South Korea semi-recovered from midweek troubles with a surprising 2-1 victory in Prague against a 10-man Czech Republic side. Yoon Bitgaram and Suk Hyunjun scored the goals in a result that is certainly satisfactory but must not overshadow certain individual shortcomings.
The Korean national team lineup was as follows (4-2-3-1): Jung Sungryong; Jang Hyunsoo, Kim Kihee, Kwak Taehwi (C), Lee Yong; Joo Sejong, Jung Wooyoung; Son Heungmin, Yoon Bitgaram, Ji Dongwon; Suk Hyunjun. As discussed in yesterday’s preview, Ki Sungyueng missed out due to injury (though he made a strange 30 second sub appearance at the end of the match). More surprisingly, Jeonbuk Hyundai’s Lee Jaesung did not feature, and that, after not starting the Spain match either. Instead, Yoon Bitgaram played in the hole with Ji Dongwon starting out wide once again. Jang Hyunsoo’s inclusion at left-back also raised eyebrows, though he had played there previously with former clubs.
The Czech Republic fielded a strong starting XI. Shortly after I published the preview yesterday, the Czech manager was quoted as saying, “There will be no experimentation against South Korea. We take this match seriously.” As such Arsenal’s Petr Cech started in goal, Kim Jinsu’s teammate Pavel Kaderabek featured at right back and playmaker Tomas Rosicky played the full 90 minutes.
The first 20 minutes were largely uninteresting, with a Jung Sungryong gaffe in the 9th minute doing little to appease concerns about his return to the KNT, but no harm done. The Czechs were physical and very direct while the Koreans seemed more comfortable attacking down the right flank through Lee Yong and Ji Dongwon. In fact, this statistic compiled by MBC at half time reveals our fairly one-sided attacking:
Suk Hyunjun would come into that area and use his physicality to try to make something happen. Indeed, Tomas Danicek chided on Twitter the following:
Hehe, Suk Hyun-jun is really desperately trying to injure some of our players. Or all of them, ideally.
— Tomas Danicek (@TomDanicek) June 5, 2016
The first real Czech chance came in the 19th minute after a recycled corner kick, where Tomas Rosicky took a low shot from the top of the box with two Korean defenders chasing him. However, Jung got down well to push the effort that was probably heading wide in any case.
Ji Dongwon’s frustrating inability to convert chances was on full display today, with a Korean counter in the 22nd minute finishing by Ji curling the ball into the stands, much to his frustration. The Taeguk Warriors’ next chance also came from the Czechs committing many bodies forward and then losing possession. Yoon Bitgaram cut off a pass and Son Heungmin was off to the races. Son passed to Suk and continued his run into the box alongside Ji Dongwon. Suk drew the foul and the first yellow card for fullback Theo Gebre Selassie.
That set up a free kick with Joo Sejong and Yoon Bitgaram standing over it. The CSL-based playmaker curled an effort off underside of the crossbar and past Petr Cech, akin to David Silva’s strike in the first friendly. Truthfully, Cech should have made the save, but it was a glorious free kick goal – something we’re not used to seeing from the KNT.
Son Heungmin should have scored in the 34th minute, when Suk brought the ball deep on the left side and played a clever pass into the box for Son. However, he decided to cut out wide and take a left footed shot instead of trying to cut in. The ball swept across the face of goal with no one there to tap it home. 5 minutes later, however, the second goal came. Krejci was isolated with no option and his indecision was met with a Joo Sejong tackle – the ball fell to Yoon Bitgaram with only a defender to beat and he smartly passed it to the right side for a Suk Hyunjun in full stride – the Porto man took a touch and beat Petr Cech with a top roof cracker. 2-0 Korea.
There were a pair of chances to add a third in that half, including a Son Heungmin effort and a Yoon Bitgaram volley off of a corner, but they were right at Cech.
The second half saw sustained pressure from a reinvigorated Czech side. Sensing Jang Hyunsoo’s unease at left back, Gebre Selassie switched over to the right flank to try to put some more pressure through that side. They scored a very flukey goal in the first minute of the second half, centreback Suchy hitting a low shot from quite some distance that took an unnecessary deflection off of Kwak Taehwi and into the net. Several minutes later, Gebre Selassie hit a volley across the face of goal and off of the far post, in what would be his last real intervention in the match. He was (wrongly) sent off in the 59th minute. His offense? Leaving his feet to challenge Jung Wooyoung in the air, but Joo Sejong’s bodycheck sent his cleats flying into the Chongqing Lifan midfielder’s chest. The referee saw recklessness in the play and gave him his second yellow and marching orders.
Despite this, Jung Sungryong was called into action to make two fine saves in the latter stages of the match, where Stielike killed time by making a series of useless late substitutions, much to the chagrin of the home crowd. Final score: 2-1 Korea.
Jung Sungryong (7): Hey, if we ignore the weird error in the first half, he did what he had to do and made the saves he had to make. They weren’t easy ones either. He gets a lot of slack but credit where credit is due.
Lee Yong (5): Not the solution to our right back problems. He still can’t cross a ball and is content to backpass. He’s not a bad defender but offers very little upside going forward, with poor passing in the final third and shrinking in more important moments.
Kwak Taehwi (6.5): Didn’t need to go for the Suchy shot and some are calling it an own goal. Despite that, was confident in the air to repel Czech longballs. As captain you can give him some of the blame for the mental fragility after we conceded, but that’s more of a team issue than anything.
Kim Kihee (6): Nothing noteworthy.
Jang Hyunsoo (4.5): Uli, play him in position. If he was an average rightback he is a mediocre leftback. The weak link on the side, so often out of position and so obviously unassertive.
Joo Sejong (6.5): Did well in place of Ki Sungyueng, but Korea didn’t attack much up the middle anyways. Good intervention leading to second goal. Solid cover in defense, helped keep Czech attacks at bay.
Jung Wooyoung (5.5): A meh performance from Jung.
Son Heungmin (5.5): Barely touched the ball. Slightly less invisible than against Spain but still… Did well with his touches but didn’t seem to want to get more. No passion, no courage, no fight. Tame.
Yoon Bitgaram (6.5): Again, Korea didn’t attack much up the middle, but scored a gorgeous free kick and assisted the second goal.
Ji Dongwon (6.5): Effort was there. Wasn’t a graceful performance at all, but his interventions were driven by intent. Needs to rediscover his scoring touch but made our attacks down the right flank somewhat threatening and not entirely benign due to Lee Yong’s incompetence.
Suk Hyunjun (8): Excellent game from Suk – really. Smashing finish on second goal and was the only player this international break to demonstrate tireless workrate. Keen on making things difficult for the entire Czech backline with his size, speed and aggressiveness. Shin Taeyong would be a fool to not call him up for the Olympics after this performance. Would wreak havoc among younger defenses.
Lee Jaesung (5): Barely touched the ball. Didn’t try anything. Should have started.
Rim Changwoo (NR): Came on for Son Heungmin lol. Played winger.
Hong Jeongho (NR): Played as defensive mid replacing Joo Sejong.
Hwang Uijo (NR): Didn’t have time to influence game but you felt like Czech defense was breathing a sigh of relief when Suk came off.
Ki Sungyueng (NR): Played like 20 seconds.
Is it just me or every time we concede, we shrivel up and die? Why is it that this team, whenever pinned against the wall, is unable to fight back? Our attack was relatively toothless, but given injuries and the opponent, that was somewhat to be expected. But our team mentality hasn’t changed since CKH days. We are most likely to concede a second after conceding one, and unlikely to score or threaten the opposition after conceding.
Yes, one could say that in showing a positive performance today, the KNT fought back. But when it comes to individual matches, it seems as if we are hanging on for dear life after conceding a goal. There was such a maddening, stark contrast between the first and the second half, before we conceded and after we did.
Uli’s obsession with Jang Hyunsoo
Why? A fullback Jang Hyunsoo might suffice if we’re talking about AFC opposition, but during this international break, Uli’s Jang-fullback plan was found out. It doesn’t work. He has no attacking upside and isn’t at the right place at the right time. He doesn’t have a single attribute that makes him stand out. Stielike’s Jang experiment is getting absurd and he’d be better off starting him in his more usual central positions and looking for real fullback solutions.
When it comes to the K League, Uli hasn’t got a clue
I’ve vented about this in the past but it continues to frustrate me. To fathom that Ko Myongjin > Joo Sejong. Out-of-form Ji Dongwon > Lee Jaesung. No place for a very in form Kim Bokyung. How are any of these true? Stielike has to cut the PR and get real. He needs to end his obsession with Middle Eastern and China-based players who don’t turn up to the KNT. Nam Taehee needs to go. Rim Changwoo needs to go. Jung Wooyoung shouldn’t be as high on the pecking order as he is.
Where are the K League players who ARE performing? Why is Kim Bokyung – arguably the best player of a club in the ACL last 8 and undefeated in the K League – left at home? Why aren’t Go Yohan and Ko Kwangmin – two competent wingbacks who could perhaps adapt to the fullback role – not even getting an ounce of consideration? Why no Song Jinhyung? Kwoun Suntae? Maybe even Lee Gwangseon? Han Kyowon? Why is Lee Jaesung not getting a single start in these friendlies? He shouldn’t be on the bench – he should be a starting XI lock.
Suk Hyunjun is the answer
God. This guy is the beast. He’s got grit, courage, determination, and even on his worst day none of his critics will ever say that he’s lazy and afraid. Suk is what we need at centre forward and we need to embrace it. He’s strong in the air and doesn’t shy away from challenges. He gives defenders something to think about and can unlock space behind opposition lines. He can assist buildup by coming in shorter but can pounce on opportunities as well. Most importantly, to put it simply, this guy has got some balls. He’s not going to let anything stop him from giving a 100% performance and is determined to make a difference.
Suk Hyunjun must go to the Olympic Games. For a guy who has gone through so much in his career, so many ups and downs, the least we can do is give him a chance to clear that looming obstacle of military exemption. If Shin Taeyong is ready to give Jang Hyunsoo that chance, he needs to be ready to give Suk Hyunjun that chance. Suk, with a more confident Son Heungmin and the dynamic Hwang Heechan, has the potential to make the Korean Olympic Team a real contender.
So Shin Taeyong – give it a shot. Let’s send Suk Hyunjun to Rio.
Hey, we won!
All in all, a welcome recovery for the KNT after a 6-1 smackdown at the hands of Spain. These two matches are among the most serious tests we will have in this World Cup qualifying cycle. If we failed the first, then we’ve passed the second. But the real test will be the lessons the team learns, the players Uli is willing to call up and how we approach such matches in the future. And only time will give us the verdict on that one. But in terms of this match – a good win against decent European opposition.
Next for the KNT? World Cup Qualifying – against tougher opposition. Hosting China in September and away in Bahrain against Yemen. Despite my criticism of the team in this post, the fact that we were able to scrape a win away in Europe does bide well for our World Cup Qualifying hopes. The issues need to be addressed. And Uli can’t just sweep them under the rug. But it’s far from doom and gloom as the Road to Russia (really) begins.