The Penultimate U20 Warmup: Barca Boys Shine, Midfield Competition Intensifies, Lee Sangmin Saves a Life

Yet another season, yet another 4-Nations Cup. In stark contrast to the senior NT WCQ’s, these friendlies against Honduras (CONCACAF U20 Runners-up), Zambia (Africa U20 CON Champions), and Ecuador (South American Youth Championship Runners-up) were each met with intense hype and excitement. With the home advantage we won the mini-tournament – quite deservedly so – after wins against Honduras and Zambia and a loss to Ecuador. Going forward we’ll analyze each game, what went well/wrong, which players stood out the most, and speculate on the players Shin Taeyong will end up calling up to the final squad ahead of May.

 

The Squad:

For my initial reactions to the callups, check out my post two weeks ago.

There were some minor changes to the squad. Kim Jungmin, Lee Yoohyeon, and Lee Seungmo – all of whom were important members with Ahn Iksoo and Jung Jaeyong – were nowhere to be seen. I read on the Geumho HS website that Kim Jungmin was injured, but it doesn’t seem very likely that all three of these players got injured right before the tournament. It’s also weird that under “엔트리 제외” we see KJM and LYH’s names but not LSM’s. We will update the Tavern if we uncover any Pohang or Jeonnam statements on LYH’s or LSM’s status (I did see Pohang post some infographic about Lee Seungmo aiming to be the Korean Sergio Busquets or something but iirc it had nothing to do with the Adidas U20 Cup).

Recently, a call-up list for the final training camp was announced by STY and the KFA. It’s not a final roster, of course, but it seems that the final 21-man squad will almost certainly be picked from this cohort of 25 players.

No surprises outside of Lee Jungmoon (new face I believe). Nice to see Lee Seungmo, Kim Jungmin, Kim Jinya, and Kim Sunghwan back in the squad.

 

Korea 3-2 Honduras:

When I first saw this lineup I immediately thought the following points were interesting:

  • Baek SH at RW – precedent would tell us Kang Jihoon (and Lee Dongjun) would be the starters on the right wing and that Baek Seungho would play in the middle (or not at all), but instead we see BSH playing in the position that he frequently plays for Barcelona’s Juvenil A. At
  • Kim Seungwoo at DM and not Lee Seungmo – Kim Seungwoo is a player for Yonsei who plays CB/DM. I didn’t expect to see him start already. I suspect his inclusion was a tactical one in a “double W” 4-3-3 since neither Lee Sangheon nor Han Chanhee really play that single DM position. That would be Lee Seungmo’s position, but as I looked for his name on the roster I realized he was nowhere to be found, even among the “excluded players” names.
    • Verdict: I think this experiment worked very well. Out of all the centerbacks we have, either Lee Sangmin or Kim Seungwoo are probably the most fit for a single pivot role or a “sweeper CB” role. Kim Seungwoo was decent in this role, while LSM is known for getting off his line and making interceptions or driving the ball forward.
  • Lee Jinhyeon – who? I’ve never heard of him until the roster came out – but he actually ended up as THE breakout star of the tournament. More on him later.
  • Yoon Jonggyu – “Aha STY went with the 19-yo Yoon JG from the 2015 U17 instead as opposed to Lee Yoohyeon.” I was uncertain who’d get the nod here so I made a mental note to watch him closely. Judging from the recently announced training camp squad, it is more or less certain that Yoon JG and Lee YH will be competing for the RB starting position.

This game can be summed up as a classic Shin Taeyong: a high scoring, hyper-offensive, sloppy-defending game. We conceded a penalty; Lee Sangmin made a KYK/HJH-esque mistake; and we scored three goals. The attack was fluid and the passwork was infinitely better than that of the senior team. Sounds quite a bit like STY’s Olympics team (pre-Honduras?) right? What no one saw coming was our setpiece prowess. Shin Taeyong’s sides (and Korean national teams in general) usually cannot score off of corners or direct fk’s, but this time all three of our goals somehow came from setpieces. It turns out that Jung Taewook is actually a major setpiece threat on his own. I bet STY will consistently field him as a starter just for that reason.

*Aside: speaking of height, we speculate that the reason Jang Jaewon (LSM’s CB partner at club level and key member of the 2015 U17 side) keeps getting overlooked by U20 coaches is because Jang is much shorter than his peers (under 180cm), which may explain why every KNT coach in the past has used him as a DM rather than CB.

Looking through the highlights it’s clear that Lee Seungwoo, Han Chanhee, and the other usual suspects played really well. But there were two newbies on the pitch who stole the show: Lee Jinhyeon, and to a lesser extent, Kim Seungwoo. Let’s talk about these two players some more, whose performances at this U20 Adidas Cup earned them what may be a spot at the U20 World Cup:

The player who boosted his reputation the most was Lee Jinhyeon. Currently being referred to in the media as “Shin Taeyong’s Cinderella” and the “find of the tournament”, Lee Jinhyeon wowed fans with his incisive passing, passing range, and ability to facilitate play. Personally, I really enjoyed seeing the curve he puts on all his passes as well as how crisp and accurate they are. Korean media will talk about his two corner assists, which while impressive, not nearly as impressive as his overall play. Watch the following video to the end – as usual with balltouch videos it’s a little lengthy, but trust me there are highlights of his that are quite impressive.

A little history on LJH: it turns out he was once called up to a U18 training camp maybe 2 years ago, but had always been overlooked by Ahn Iksoo, Jung Jaeyong, and Shin Taeyong ever since. But Shin Taeyong must have an eye for talent – he watched Lee Jinhyeon play for Sung-kyun-kwan University against Koryeo as a winger, but decided LJH be better off as a central midfielder (and he was right).

신 감독은 “(이)진현이는 통영에서 고려대와 성균관대의 경기를 보면서 깊은 인상을 받은 선수”라며 “성균관대에선 윙어로 뛰었지만 난 미드필더가 더 낫다고 봤다. 오늘 경기(온두라스전)은 후한 점수를 줘야 한다”고 반겼다.

 

A little more about Kim Seungwoo: Not quite as impressive as Lee Jinhyeon but got a lot of attention after scoring a free header. It is pretty clear after this tournament that he will be the backup to Lee Seungmo, which is evidenced by his inclusion in the new roster (and the exclusion of the previous starting DMs Park Hanbin and Kim Gunwoong). Kim Seungwoo… reminds me a bit of a wannabe Ki Sungyong from his U20 days. Not as technically gifted but tidy with passes and can deliver an accurate longball across the pitch.

 

Korea 4-1 Zambia:

I don’t think I ever would have predicted this scoreline. When it comes to predicting KNT results against teams from different continents, up until 2010 or so there have been a number of golden rules (going off of historical trends – if you wanna do some more research on your own, check out the Wikipedia page for the SK national football team all time records – I guarantee it’ll be a very interesting table to peruse).

  1. Asian Football Confederation (AFC): We will likely beat Japan and China, probably lose against Iran, and likely win against the rest. At the youth level we almost always win (we have more U16 and U19 Championship titles than any other country).
  2. Confederation of African Football (CAF): We will likely win or draw against most teams (seriously, the only team that we have a losing record against is Tunisia), unless it’s a youth game, in which we usually lose. African teams are incredibly strong at the U17 and U20 level. Case in point? We drew or lost against Nigeria pretty much every time their U17-U20 teams came to play a friendly in Korea (3 times in the last 3 years)
  3. CONCACAF (North America): We lose to Mexico but will probably beat the rest
  4. CONMEBOL (South America): We pretty much lose to literally every team even at the Youth level
  5. UEFA (Europe): See above, unless we talk about minnows like Latvia Kazakhstan, etc. But the youth teams are a different story – it’s a little unpredictable

Because of this “conventional wisdom”, I predicted that the team we would lose to in this tournament would be Zambia. They won their continental U20 tournament and looked very strong in the process (on the other hand, we got knocked out by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain). Little did I know that we would score 4 past them, although I must admit the Zambian team was uncharacteristically poor in defense and a little lackluster even going forward.

Here was the starting XI: pretty much unchanged but with the more conventional Lee Sangheon and Han Chanhee double pivot + Woo Chanyang as CB (even as CB WCY played very high up the pitch, taking on a left wing / crossing role or positioning himself right outside the 30-yard line).

Zambia had the upper hand in the opening exchanges. I apologize for resorting to very cliche adjectives, but they were strong, fast, and had the physicality to intercept many of our attacks. Their counterattacks were on point – it seemed like almost every player knew how to beat a defender. They even hit the woodwork in the 3rd minute. Somewhat against the run of play, however, Baek SH managed to score after some beautiful work from Han Chanhee and Woo Chanyang ~30′.

Baek Seungho, in fact, is turning out to be one of the “quiet heroes” of this team. He’s not flashy like LSW, Cho Youngwook, or Lee Jinhyeon. But if anyone is likely to score or assist on this team it’s BSH – he hardly puts in a wrong foot and facilitates play very well. When he was young he could regularly dribble past opponents – he can’t quite do that anymore, but he is certainly an asset to the team. Whether he’s better off out wide or in the center is still a matter of debate, but he is certainly performing and in a good position ahead of the U20. His ability to retain the ball and use the outside of both his left and right feet is quite impressive.

And of course, in classic STY fashion, we concede right after scoring – from a set piece no less. Zambia’s #14 jumped too high for HCH (who was slightly out of range) and BSH (who jumped but was behind the player so couldn’t get to the ball) and back-headed the ball into the net.

In what also might be described as “STY fashion” (I am so sorry for using that again but these spurts of both sides scoring / opening the floodgates is so classic STY), LSW restored Korea’s lead at 39′ after great work from Lee Jinhyeon and BSH. LJH’s throughpass found BSH –> Zambian left back mistimes his tackle allowing BSH a ton of space –> BSH finds LSW in a huge pocket of space because one CB is off his line, the RB is marking CYW, and the other CB is marking BSH –> LSW slots home. Lots of defensive mistakes from Zambia.

Things finally settled down in the second half, though again it was Zambia who was far more active, attacking primarily through their left winger #17. We failed to clear some of their attacks, but fortunately, the Zambian forwards had a case of sending the ball sailing over the crossbar.

Just before the 70 we had a true moment of magic from Lee Seungwoo. I’m sure almost all of you have seen this – it’s truly mesmerizing how me faked out the defender to make him think he’d go left then send the ball into the net with a perfectly weighted chip.

Lim Minmyeok would then finish off a great move from Ha Seungwoon – great work from the two substitutions. I think HSW was really close to shooting, but realized that LMH was in a much better position to score – and score he did.

This game also brought a lot of plaudits for Lee Sangmin, who actually ended up saving a teammate’s life. We were 4-1 up when Jung Taewook fell unconscious after a collision with a Zambian defender. And it was his CB partner Lee Sangmin who took immediate action. He actually took every step necessary – pulling out JTW’s tongue to prevent choking/airway blockage and providing resuscitation. You won’t find too many English articles about this, but take this article from a while back and change the proper nouns to Korean names/locations and you basically have the whole story.

And a little highlight video for Jung Taewook, who, thanks to Lee SM’s quick action, should be ready for the U20 in May.

 

 

Ecuador 2-0 Korea: The Lim Minhyeok Show

Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed this game the most out of all three. The past three games essentially used the same lineup and the players who we already expect to start for Team STY against Guinea, England, and Argentina. We all knew Han CH is great; we all knew LSW could pull some special moments. But I didn’t expect seeing Lim Minhyeok stepping up the way he did. I also sure didn’t expect a Stuttgart benchwarmer keeper pulling of some pretty good saves. All in all this Ecuador match was actually quite relieving to see – first, for the resurgence of LMH, and second, for having been exposed to the team’s flaws more visibly.

Clearly this lineup looks a little different from the others (actually, the only player who started in the earlier matches was Kim Seungwoo against Honduras). If anything this was meant to test out depth – many of the players here rarely ever got the chance to feature for the U20 team.

My immediate reaction to this was: “is this really a backup team?” Because the play was actually just as silky and fluid as the previous couple games, leaving me thinking there’s no way the entire starting 11 was rotated. But as I soon realized the defense was slightly more shaky than before.

Within 26 minutes we were two down. The first was the result of a good shot by the Ecuadorean strike, while the second was the result of Ahn Junsoo trying to be Neuer but failing horribly. I feel really bad for him because he has been nothing short of rock solid in the past. Maybe STY meant to sub on Kevin Harr anyway just to test him out, but Ahn JS’s mistake sure didn’t help.

We almost equalized at 30′ thanks to Lee Minhyeok’s chip shot hitting the cross bar – this would be the start of the Lee Minhyeok show. Literally every attack went through him; all his set pieces connected; and he stood out more than any other player by a long mile. Watching Lim MH vs. Ecuador makes me think he has a VERY strong case to start for the team even ahead of Lee Jinhyeon. This is why I titled this post “midfield competition intensifies” – all of Lim Minhyeok, Lee Jinhyeon, Han Chanhee, and Lee Sangheon made solid impressions at this Adidas U20 tournament, not to mention that Kim Jungmin and Lee Seungmo will be joining the squad soon. Given that only three will start, STY has a “happy dilemma” on his hands (that’s a konglish term right?) – he has the luxury of picking and choosing who to play based on form.

Watch the rest of this video – it is by far my favorite highlight video of the entire competition. If you watch just one balltouch video, I suggest this one (personal bias of course).

 

Despite some good attacking form, we failed to find the net in the remaining time. I actually think we were very unlucky not to – if you look at the highlights we got pretty close and didn’t play worse than we did in the past.

Now let’s talk about Kevin Harr – the half Korean Stuttgart U18 keeper who unfortunately lost his starting berth sometime during the year to a 17-year-old German dude. Though I can’t say he was seriously tested against Ecuador, he did have to make a couple of saves, including a full-stretch one which I thought was really cool. He probably won’t be called up in the end due to the very long-enduring presence of the SBK-AJS-LJ trio

One more player to point out is Ha Seungwoon. I had doubts about this guy for a long time and always thought that he would never really do well if he were to start – after all Cho Youngwook has performed much better than him in the last year. But this is the tournament where I started to think that he would become a legitimate threat off the bench for us. Yet another highlight reel for you:

 

Ultimately, the takeaways from this Ecuador friendly (and the entire tournament in general):

  • The team has DEPTH. We just talked about the FW depth, but there’s also incredible depth in midfield and defense. Maybe not so much at the fullback positions, but everwhere else we are absoltuely set. The team is really shaping up and are playing like the way that Shin Taeyong’s teams do. Speaking of which…
  • The team has a PHILOSOPHY. This is so rare these days at the KNT of any level, but it’s incredibly refreshing to see with our youth.
  • We are capable of creating chances out of nothing. Though the Ecuador match seems to suggest otherwise, this team can create a decent chance more often than not and almost every time they get forward something worthy of firing up the squad happens. The creativity in this team is truly amazing.
  • We have a pretty solid squad ahead of the U20. Precedent tells us that when we invite random teams to friendlies in Seoul those random teams fail to perform at their usual levels. But still – you can’t NOT get excited about this team. IT’s not only the promising results – it’s their style of play, their attacking prowess, their individual talent – that makes this team such a joy to watch. Or maybe that’s because  HMB/Stielike make us expect nothing but stagnant offense, idk.

 

The Consistent Performers’ HL Reels!

I feel kind of bad getting this lazy and uploading so much highlight reels, but they are certainly more informative than words, and you may not agree with my interpretations. Anyway, the Football World, a channel you really should subscribe to for balltouch videos, uploaded HLs for more than half the players called up. We’ve showed you many of them but others we’ve saved for the end. These are the players who consistently played well throughout the entire tournament but didn’t particularly steal the show per se during one of the matches:

 

And last but not least, the hype man himself:

 

 

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