The 2016 AFC U19 Championship: Preview and Thailand Recap

As most of you guys know, the FIFA U-20 World Cup is set to be held in South Korea next year. The AFC U19 Championship, which we won in 2012 but embarrassingly crashed out of in 2014, is the qualifying tournament for the FIFA 20 World Cup. The four teams from Asia that make it into the semifinals qualify for the World Cup. But you might be wondering – we’re the hosts! What’s going on here?

Usually, the host country’s team doesn’t play in the qualifying tournaments, but it seems that this time KFA is really gunning for some results at the next World Cup, and arranged with AFC/FIFA such that Korea could participate in the qualifying tournament as well. If Korea make it to the seminfinals a fifth placed team will participate in the AFC — this edition there will be a fifth place playoff after the regular tournament in which the losers of the quarterfinals will get a second chance at making it to the world stage.

Our squad is as follows:

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For the most part, this is squad is a very experienced one that has worked with Ahn Ik Soo for a long time. Kang Ji Hoon has been a top player in this age group for a while now, while the team maknae Cho Young Wook has established himself as one of the team’s best players especially after a very solid JS Cup in which he scored the 1-0 lone goal against Japan. Baek Seung Ho, ofc, has only been able to play with this team during the old U18 JS Cup where he linked up with Lee Seung Woo (but played less than 45 minutes).

The midfield also features some very familiar faces. The team’s “ace,” Han Chan Hee, is an undisputed starter in the AM/SS position, as is the defensive midfielder Park Han Bin of Daegu FC. Kim Gun Woong is another DM prospect who has actually been playing from time to time with Ulsan Hyundai as an 18 year old – if the team goes 4-1-4-1 KGW will likely start on the bench, but if the formation goes 4-2-3-1, KGW and PHB combine pretty well in midfield. FC Seoul’s newbies Lim Min Hyeok and Kim Jung Hwan, may not get much playing time with Seoul, but are also seasoned veterans who are both highly likely to start, although LMH has largely played a super sub role to Han CH. The attacking talent goes deeper with captaincy candidate Lee Dong Jun and newcomer Kim Si Woo (who started the match against Thailand). Lee Seung Mo, who in the past year has flitted between CB, DM, CM, and AM (remember his wonder goal vs. France?), is listed in defense this time, although he was not selected as one of the two starting CBs.

The defense actually sees quite a bit of change. Jeong Tae Wook, Lee Jae Ik, Lee Yoo Hyun, and Kang Yoon Sung are newcomers to the team who I do not know much about. Jeong Tae Wook, however, scored the opening goal against Thailand and is famous for his 194 cm height. He will most likely start again next to Pohang’s Woo Chan Yang, who has recently converted from a rampaging offensive right back to a CB. His partnership with Lee Sang Min in the latest Suwon Cup was quite impressive, but it seems Lee Sang Min has either fallen out of favor or got injured.

And of course, in goal we have the same three players who have been constantly called up to this team. Most impressive is Song Beom Keun, whose heroics in the friendlies against Germany, Japan, France, and Brazil makes him my personal pick for KNT GK #2022 (or so we can hope). I really wish there were a highlight video of him, but highlight footage is nowhere to be found.

Now on paper, this team should have great chemistry and from past tournaments, is capable of playing very well and has a good shot at repeating the quarterfinal WC run from back in 2013 It tends to be a defensively oriented teams like most Ahn Ik Soo teams, but the offensive output is decent – in the last 10 friendlies, the only game in which the team was shut down offensively was the second friendly against Germany. Han Chan Hee managed to snipe a goal vs. Brazil, Lee Dong Jun beat the offside trap in the first Germany friendly from a fantastic HCH throughpass, Lee Seung Mo scored a real long ranger vs. France… the list goes on and on. Despite some bad finishing (actually a LOT of wasteful finishing), the creativity is there and the attack isn’t as static as Stielike / HMB teams.

But for Korean teams, many times the “on paper” doesn’t match the performance. The opening match of the tournament was held yesterday, and Korea won 3-1. Based solely on our form vs. Thaliland, I feel ambivalent about our chances of winning the tournament. On one hand we pressed very well and produced some great offensive plays. But then again, we scored entirely off of some terrible goalkeeping and defending mistakes and made made a big mistake ourself despite keeping a good defensive shape for most of the match. Han CH and Cho YW played very well, but missed so many chances by choosing to shoot straight at the keeper.

The lineup is as follows: Cho Young Wook ;;; Kim Jeong Hwan … Han Chan Hee (c) … Kim Shi Woo ;; Kim Gun Woong … Park Han Bin ;; Choi Ik Jin … Woo Chan Yang … Jeong Tae Wook … Lee Yoo Hyeon ;; Song Bum Keun.

It’s a clear “A- team” so some of the errors can be excused, but still. Here is the highlight video – a longer extended video isn’t out, but this video does show some of team Korea’s general issues. Namely, defensive lapses and finishing:

The next match is against Bahrain, the team that beat Saudi Arabia 3-2. On paper we should win this one as well, especially given how seriously we’re taking this tournament, but scoring 3 against Saudi Arabia is no easy feat. Against Bahrain I’d expect 1) squad rotation and 2) a 3-1 scoreline where we score a lot but also concede one.

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