December 10, 2012
Oi, what a hangover…when I recovered, I remembered Ulsan Hyundai Horangi, champions of Asia, wilting against CONCACAF winners Monterrey in the global televised spotlight. Fortunately, it was aired live at 2 am Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the rest of the world saw it later on tape delay. And what global audiences saw in Ulsan’s loss was a distressingly poor display of bush league football in what should have been a virtual home field advantage by way of a short plane hop over to neighboring Japan. When the spectacle was over, Ulsan could only count their lucky stars that it wasn’t a more embarrassing scoreline, with the final whistle ending the misery at 3-1.
After a frenetic start that saw Ulsan clumsily press the Monterrey backline, Monterrey settled things down and established control of the ball. It only took 9 minutes for 19 year old Jesus Corona to score after an excellent feed across the goalmouth from Aldo De Nigris. The entire Ulsan backline were standing around flatfooted.
The Mexican side continued dominance in pace, possession and opening the field to widening the multiple cracks in Ulsan’s defense. Only a tepid header from the towering “Wookie” Kim Shin-Wook provided the only offense in the otherwise lackluster 1st half from Ulsan.
The Mexican side continued to dominate in the 2nd half, and despite the score being 1-0, it could have easily been a wider margin several times over. In the 62nd minute however, Lee Yong sprinted down the right flank and skillfully crossed to Kim Shin-Wook. His diving header missed wide of the post. Cesar Delgado’s brace put the game out of commission (77th and 84th minute).
One of the few bright spots was Lee Keun-Ho‘s goal in the 87th minute. Just a few weeks ago, Lee was awarded AFC Asian Player of the Year and AFC Champions League Tournament MVP. He was at various times lively with the ball, but largely unable to quarterback any meaningful plays, partially due to a lack of the entire team’s inability to establish control of the game. As the game was close to expiring, his long shot went nearly straight at the Monterrey keeper. It turned out to be a howler as the netminder misread the shot and it curled underneath him -right on into the net.
The embarrassing loss raises questions about Asian club football as a whole. If this is the best that the K-League and other various Asian leagues could muster, there has to be a bit of soul searching to figure out how it can really compete and be taken seriously on an international basis. Of course, one can’t read too much into one match, but it’s very clear judging from past FIFA World Cup results that Asian club football, as it stands currently, is not in the same standing as other world football divisions. The Tavern Minister of Information interrupts my rant to hand me a note: the best a K-League team has done in the tournament was 3rd place – that would belong to Pohang Steelers in 2009. They did that by beating a Mexican side Atlante in a penalty shootout.
Monterrey advances for a date with Chelsea. Despite the quarterfinal loss, Ulsan is not out of the tournament yet. They will vie for 5th place with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the J-League champs on Wednesday (2:30 a.m. US EST). Hiroshima lost their quarterfinal bout with Egyptian side Al Alhy. Wednesday’s is a one-off game and it will be the last time we will witness the Asian Player of the Year, Lee Keun-Ho, before he starts a 2 year stint in the relegated Sangju/Army football team. In the United States, TV coverage of the game was provided by Fox Soccer, and they mentioned Lee’s remarkable situation several times. Lee had stated that although he is resigned to joining the Sangju team, he would rather play in Europe. The Tavern is wondering out loud: will his plight be a real conversation starter to finally allow for flexibility in the South Korean military conscription rules in order to give temporary exemption to players like Lee -so they could serve their country as football ambassadors to the world. The alternative is the current status quo and someone of Lee’s stature will now be stuck for 2 years in a relegated K-League 2nd division, playing in a non-competitive atmosphere for the Army team. We are wondering if his talents on behalf of Korea wouldn’t be better served bringing pride to Koreans around the world by honing skills abroad, then bringing them back to the Taeguk Warriors in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup? One last thought: imagine if Park Ji-Sung was made to serve his 2 years instead of getting exemption? Would Gus Hiddink been able to bring him along to PSV Eindhoven after the 2002 World Cup? Would he been able to put in enough time there to get seen by Alex Ferguson and join Manchester United for 7 long years, 4 Premier League titles, 1 UEFA Champions League title and a FIFA Club World Cup title to boot? He is the standard bearer among contemporary Asian football players, and the Tavern would shudder to think what would’ve become of Park had he not been able to get military exemption.
This weekend we experienced some highs and lows when it came down to covering Taeguk Warriors in Europe. Friday brought the highs: wins by Cardiff and Hamburg; in particular, Kim Bo-Kyung getting his first goal for Cardiff. The Tavern owner got a chance to meet up with Tavern contributor CJay in Washington DC and cheered on Kimbo on TV (see the Tavern’s last post). Cardiff widens their lead in the N-Power Championship by 3 points over 2nd place Crystal Palace. Meanwhile, Son Heung-Min put in a 90 minute shift for Hamburg, didn’t score but still they got a tidy 2-0 win over Hoffenheim. Hamburg moved up to 7th place in the Bundesliga –40 minutes after the match all the players rode off into the night for a long plane ride straight to …Brazil! Yes, the lucky Hamburgers flew off to play in an inaugural exhibition match at Gremio’s new stadium at Porto Alegre on Saturday. Son played in the 2nd half of that friendly, but the visitors didn’t spoil the party as eventually Hamburg lost 2-1. (note: it was a really swanky stadium debut, built for the upcoming 2014 World Cup).
Saturday provided some lows:
Ki Sung-Yeung and Swansea had a surprising 3-4 loss at home to Norwich. He put in a 90 minute shift. Swansea plays a midweek Capital Cup match against Middlesbrough on Wednesday.
Ji Dong-Won was not in the 18 man roster for Sunderland as they predictably lost to Chelsea 1-3. We are awaiting an expected January transfer to Augsburg.
Speaking of Augsburg, they had a tough fixture against Bayern Munich. Koo Ja-Cheol was lively on the ball, but despite an overall better team effort, they lost to the UEFA Champions League runners ups 2-0. Augsburg sits 2nd to last place in the Bundesliga table.
Staying in Germany for a moment longer, Cha Du-Ri got onto the pitch in the 71st minute of a 2-0 loss to Nurnberg. Just when you thought his midfielding experimental days were over (as he came in for a defender last week), boss Norbert Meier subbed Cha in for Axel Bellinghausen: he is (you guessed it) a midfielder. Next week: Cha as goalkeeper?
Lee Chung-Yong got a start and played the full 90 minutes and got in an indirect assist. Bolton however couldn’t hold onto their lead and frustratingly drew with Huddersfield Town 2-2. Bolton is 18th out of 24th in the N-Power Championship table. Time for Lee to flee in January?
Park Ji-Sung did not appear in the 18 man roster for QPR for their 2-2 draw with Wigan. It’s been Harry Rednapp’s team after Mark Hughes sacking, and they still can’t manage that elusive first win in the Premiership this season…and it’s December. Yeesh. We’re presuming Park is still having issues with his knees, but that’s not been entirely confirmed. We’re getting our Tavern PI to look into the matter.
and what did Sunday’s child bring, other than Ulsan getting hammered by Monterrey?
By Neptune’s Knickerbockers, it’s the return of Park Joo-Ho, playing right back for FC Basel in a Swiss Cup match against FC Locarno. In his first game since who-knows-when, Sunday’s game saw Park play the full 90 minutes in a 2-3 away victory. They advance in the Cup tournament -and they are also still alive in the Europa League. Quite a surprise, let’s see if Park can continue to get some playing time for Basel.
Another Sunday match featured Celta Vigo playing away at Athletic Bilbao. Disappointment on 2 fronts: first Celta lost 1-0, second Park Chu-Young did not get any minutes on the pitch. Boss Herrera’s decision stems from several defensive injuries, forcing him to utilize multi-role players like Bermejo, who can cover defensive midfield duties. They still lost and now Celta is hanging precipitously close to La Liga’s relegation drop. They need to regroup however for a formidable opponent in Real Madrid. They tangle on Wednesday (4pm EST) for a Copa del Rey match at the Balidos. Could Park get the start for rotational purposes? [Update: It is looking more certain that Park Chu-Young will be getting the start on Wednesday against Real Madrid -that according to SportalKorea correspondent and blogger Santiago Perez via twitter:
Park starter tomorrow.
— Santiago Perez (@truespain) December 11, 2012
Herrera said so when asked when Park was going to be a starter
— Santiago Perez (@truespain) December 11, 2012
Last bit of news: Gangwon FC defender Oh Jae-Seok is transferring to J-League Gamba Osaka in the off season. Gangwon survived the relegation battle in the waning days of the K League season, so the move is troubling as Gamba Osaka recently went down in flames and relegation ignominy in the J League. Why would Oh agree to this move? It appears that the deal was sealed quietly between the managers well before the season ended for both clubs. The talented right back was part of the epic Taeguk Warriors Olympic team that won bronze and bought the players exemption from having to serve in South Korea’s military.