active in the comments and tell me what he brings to this squad. As of now, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Ji Dong-won is work rate.
Finally, everyone knows I love Incheon United players so I’m happy that Moon Seon-min continues to earn call-ups to the KNT. Moon brings tireless hustle, lots of K League goals, and all of those ridiculous dance moves to this squad. Seriously, we’ve shared tweets of his goal celebrations and they are worth a watch!
I’m naturally an optimist so I see a lot of positives in this squad. Bento has chosen tried and true KNT players but he was also willing to take a little risk and call in players playing well either at the Asian Games or for their clubs. Let me know your thoughts about this squad in the comments and keep an eye out for previews of the friendlies in the coming days!