POST MATCH REVIEW: Korea 0 – 1 Sweden

Poor; against a beatable side, playing a must-win game, Korea looked toothless with no attacking identity. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images.

What happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object?

The result gets decided on a penalty.

Coolly put away by Granqvist. Unlucky on Cho Hyun-woo. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters.

Korea lined up with a strong starting eleven, and Shin Tae-young mercifully saved viewers from a potential car crash of a defensive performance by starting with four at the back.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

No real complaints. As good as we can get.

In a mutually understood must-win game for both sides, especially considering Mexico’s shock result against Germany, the match started brightly enough for Korea, with the first ten minutes played mostly in Sweden’s half.

But the early dominance didn’t last; airballs and crossing can only threaten so much, and Sweden grew into the match, creating the more dangerous opportunities in the first half. A quick 1-2 between Berg and the 33 year old center-back Granqvist completely eliminated Korea’s midfield at the top of the box, and if not for a heroic last minute slide tackle by Kim Young-kwon, it would have been the passage of play to break the deadlock.

Or perhaps not. Cho Hyun-woo, who deputized in net in his first World Cup, put on a heroic display and was solely responsible in keeping Korea in the game. If Shin Tae-yong managed to do anything right, it was start Cho, who not only plucked loose balls out of the air, but also came up with massive saves, a 1-on-1 opportunity against Marcus Berg the highlight of the lot. Sturdier hands hadn’t been seen since Korea had Lee Woon-jae between the sticks.

Beyond that, Korea’s play was lackluster, and against a rather ordinary Swedish side, talking points were few and far in between. Son, who was practically invisible as was the rest of Korea’s attacking prowess, gave Swedish captain Granqvist a scare – beating the centerback for pace – but was unable to find Hwang Hee-chan in the box with his cut-back. Other than that, Korea tried to knock possession around, but a wayward ball from Jang Hyun-soo had Park Joo-ho lunging to reach the pass, only to crumble clutching his hamstring. With Korea’s 2nd string left-back out, on came Kim Min-woo just thirty minutes into the game.

Park Joo-ho, our last competent fullback, clutching his hamstring and probably out for the tournament. Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

The halftime whistle came to Korea’s convenience – a late, blistering header off target by Claessen summing up not only the pressure Korea was under, but also the lackluster finishing showcased by both sides, who were equally searching for attacking form and equally diligent in the tackle. Going into the half, Korea needed a change if they were going to find a result. An absolute absence of offensive play, tidy ball distribution, and any semblance of a midfield begged for a change.

We did not get a change.

Continuing with long-ball tactics and placing Ki, our main midfield distributor of the ball, as deep as the defensive line meant more of the same for Korea, and play continued to get choppier as both sides highlighted their defensive discipline more than their attacking ability—Larsson’s stamp on the back of Koo Ja-cheol’s leg just one of the many episodes that broke up the game.

No card – despite the ref’s seemingly hard stance displayed when booking Kim Shin-wook just 13 minutes in after his first challenge of the game.

Koo almost got his revenge just minutes after, connecting with Kim Min-woo’s cross that was headed off target. Hwang Hee-chan also nearly created the best chance of the match out of nothing by robbing Granqvist of the ball deep in Sweden’s half, his low cross knocked out of bounds before even reaching the near post.

But the deadlock was broken after another half chance passage of play; Augustinsson whipped in a cross that Cho Hyun-woo slapped, but Claesson, who had been booked just minutes beforehand after a bad challenge on Hwang, beat Kim Min-woo to the ball and tumbled. What could have been a promising counterattacking opportunity for Korea was stopped at the edge of Sweden’s box as the referee went to refer to VAR.

The replay didn’t lie – a deserved penalty.

Kim Min-woo with the challenge, just short – no ball. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images.

With twenty minutes left to play and one goal down, Shin Tae-yong opted for the sensible substitution of taking off Kim Shin-wook, a target man striker, for Jung Woo-yong, a defensive midfielder. Perhaps Shin knew that it was useless to have a striker that could find the end of a cross, considering how many wayward crosses gifted Sweden possession – some not even making it off the ground. Lee Yong once again put on a display reminding the world that Korea still desperately needs a decent right back. 

Five minutes after Korea’s second substitution came the final one that everyone had been waiting for – Barca youth product Lee Seung-woo for the rather invisible Koo Ja-cheol.

Nothing happened; despite the pressure that Korea piled on the end of the match, Sweden were compact, unabashedly sitting in their box, comfortable to ride out the match and frustrate the toothless Korean attack.

Within those ten minutes of Korea recycling possession and looking for a breakthrough came two promising chances – Son Heung-min squared a lobbed ball to Hwang Hee-chan just beside the penalty spot, but it was a day late and a dollar short as Hwang tried to turn. The ball was intercepted and cleared before he could get a shot away.

But Hwang’s best chance would come deep into stoppage time. With Korea looking more and more comfortable with possession, Sweden confident in riding the result out, Lee Jae-sung headed an overhit cross back into the box, and Hwang, completely unmarked, shot his header well wide of the keeper’s right.

Unmarked, free, and off target. Photo: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

Half-chances were really all that Korea deserved, considering their play. When attacking, Korea looked lost. Smart, quick passing that we’re known for was nowhere to be seen.  Korea’s midfield, easily the strongest aspect of this side by a mile, was invisible. Lee Jae-sung was kept quiet, Son never saw the ball, and Ki looked more like a center back than a center midfielder in the second half especially when we were chasing the match.

To be expected; the witless Shin Tae-yong came into the tournament with no clear plan A, hid behind his excuses, and asked for unwarranted support. Besides a 2-0 win in Korea against a Honduras B side, we came into the tournament with a dearth of goals, confidence, and a proper game plan.

Perhaps his biggest trick was managing to have fans hold on to any shred of hope. But now with two matches left against the joint group leaders Mexico and current world champions Germany, all we can ask for are dignified performances. And then of course, his exit.

Anything else is a bonus.

About kkim 13 Articles
When I grow up I want to be Jo Hyeon-woo.


  1. The KFA is just too corrupted…if only, if only, if only they had a shred of ambition and sense of integrity they would not have brought Korea to this inevitable situation…Lee Yong was atrocious today and Kim Shin-Wook is definitely overrated.

  2. First, Kevin, extremely well written.

    Second, Shin’s antics about secret tactics and formations and trying to confuse Sweden based on race alone deserves his sacking.

    Third, tactics and lineup was horrible. I knew as soon as Wookie was in the lineup and Ki was pushed back deep, we were doomed.

    Fourth, our Fullbacks are horrible crossers, PJH included. And what a horrible penalty by the sub.

    Fifth, Cho was a revelation, and that’s about all the good I can say.

    Sixth, Korea should be playing like a mediocre version of Mexico tactically, not like an atrocious version of Spain. Possession means nothing if you can neither create anything out of them nor move the ball forward and get a shot on goal.

    I don’t and didn’t have high expectations. All I asked for is positive football playing to the strengths of the current players. Instead we sit back on defense AND not really counter but hold the ball. WTF? If you’re gonna sit deep, counter! If you don’t want to counter, play more aggressive! You don’t have a world class defense, but you have a fairly talented offensive players. At least let them do their thing!

    Y’all know better than me. Am I way off??

    • 1) agreed
      2) nah, no sacking for the comments, just dumb. don’t think it helps him tho, mad ehim a bit of a laughingstock
      3) KSW starting (our only CF) was fine by me, but not with counter attacking tactics. Ki deep but he never got his diagonal balls going nor did the team really cater to it.
      4) PJH only hit one cross according to my stats app. KMW was pathetic, bad challenge
      5) CHW had the game of his life, very brave. if he backs it up against Mexico it may be one of the few things that STY leaves to the NT (when he probably goes) in good state
      6) agreeddddddd. also peru. a poor man’s peru would please me.

      We gave too much respect to the opponent + the respect we gave encouraged the opposition to explot our greatest weakness (defending). It’s why I liked the pressing 4-4-2. It took some strain of the bak line and made everyone active defenders. far too passive (defending and attacking).

  3. “I actually remain sympathetic to Shin, and I’ll continue giving him the benefit of the doubt before the WC. Now, if he starts Kim SW in the WC, that will change.”

    Alright, grace period over! I can’t believe Shin didn’t realize by the first WC match that he should not start Kim SW, and I am disappointed in him for that. I am also disappointed that he didn’t realize by the start of the second half that he needed to change things up. Sure, I bet you he had a plan with his subs and Park JH getting hurt threw them off. But that’s not a valid excuse. Lee SW should start the rest of the WC.

    A couple of quick observations:

    1) Jo was a breath of fresh air. He made those quick reflex saves, and he made those assured saves coming off his line. Glad Shin started him over Kim SG. Excited to see Jo at the Asian Cup. Jo needs to improve his distribution, though. There were a bunch of moments when he would just kick it out of bounds or cough it up to the other team. He came off his line right before Kim MW caused the penalty but I don’t fault Jo for that. I think it was the right play.
    2) Kim YG looks like his vintage self. Glad he’s back there. If only Hong JH’s career panned out. They paired well together as CBs. Jang HS had his fair share of mistakes today. I remain not a fan.
    3) Lee Yong is getting a lot of flak for his terrible crosses today. And that criticism is fair. But there were also a bunch of moments when Korea’s midfielders would pass Lee Y the ball out on the wing, and then they would run to the center of the field, leaving Lee Y no option but to cross! He was left out there all by himself.
    4) Going into the tournament, I had favored Koo over some of the other midfield options but I think the KNT should try someone else out. Maybe Jong WY should get the start and play more of the defensive MF role so Ki can play further up.
    5) Hwang has to put that header on target

    • KYG was great, unbelievable that Shin ever dropped him if he was always in that form. strangely I think this game made us realize how quietly valuable JWY is. he gives some defensive cover to Ki. wish we had a better DM but JWY does fairly well in that role (shadowing players, positioning, tempo, recycling possession, etc.) and can hit some okay passes and be okay across most active defending jobs. KJC was random and bad. LJS was good but too invisible (can’t do it alone in deep CM for sure, not his role or his type of game)

  4. God damn, the first touch and dribbling of our players were so awful. What happened to having a good foundation of fundamentals? Jesus.

    KFA should’ve hired Senol Gunes when they had the chance.

  5. This all starts with Shin Tae Yong.

    I mean, seriously, what have we got to lose??

    Starting Wookie was just useless and Lee Seung Woo was put in wayyyyy too late.

    Instead of playing our strengths, we did our best to hide our weaknesses. How is it that Son had so few touches and was playing almost midfield instead of flank forward??

    I understand the comment on the coaching carousel. However, the KFA needs to find a a solid coach. Someone who has a vision for 2022.


    Goalie. Wow, I never thought I would see decent goalkeeping but he actually did outstanding.

    Lee Seung Woo. I can see it, he has got it and I hope they let him loose on Mexico.

    Shin Tae Yong–I hope you never coach again unless it is the local YMCA.

    • Spot on!! The goalie was incredible…and if Lee Seung Woo had more time he could have provided more of a spark than Wookie. I’ve never trusted the KFA…it just seems like their decisions are just too careless and I have read from many places that they are indeed corrupt.

    • Cho Hyun-woo was a revelation and I’m thinking Shin will start Lee Seung Woo against Mexico. Shin has 2 more chances to prove something.

  6. I’m not sure what people expected, to be honest. I thought Sweden was quite good against Italy in their 2 legged playoff last year. To me, they seemed like a team that was going to be hard to break down. The KMNT has been very inconsistent for multiple years, and their friendly results in the past 10 months leave much to be desired. I just didn’t see them being able to flip a switch and play 5x better because now it is for keeps.

    And yes, I know that some teams have done that in the past, like Japan in 2010 or the Netherlands in 2014. But that’s not the norm, and if you are medicore during WC qualifying, mediocre in your friendlies, chances are you will be mediocre in tournaments.

    The GK made some great saves, and one of the CBs that was a complete tire fire of a disaster against Algeria in 2014 had a good game today! I’ll be honest I was completely shocked. It could have gone the other way and he easily could have conceded a PK or two, but it didn’t happen, he did very well in the 1st half.

    But also, the GK lost possession for the team every single time he hit a goal kick. All credit goes to some of the saves Jo made, but he isn’t going to be making anybody forget Ederson anytime soon. The MFers lost possession easily. When the KMNT did turn the ball over and ran up the other way, didn’t really see a lot of top notch speed, Sweden was able to get back and defend. Contrast that with Mexico or Peru on the weekend, who were able to bomb up the field so damn fast it made me wonder if they were taking some Russian Super Juice.

    I can understand some people feeling some hope after the KMNT was fortunate to be tied 0-0 at halftime and figured the coach would take a chance and make more aggressive subs. And yes, I don’t disagree with that notion and what some people are saying here. But I think this result is somewhat in line for what the KMNT has been doing the past 2-3 years. Fairly uninspiring & unimaginative, with the opponent not under a barrage of sustained, consistent pressure in their half of the field.

    I’ll watch the next 2 matches and hope they win, but I am not expecting that to happen. There’s not much to indicate in the past few years that they can seriously give it to Mexico/Germany and have a go.

  7. Glen, I think most of us aren’t complaining cuz of a loss or because we “had hope”. We’re complaining because they went down without a fight, and worse, mostly because the coach and his tactics tied SK’s hands and worked to handcuff them from being able to put up a fight anyway.

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