Post-Asian Cup Analysis

With Korea failing to qualify for the semi-finals of the Asian Cup for the first time since 2004, the Taegeuk Warriors can only categorize their Emirati run this year as a disappointment. 

After testy group stage qualification against Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, and China where Korea squeaked out two 1-0 wins, we labored for a victory against Bahrain in extra time, and were shut down 1-0 in the quarterfinal tie against Qatar. 

We had come into this tournament as on-paper favorites in buoyant spirits from a successful Asian Games run, building off our shock upset in the World Cup. Yet we never got out of first gear from the moment we played against the Philippines.

What exactly happened?

Farewell, Ki Sung-yong. A dutiful captain to our national side with three World Cups and 110 caps to his name, he did not get the send-off he deserved.

Medical Issues

Why were so many of our players injured?

Lee Jae-sung played one game against the Philippines and was never seen from him again. Ki Sung-yong picked up a minor knock early on and was projected to return upon conclusion of group stage play. Instead, he was re-diagnosed out of the tournament.

And that’s not even touching upon Jung Seung-hyun, Kwon Kyung-won, and Koo Ja Cheol all missing training here and there with their niggling injuries. Even Hwang In-beom fought through a recurring issue with his knee as the team progressed into the latter half of the tournament – a bit absurd, considering he was our like-for-like midfielder filling in for Ki.

Even if one may consider the most egregious lack of luck, these injuries seemed too common and too frequent to be tallied to misfortune, and it was the revelation regarding the KFA’s lack of administrative oversight with the national team’s medical staff that seemed to illuminate a whole different reason behind our players’ fitness – or lack thereof. 

If any of this is remotely true…

…there is way more that needs to be done with the general state of the Korean Football Association than with our national side.

We’re an internationally competitive footballing side that has competed with some of the world’s finest, and even stood shoulder to shoulder to most of them. If there are staffing issues especially within our physio rooms where our players expect to be nurtured back to health, words would fail to describe this gross ineptitude by our KFA.

Squad Selection

Our squad, especially in midfield, looked like a safe pick of experienced veterans over younger, untested players.

Understandable, but it seemed as if Bento followed through with this to a fault. Bento opted for the senior Augsburg duo of Koo Ja-cheol and Ji Dong-won, the latter our sole alternative forward option after Hwang Ui-jo, and they failed to deliver. Jung Woo-young was another selection begging for more, the like-for-like alternative in Ju Sejong a categorically better player in the central midfield role. Why bring both of them to the tournament? 

In the end, this is a minor bit of postulating, as it would be daft to proclaim that results would be any different with a different selection of players, but this tournament’s call-ups seemed like a missed opportunity to blood in new figures, such as Lee Jin-hyun or 2018 K-League Rookie of the Year, Han Seung-gyu.

A number of call-ups came to players who hadn’t been able to take our side or their careers to that next level for the past few years. Players that should have left with Shin Tae-yong stuck around. Despite the Asian Cup being a perfect opportunity to transition a new generation of hungry players eager to prove themselves, we stuck with problematic personnel and still have unanswered questions in our squad, particularly at both left and right back as well as central midfield.

Management

One of the biggest issues regarding Bento’s management has been all but revealed with Korea’s tournament run: an inability to properly rotate players, leading to flat performances and heightening fatigue.

Bento’s use of Son throughout this tournament was his biggest offense. In Korea’s final group-stage match against China, Korea had already qualified with two wins. With a win, we would benefit from a couple extra days of break prior to knock-out stages. Considering the circumstances of this match along with our squad’s ability, a Son-less Korea could’ve beaten China.

But Bento didn’t just start Son – he kept him on for 87 minutes against China. At most, Son should’ve played in the latter half of the game to either secure a win or provide something in our attacking play. Instead, just three days after Tottenham’s league game against Manchester United where Son had played for 60-odd minutes, he practically played a full game, and then followed with another full 90 plus extra time against Bahrain.

Beyond Son, Bento continued with more head-scratching decisions; the lack of Lee Seung-woo this tournament was yet another opportunity gone begging.

Lee Chung-yong made an impromptu visit back to Korea for his sister’s wedding between the China and Bahrain matches. He returned to the Emirates with a lackluster game against Bahrain. 

It wouldn’t be difficult to anticipate the complications that may arise when a player returns to a team camp after a few days off. So why didn’t Bento start Lee Seung-woo against Bahrain? Why leave him on the bench until we’re fighting in extra time?

In fact, what is it that Bento saw in him that gave Lee Seung-woo his 11th hour call-up to this Asian Cup? And what was is it that Lee Seung-woo lacked for him to only receive a measly amount of time between two knock-out games – one of those appearance amounting to five minutes in a match where we were chasing the game, at that.

It’s hard not to empathize with Lee Seung-woo; he took Bento’s call-up to the Asian games just as it looked like he had nailed down a starting role at Hellas Verona. Now, he’ll return to Serie B possibly needing to fight to regain his place.

Yet another disappointing senior tournament from Lee Seung-woo. He still has time though.

v. Qatar

A multi-pronged array of issues debilitated our Asian Cup run – players, the manager, the KFA, even – into a perfect storm for Korea to lose like we did against Qatar, a team that rose to the occasion with their own program of naturalizing players in order to compete in the next World Cup they’re scheduled to host.

But that’s not an excuse. On another day, even with the compounding problems, Korea could have, and should have, taken care of business. It’s a game of inches–centimeters, even; Kim Jin-su freekick, Hwang Ui-jo being fractionally offsides upon VAR review, and of course Son’s golden chance inside the box – score on any of these opportunities and we would be writing about the Taegeuk Warriors looking on to a semi-final match instead of an autopsy of a quarter-final disappointment.

Bento’s Report Card

With that being said, it’s too early to call for Bento’s head. Despite the disappointment, Bento has shown his brand of football over the last half year, and it’s miles better than what we’ve seen with Shin Tae-yong and Stielike – the latter a stain on modern history of Korean football that ought to perpetually teach manners on humility. 

If anything, this tournament has exposed some of Bento’s managerial habits – his arduous inability to rotate his players a concern echoed by Portuguese supporters who’ve shared their time with Bento – as well as his first-time experience playing against an array of Asian footballing sides. You aren’t provided the same space and luxury on the Asian stage as you are on the international stage if you’re Korea Republic – AFC sides have no problems with bunkering down and squeaking through a result.

Bento now has work to do; if he can overcome his tactical inflexiblity and start getting the best out of his players, Korea can get over this loss and improve for the long run. The same goes for our KFA – the association must provide our staff and our players the support and infrastructure they need to succeed. This situation with the national team’s medical staff is shocking. You wouldn’t expect that from a semi-pro team – let alone a squad with international professionals.

Work needs to be done. From the players, to the staff, to the association.

Korea fighting.

About kkim 9 Articles
When I grow up I want to be Jo Hyeon-woo.

12 Comments

  1. ”Yet another disappointing senior tournament from Lee Seung-woo.” are you serious? how many minutes he had in the pitch? thank you…

  2. Completely agree about selection, I’d like to see Bento get more adventurous, kick off a changing of the guard (upon Ki’s & Koo’s retirements, he mentioned something about this not being a generational shift; why not?). The older guys, they may have gone as far as they can, lets see if the kids can go further.

    Also, for a coach who preaches possession, why does Bento rely on defenders sending in so many crosses? You go from possession to more 50/50, almost hail marys. I’d love to see more elegant buildup, vision & incisive passing, exploit those possession advantages. Create space, don’t just lob into a crowd, hope & a prayer style.

    Oh, on the matter of youngsters, I’d like to ask about some of the recent moves, particularly HIB to MLS & KMJ to China, what your thoughts are. I’ll admit to some concern, is this good for their development? KMJ will encounter better foreign attackers, so one positive (provided he gets steady play, cuz of new foreigner restrictions, one negative). And HIB… how much more competitive is MLS vs. K-League? Genuinely not sure, would appreciate insight.

    The concern is that folks concerned just went for the highest bidders; can’t begrudge wanting financial security, both player & team. Still wondering if these moves are best for growth as players, these are 2 such important young guys.

    Finally, I’m really hoping to see evolution from Bento, allay our armchair coach concerns, regarding selection, rotation, tactical flexibility. Will say, he creates a sense of solidity, and pushing forward more is admirable, but this can’t turn into bashing heads into brick walls.

    • Personally, KMJ and HIB moves are a waste, but you can’t deny their personal motivations.

      KMJ is making absurd money head-and-shoulders above what he was making at Jeonbuk, and it seems HIB left the club in Daejeon’s good graces as the Whitecaps were the only club that matched Daejeon’s asking price.

      Their moves aren’t exactly good for their development, but it doesn’t translate into failure. We’ve seen the rejuvenation of Kim Young-gwon’s career despite the majority of it spent in China so hopefully KMJ’s ability won’t plateau or decline. Same w HIB, who I believe will be looking to move to Europe in a couple years following his Whitecaps move. We’ll see what happens to them in a couple years

      • Thanks for the response. Like a lot of ppl, I’m a bit disappointed but still hoping for the best. This is one of those rare occasions where, for the sake of KMJ’s development, I’m glad China spends stupid money on foreign strikers & coaches lol.

        How would you say MLS & K-League stack up against each other? Is HIB at least moving to a more demanding environment/league, where not only can he grow but he’ll have to?

      • The more I learn about Marc Dos Santos, Vancouver’s new coach, the more I like him. Moved up the ladder from the “sticks”, stops in his native Portugal (tho born in Montreal) & Brazil, consistently successful every step of the way, w/ a great attitude buoyed by his strong Christian faith.

        He also seems to have a firm plan in mind for his new regime, so there’s been a lot of turnover, this is very much a rebuild in his own image. He wants possession & strong shape; Vancouver has had horrible possession & amongst the highest goals conceded. Will be some growing pains, but seems like a very sound & necessary plan.

        As a bonus, whenever he and Bento need to communicate, being countrymen there will ofc be no language or cultural barrier.

        I feel reassured, it seems Hwang IB is in good hands. And for someone who up to now hasn’t paid much attn to MLS, I’ll def be keeping tabs on Vancouver.

        P.S. What I’m gathering is that MLS is perhaps faster & more physical than K-league, and is growing as a feeder league for Europe, but it may also be kinda undisciplined, inconsistent & sloppy, as noted by former Euro stars playing there when comparing to their former leagues. Also, lots more artificial turf, yeesh.

  3. At this point, I think fans either need to
    1) accept lesser results and be happy with “just get to the World Cup” and “just get out of the group at the Asian Cup”
    OR
    2) stop making excuses for the players if we want to do well. Rotation and fatigue could maybe be small factors, but Qatar and Japan have a bunch players who have played a ton of minutes, and both had tougher competition than us in both group and round of 16, but by QF and especially SF they ran their asses off and played with joy in their hearts. They really look like they have pride in their country. Son Heung Min looks miserable in KNT shirt.

    The Korean team I fell in love in mid-2000s had passion, great teamwork, and limitless energy. No complaining about being tired. I don’t see that anymore and I am sad.

    As a team, maybe we’re just not any damn good nowadays. Or AT LEAST not as good as we want to be. Fans were building up Kim Minjae and Hwang Inbeom, and I get some expectations, and where do they go? China and the US leagues. Wowwww…
    Jo Hyeon Woo stays in K League. Meanwhile new Japanese goalkeeper goes to Primeira Liga.

    I’m not sad that Koo and Ki are retiring. Let me rephrase, I’m sad that they never achieved much with the KNT, but kinda relieved that maybe we can dream of a young generation to take us to new heights. I’m waiting for some changes KNT and KFA!!

    • Sad to say I kinda agree. I feel like when the light shines brightest on these guys, they don’t show up. It’s been getting worse. Something is off, and I can’t help but point the finger at senior leadership on the team (Son, Koo, Ki, etc) who I have always loved and supported but gotta admit their time with the KNT hasn’t been good. Yeah I’m definitely with you that the youth are the best option. Look at Japan, goodbye Honda, Kagawa, Okazaki, no problem.

  4. Son scores again for Tottenham after 83 minutes of playing.
    8 days after QF in UAE. Long flight back.
    Played 90 minutes and got a goal on Wednesday.
    Played 89 minutes today.

    But he was tired at the Asian Cup, right? And Bahrain and Qatar’s defenses are much stronger than Premier League, right?

  5. Normally I would say he has better supporting cast at Tottenham. It’s true. But no Kane and Alli, more pressure on Son. Still he delivers for Tottenham time after time.
    This guy just doesn’t like playing for Korea, my opinion, maybe wrong but just seems that way for me. And I don’t really blame him. His teammates love him and seems to be supportive network, and better management from top at Tottenham. KNT is dumpsterfire and I would not want to play for KFA ajeossis.

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