An insane last 7 minutes of the game saw Korea nearly complete a comeback from a 2-0 deficit against Poland, with the host looking extremely vulnerable. The surprise entertaining ending took everyone by surprise, stunning the Warsaw crowd with 2 goals in 3 minutes from Lee Chang-Min (the Jeju man getting his first international goal) and a nifty team goal scored by Hwang Chang-Hee from open play. But much like the Northern Ireland defeat, Korea’s shaky defense -right on cue – gave up a last gasp goal in stoppage time for Poland to notch a feel good morale boosting victory. But for either side, managers can do an autopsy of their beleagured backlines.
This will be a brief recap- Shin Tae-Yong trots out a 3-4-3, tries on 3 at the back against Poland
— The Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) March 27, 2018
1st half Korea were on their heels, pinned back in their own half and enduring waves of Polish attacks, with Bayern Munich’s talisman Robert Lewandowski providing a constant menace to the Korean defense. Korea had difficulty controlling possession, a number of wayward passes indicative of how unsettled they were in a hostile packed Warsaw stadium. Son led a somewhat promising counterattack, except that he was surrounded by 4 Polish defenders the entire length of the field. With no help forthcoming, Son took a crack at goal that was smothered by Juventus’ Wojciech Szczęsny. Korea had about 3 good counterattacking opportunities, but Poland were the more ruthless in converting their chances, the first from none other than Lewandowski with a far too easy header despite being sandwiched between Jang Hyun-Su and Kim Min-Jae. Kim Min-Jae – who shouldered a number of mistakes against Northern Ireland, looked very unsettled and caused a number of self inflicting problems for Korea with panicked passing back to Poland and being out hustled by Lewandowski on a number of aerial duels. He left in the 38th minute, with Hwang Hee-Chan coming in – with that Shin Tae-Yong abandoned with 3-4-3 and reverted to his 4-4-2 with Hwang and Son to lead the attack. Hwang was culpable of missing out on a golden chance, with Kwon Chang-Hoon threading a golden ball to Hwang, but a heavy touch betrayed the Salzburg forward and the chance fizzled. Poland finished the half with another goal by Grosicki. The usual Tavern admonishment of Jang Hyun-Su this time could not pinpoint blame on the FC Toyko CB – one could say the entire backline was culpable being all out of position, though Hong Jeong-Ho might have done better to poke/clear the ball away from danger.
[watching casually on Be-in Sport 4 / Fubo TV, the camera crew got a close up of the locker room, unfiltered of the pep talk Shin Tae-Yong gave his team, with Son Heung-Min chiming in while Jung Woo-Young stretched in the middle of the huddle].
Poland took off Lewandowski and Szczęsny while Korea brought in Yun Young-Sun for Hong Jeong-Ho. Korea finally were able to string some passing together and took control of the midfield. They were more assertive and began a number of promising raids into Polish territory. Lee Jae-Sung and Hwang Hee-Chan interplay with Son Heung-Min allowed Korea to start getting a number of shots off. The Polish defense started to become unglued under sustained pressure, but Korea wasn’t able to take advantage of some glaring mistakes made from the back, with Lee, Hwang and Son all missing their shots. The game gradually grounded down to a morass, and with Kim Shin-Wook coming in for Lee Jae-Sung, Shin seemed to be readying for the hail mary’s. The lumbering Wookie once again didn’t offer much up front. Ki Sung-Yeung going out for Lee Chang-min a few minutes later seemed like raising the white flag of surrender.
Except that a curious thing happened. In the 85th minute, Kwon Chang-Hoon deftly weaved his way forward through a crowded Polish midfield, amped up his run and ran into Polish half with vigor. He gave it to Son, who tried to shake off pesky defenders, drifted out wide in hopes of finding some space to shoot. Instead, with defenders swarming around him, he linked up with Jeju’s Lee Chang-Min. The center midfielder was 30 yards out from goal, but he took a touch, saw an opening (perhaps with so many numbers mugging Son), and took an audacious shot from distance in the direction of the bottom left corner of the goal. Shock and awe later, the ball was in the back of the net! Seemingly out of nowhere, it was a shot brilliantly taken. It would be Lee’s 1st international goal.
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) March 27, 2018
Less than 3 minutes later, Son was drifting towards the left, again swarmed by defenders, threaded a finely weighted pass for Park Joo-Ho making a run towards goal. He closed in, the keeper tried to cut off his angle, the Ulsan left back smartly laid an angled pass for Hwang Hee-Chan. His shot deflected off a Polish defender and bounced into the net – and just like that, Hwang slid on the pitch in celebration, stunning the Warsaw crowd with a triumphant equalizer with only 3 minutes to go.
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) March 27, 2018
Korea wasn’t done, Son kept on the offensive, blowing past the right back and driving into the area, getting a couple shots deflected out for corner kicks. Another opportunity a moment later, and Son tries to negotiate in tight space and Kim Shin-Wook in the way, getting a difficult toe poke shot couldn’t get past the keeper. No dice. Poland looked like they were hanging on for dear life, on the verge of conceding yet another goal with the punishing waves of Son Heung-Min led Korean attacks. With stoppage time running out, Poland escaped their own half, raced down the pitch and with a little shimmy that took Jung Woo-Young the wrong way, Zielinski snuffed out Korea’s hopes of a comeback by curling the ball past an outstretched Kim Seung-Gyu. Cue the roaring crowds. Jung Woo-Young bent over in disbelief. Game over.
Once again, Shin Tae-Yong gets to lay out narrative that there are positives that he can take away from this World Cup tuneup, that hope is out there for advancing from a difficult World Cup group. He gets to do that with those 2 goals scored in the 85th and 87th minute. But another narrative can be found, that those goals saved him from another poor performance overall. Poland has had trouble scoring as of late – that is until they played Korea.
Poland went 270 minutes at home without a goal.
They've scored 2 in one half against Korea. #KNT
— Tim Lee (@korfan12) March 27, 2018
That tweet was sent out before Korea’s keystone coppers/defense conceded YET another late game goal. The way they conceded late goals against both Northern Ireland and Poland, were this not an international friendly with low stakes, already has legs to becoming a running punchline. They may come to redefine the Spursy way of losing matches.
But I’ll lay off the D for a moment. They are human. They will make mistakes. And defensive problems have been a hallmark of Korean teams for as long as anyone can remember. Structural problems which should have been addressed by the KFA long ago – still (perplexingly) remain. We’ll take another look at the defense at a later point, and discuss any possible solutions (and I’ll warn you, there might not be any decent solutions).
And yet, objectively, positive things can be taken from this game. Korea isn’t incapable of scoring against stubborn opposition. They proved that in this international break -but Korea needs to be far more efficient with their chances created (am I on a treadmill repeating myself here?) Lee Jae-Sung, I’m looking at you. Super awesomeness on the ball – but work on that clinical finish. AND unless there are drastic improvements to the backline (possible but I’m not holding my breath), Taeguk Warrior supporters are being asked to not over-react, save their yeots, and be prepared for low expectations in this World Cup.
All hope should not be abandoned. The only way to advance from their difficult group is for Korea to be ruthless where they are strongest at: scoring. Opt for say 2, better yet, 3 or 4 goals because they will need that to have any hope of gaining a cushion for what will be inevitable goals conceded. I’m predicting here and now that the KNT will cough up – at the very least – 2 goals per World Cup match. If they’re on their game, the D might limit that casualty to 2, not psych themselves out of the game, and have the mental fortitude, discipline and courage to go forward – with the decent firepower they have at their disposal – they have proven capable of creating their chances. The ultimate question – will they be able to make good on them and often enough to overcome their deficiencies at the back? This international break was about a reality check. Club football will return, it’s back to dream land. We’ll see you soon at the Tavern again, Chal ga.