Tomorrow in Bielsko-Biala, the young Taegeuk Warriors will look to erase the bad memories of defeat to Portugal by forging ahead to the semifinals with victory over Senegal. If they succeed, they will return to the semifinals for the first time since 1983. This was their stated goal before the tournament, so it will be quite something to achieve it. However, if you’re talking to Lee Kangin he’d like to be taking a trophy back with him to Spain. Let’s take a look at the opposition, with a cameo from our great friend Tomas Danicek, and consider how we will accomplish this win.
I am no expert on African football so I did what any resourceful writer should do when confronted with a topic they know little about: I decided to ask for help. Tomas Danicek, of the great Sandals for Goalposts blog and his new blog Shoot Like Odil, happily offered his expert opinion of Senegal:
For an U-20 side, and third youngest squad at this tournament no less, Senegal boast an incredible structure – akin to the many miles ahead of most African senior sides they are organization-wise. They have conceded a single goal the whole tournament and allow an absolute minimum of quality chances per game, amounting to a 1.06 expected goals against, which is the best tournament average *by far* (second-placed Norway sit at 2.35 xG).
They’ll be very hard to break down, and in the Diagné-Lopy tandem at the base of midfield (who are, curiously, almost three years apart and played all World Cup minutes together, bar the meaningless finish to the Tahiti game), Senegal have one of the more conservative midfield duos at the tournament, focusing primarily on ball recovery and quick circulation which they do super effectively indeed. The 17-year-old Dion Lopy is arguably the player to watch, too, as he also skips by any attempt of pressing utterly seamlessly. So slick. Needless to add, with the usually high amount of possession recovered in middle third, Lee Kang-in is in for a ride!
If you recall the World Cup and the amount of attacks led through the impressive fullbacks Sabaly and Wagué, it’s going to be pretty similar here – they basically employ something of a 4-2-2-2 formation, meaning their four attacking players are positioned rather centrally and relatively close to each other, whereas the fullbacks – effectively wingbacks at most of times – work the bylines. It works a treat for them: Dionkou Yecagné (RB) and “his” striker/right winger Ibrahima Niané were the most common passing combination against Nigeria, while Souleymane Aw (LB) was the passing hub in other games.
It will be difficult and this looks to be another game where Korea will have to grind out a tight victory.
How will we win?
I’m guessing it won’t be pretty, that’s for sure. The win against Argentina was very pretty and showcased everything that a Korean attack led by Lee Kangin can offer. The wins over Japan and South Africa showed a sense of grit and determination that we don’t usually see from Korean sides. We’re used to collapsing in exhaustion after a disappointing draw or loss, not in victory after winning 1-0 in a match we struggled to dominate. If we’re going to go to the semis, Senegal will push us to the limit in doing so. This team will need to stick together and keep pushing forward in attack while remaining organized at the back. Lee Kangin will need to show off his vision and creativity to unlock a difficult defense. In addition, Kim Jungmin and Jeong Hojin will need to continue to work hard in winning possession and distributing the ball tidily. I believe in this team to accomplish that, but this match will be the toughest test yet.
Korea Republic vs. Senegal
Bielsko-Biala Stadium, Bielsko-Biala, Poland
June 8, 2:30 PM EST, 3:30 AM KST (June 9)
Broadcast Info: FS2 (US), KFA has yet to share Korean Broadcast info (check Twitter for updates)
Prediction: 1-0 Korea.