Are you excited as I am? Don’t lie, you don’t have to patronize me. Anyway, there truly is reason to be excited about this World Cup qualifier set to start in Uzbekistan on Tuesday morning 9 am EST/10 pm Korea time. First, it’s the return of Lee Chong-Yong, who was out of action with a broken leg since July 30, 2011. He’s back playing for Bolton and now set to represent his country once again. The “Blue Dragon” makes his first national team appearance since early July 2011, a 2-1 friendly win against Ghana.
Secondly, Tavern favorite Park Chu-Young has been called up for this game. The Arsenal/Celta Vigo forward was embroiled in a bizarre controversy last year where he was accused of draft dodging mandatory military service time by getting a 10 year foreign visa deferment from AS Monaco. All that manufactured nonsense became moot when he helped his South Korean Olympic side win the nation’s first medal in soccer last month. While Park has fallen out of favor with the current head coach, the dour Choi Kang-Hee, the storyline to follow is to see whether he can maintain the forward momentum gained from his Olympic performance and even recapture the captain’s armband lost in all of last year’s Arsenal/military deferment brouhaha.
Other than that, I’m excited about a kind of experimental lineup on the pitch tomorrow. While we won’t get to see the talents of Koo Ja-Cheol, injured in last Saturday’s Augsburg loss to Shalke 04, others will undoubtedly step up and get into the mix; Ki Sung-Yeung was looking large last week to preserve Swansea’s 10 man draw with Sunderland last weekend. He’ll be directing traffic from the midfield with precise insightful passing (he just has to keep doing the same thing he was doing in the Olympics). Kim Bo-Kyung, newly minted Cardiff player (and scored that sick game winner in the Olympic match with Switzerland) will be instrumental in getting some solid shots on goal. Another Korean familiar to those who followed Manchester United’s Champions League collapse last year is Park Joo-Ho. The defender for Basel FC in Switzerland was called up to shore up the left back position.
And the other starting XI: midfielders Lee Keun-Ho and Ha Dae-Sung play for Ulsan Hyundai and FC Seoul respectively. Coach Choi has much more familiarity with K-Leaguers, so he may be starting Lee Dong-Gook (Jeonbuk Hyundai) in the lone forward position instead of Park Chu-Young [with a 4-2-3-1 formation]. Media reports from Korea is indicating Choi may be also be switching the formation to a 4-4-2 beginning in the 2nd half, with Chu-Young adding another forward attack option. Defenders Kwak Tae-Hwi (Ulsan Hyundai), Lee Jong-Soo (Al Sadd/Qatar) and Ko Yo-Han (FC Seoul) rounds out the other defenders. Stalwart Suwon goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong is expected to mind the net despite still being a bit dinged from his collision with Micah Richards from the quarterfinal victory over Great Britain last month.
Some substitutes to take notice:
I loves me my political savvy Koreans, and Park Jong-Woo is no exception. Unfortunately, a fan gave Park a politically charged sign in the post victory Olympic medal celebration over Japan; the sign translated said, “Dokdo Island is ours.” The decades long dispute over that island chain with Japan somehow encapsulated in that sign got Jong-Woo in hot water with the Olympic committee, and he was not allowed to receive his medal after the episode. Honestly, who gives an Olympian a political sign to show off? Anyway, the midfielder may see some action as a substitute, but if he didn’t get a medal in his hands, at least his skills on the pitch caught the eye of coach Choi.
Kim Shin-Wook (Ulsan Hyundai), known affectionately as “the Wookie,” may see the light of play if starting forward Lee Dong-Gook shows fatigue tomorrow. Finally Yoon Bit-Garam, a midfielder for Seongnam Ilhwa, isn’t starting and isn’t expected to factor in this match…except he did score a crucial extra time goal against Iran in the 2011 AFC quarterfinals -and did so as a substitute. Hmmmm…
[Some noteable players not called up to action include Ji Dong-Wong (Sunderland) and Son Heung-Min (Hamburg SV). Ji is fighting to get a starting place in the Sunderland lineup, while Son is trying to cobble a winning club out of a winless season thus far (though test matches last week with the return of Van der Vaart fruitful for Son, with multiple goals attributed to the Van der Vaart – Son connection).
South Korea is in the top of World Cup qualifying group A with 6 points. While they are the favorites to win, nothing really should be taken for granted (see loss to Lebanon in Nov 2011). Their record against Uzbekistan so far: 7 wins -1 tie -1 loss. So I’ll be reporting tomorrow from Pakhtakor Markaziy Stadium in the city of Tashkent (if by reporting you mean in my PJ’s, attempting to find a live stream in order to squint and make out the pixelated images from the game -you would be correct) starting at 9 am EST/10 pm Korea time. I will (for real) make some live twitter updates (@taeguk_warrior) provided I can actually get said stream. Post game analysis will be posted at the Tavern sometime in the afternoon. According to Soccer on TV, Korea will be able to tune in to the game on the Star network.
행운을 빌어 요 (if google translate is doing it’s job, good luck!) Tavern is closed for the night. It will reopen tomorrow. Where’s your designated driver? Egads man, am I going to have to do everything for you? Let me find my keys…