What to say, what to say. Last night Korea took on Lebanon in the first of the final three qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. A win was vital. A draw was settled for. Ultimately it’s a result that is honestly acceptable (in that it doesn’t completely derail our chances of qualification), but it was another night of frustration and head-scratching moments.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the pre-match buildup the day of the match as I was busy with work, taking care of my baby, and resting (given the middle of the night start in Korea), so I was surprised when I booted up the computer and saw the starting XI. Consensus starting choice Lee Myeong-Jin was on the bench, as was Kim Chang-Soo and Park Joo-Ho. Also recent defensive staple Jung In-Hwan was benched in favor of Kim Ki-Hee. In hindsight Park Joo-Ho’s exclusion made sense as he arrived late after completing his club season just a few days ago. The more attacking option of Shin Kwang-Hoon was preferred to the more defensive Kim Chang-Soo, and for reasons I can only speculate, Han Kook-Young started ahead of Lee Myeong-Jin. My guess is that with two more attack-minded fullbacks, Choi Kang-Hee opted for more defensive cover in the midfield. In any event, the starting XI looked like this:
Lee Keun-Ho / Kim Bo-Kyung / Lee Chung-Yong
Han Kook-Young / Kim Nam-Il
Kim Chi-Woo / Kim Ki-Hee / Kwak Tae-Hwi / Shin Kwang-Hoon
Honestly, I thought the formation and starting line up was okay. My only real concern was whether the attack and defensive would be able to link up effectively with neither Kim Nam-Il or Han Kook-Young really being great passers of the ball. Similarly, none of the attacking trio are really the type to drop deep to help prompt an attack like Koo Ja-Cheol or Ki Sung-Yueng could.
First Half Recap
The game started pretty open, with both teams showing attacking intent. Korea had the first chance when Lee Dong-Gook managed to wriggle free between two defenders to get to a long ball, but the keeper was quick off his line and managed to block the shot. Then Lebanon struck. A corner was cleared out for another corner, which Lebanon took quickly. The Korean defensive was in disarray as players tried to sort out who was covering who, a problem likely stemming from the wholesale changes of 5 of the 6 defensive players. A quick cross from inside the box was only partially cleared and Lebanon scored. Korea was slow to recover from the blow, and for awhile they seemed quite content with the scoreline. It wasn’t until late in the first half that they really started to take control of the game. Lee Chung-Yong hit the post, and Lee Dong-Gook wasted a great chance right at the end.
Second Half Recap
It was more of the same in the second half. Posts getting hit, near misses, and wasted chances. Choi Kang-Hee made a bizarre substitution early in the second half, with Kim Shin-Wook coming on for Han Kook-Young. It made sense in the fact that Korea was looking for a goal, but it forced an odd shift in personnel. With Kim Bo-Kyung dropping deep alongside Kim Nam-Il, and either Lee Dong-Gook or Kim Shin-Wook playing in the ’10’ spot. Son Heung-Min would come on with 20 minutes remaining (for Lee Keun-Ho) and finally Ji Dong-Won coming on for Kim Bo-Kyung. The equalizer finally came in stoppage time. Kim Chi-Woo’s free kick took a deflection off the wall, and went in. Lebanon will feel hard done by the referee as the foul that led to the free kick seemed a bit on the soft side. There would be one more chance for Korea to win it. A break with only seconds left on the clock, the Lebanon defender pulled back (I think) Lee Chung-Yong who had gone by him. The defender picked up his second yellow and was sent off, and Korea had a free kick just outside the box. Kim Chi-Woo though, couldn’t replicate his earlier effort as this one went straight against the wall.
Jung Sung-Ryong 6.0 – Largely a spectator, but again his goal was breached. His defense should have done better, but it’s concerning how few clean sheets we can keep.
Shin Kwang-Hoon 5.5 – The more attacking option, was exposed defensively on several occasions in the first half. Most of Lebanon’s attacks came down his side, and he didn’t contribute much to the attack. Seemed a bit nervous and missed controlled a number of basic passes.
Kwak Tae-Hwi 5.5 – Looked strangely assured against the weaker opposition, but his inability to marshall the backline effectively was partially responsible for the Lebanon goal. Also joined in the “hit the crossbar” parade.
Kim Ki-Hee 5.5 – A surprise starter, but Kim Ki-Hee did his job fairly well. Looked more comfortable and calmer than Jung In-Hwan. Had one “uh oh” moment when he almost conceded a penalty.
Kim Chi-Woo 6.5 – Can one very important goal make up for 90 minutes of poor performance? In the big picture no, but in individual player ratings yes. Scored the only goal, but his performance was otherwise marred by poor set piece deliveries and shaky defending.
Han Kook-Young 5.5 – Not the greatest of debuts for Han Kook-Young, but he is still certainly one for the future. Would have done better I think if he had been paired with a passing midfielder or a box-to-box type rather than a defensive midfielder.
Kim Nam-Il 5.5 – Did well considering how long he’s been in the international wilderness, but lacked the incisiveness and passing ability needed for this game. His long passes were often short and easily cut out by the Lebanon defense.
Lee Keun-Ho 6.0 – Did well for the first 25-30 minutes or so, and then began to gradually fade from the game. Still has plenty of confidence, but one wonders if the effects of playing in the second division and serving in the army are starting to show.
Kim Bo-Kyung 6.0 – An interesting match for Kim Bo-Kyung who played in a variety of positions, in the hole, up top, and as a deep-lying midfielder. Actually seemed most effective up top when combining with the Lee’s. Wasn’t as effective in the hole with Lee Dong-Gook ahead of him, and was played out of position for most of the second half.
Lee Chung-Yong 6.0 – Was worried that there would be some rust from his month layoff, and at the beginning it seemed like there was. Not very active in the game, and had trouble asserting himself. Another of the ‘hit-the-post’ club.
Lee Dong-Gook 5.0 – In many ways this match was a typical Lee Dong-Gook game. Plenty of good chances, but not able to finish them.
Kim Shin-Wook 5.0 – Came on early as a second half sub, and did little to impact the game other than head a free header over the bar from about six yards out.
Son Heung-Min 5.0 – Given 20 minutes this time, and was almost able to repeat his heroics, but scooped a rebound shot wide. Later just missed getting a boot onto a cross for a tap-in.
Ji Dong-Won S.V. – Came on very late, and had no time really to affect the game.
Choi Kang-Hee 4.5 – His strategies continue to be a mish-mash of whatever. His fullback selection largely backfired (Kim Chi-Woo’s goal aside), his double defensive midfield choice also didn’t work out too well. The attacking quartet showed glimpses of what they can do, but also looked disjointed. The Kim Shin-Wook substitution was bizarre as it forced two players into awkward positions. Lee Dong-Gook into the ’10’ role and Kim Bo-Kyung into the deep lying role. Son Heung-Min’s intro instead would have made a lot more sense.
I feel like I’m becoming a broken record after each game. But there just doesn’t seem to be any sort of cohesive plan or strategy when the NT steps onto the pitch. Each game feels like it’s some experiment for the next game, but there is never any end result. Korea is still in a good position to qualify, but I will admit that I’m getting nervous about it. While the last two matches are in Korea, the prior showing against Qatar certainly shows that being at home doesn’t guarantee a result. Uzbekistan and Iran are both certainly capable of coming here and earning a point or all three.
The next match is a dangerous one. Many may feel tempted to start from scratch again, but that’s been part of the problem. Every match feels like a start from scratch. A core of the team needs to be set, so that there is a base to work from. I feel that Lee Chung-Yong and (regrettably) Lee Dong-Gook are set. Kwak Tae-Hwi will stay. But the rest are subject to wholesale changes. I could easily see the other three defenders getting switched out. I could easily see one of Lee Keun-Ho or Kim Bo-Kyung getting switched out. Kim Nam-Il and Han Kook-Young could also get replaced. I hope that some changes are made, but that Choi Kang-Hee doesn’t go overboard with it.
The next qualifier is next Tuesday at 8PM Korean Standard Time at Seoul World Cup stadium.