This is it. Knockout stage. No more formation experiments*. For Korea to advance deeper into the U20 World Cup, the path goes through Portugal (who they played against in a friendly back in January). We got a preview for you so you can stay on top of the game -8pm Korea time and 7am for the US east coast on Tuesday May 30th.
While the English, by virtue of winning their group, have an infinitely better Round of 16 match-up against Costa Rica, their path to the finals runs through African giants Zambia and undisputed favorites France. Korea, on the other hand, avoid the more eye-catching opponents but Venezuela and Uruguay (our likely quarter-final opponent, should we qualify) impressed with decisive group victories on the first half of the bracket.
Shin Taeyong basically said “forget the game” after the England group match, and was roundly criticized for his 3-5-2 shape that not only was a bit sketchy in defense but a brick wall going forward. More worryingly, Lee Seungwoo and Paik Seungho both came on in the game in an attempt to salvage a point, ending their alleged “break day”, while hard-working centre forward Cho Youngwook, the player who arguably needed the most rest of the attacking trio, played another full shift.
This potentially could nullify any rest advantage then, with Portugal playing this game on a day’s less rest than the Korean squad.
A BRIEF LOOK AT TACTICS
What do we know about Portugal?
The Portuguese were a sliver away from not qualifying to the knockout stages at all, needing a late own goal against Iran to tally their first win of the tournament on the final group matchday.
In this particular tournament, most would agree that Portugal’s best is yet to come. Their most dangerous player – Benfica’s Diogo Goncalves – has scored twice for them in the tournament but has been otherwise fairly wasteful with his opportunities as his been the entire Portuguese side. A player in the mould of Nani or Ronaldo (an easy comparison), Goncalves is the one Portuguese player who is given more freedom in the side, either cutting inside from the left or dropping down to prepare a dangerous, well placed shot. In fact, the Portuguese attacking blueprint is fairly simple. A 4-3-3 shape, with two attacking midfielders and one defensive cover, with both wingers operating fairly narrowly and fullbacks pushing up very high.
At the other end of the pitch, most pundits are in unanimous agreement that the defensive lines of the European side are very vulnerable. Centrebacks’ inadequate positioning and weak pace are problematic, particularly given that they operate with a lone defensive midfielder and leave huge pockets of space behind their aggressive fullbacks. Zambia and Iran in particular had joy running in behind those spaces on the counter-attack – the only game in which Portugal’s opponent had more than 45% of possession was Costa Rica (and that was because the Portuguese had a man sent off). It’s a formula that worked for Portugal, almost worked for Iran (had they not grass rolled all game…) and that Costa Rica had certainly prepared to execute.
How Will Korea React?
Shin Taeyong is saying that there will be “tactical changes” but there are always “tactical changes” in Shin’s world. Most expect that Shin will, however, return to the 4-3-3 with two DMs as against Guinea. Who those two DM’s will be, however, is a mystery. Lee Seungmo would seem like the obvious choice, but some wonder if Kim Seungwoo’s impressive 45 minutes as a sweeper against Argentina could mean that the energetic CB/DM could play a similar role in this game (either as the CCB in a 3-4-3 or as a DM in a 4-3-3).
If the Koreans can stick to whatever shape they deploy in an organized fashion, expect the emphasis in attack to be on that counter attacking play – and in particular, Lee Seungwoo. This sounds like exactly the game that he is built for – seizing his opportunities clinically and picking up the ball in midfield and just dribbling the length of the pitch.
Expect, however, the Portuguese to be particularly aware of his threat – if they pay more attention to Lee, they will inevitably leave other players unmarked, meaning Lee Jinhyeon (who favors long, deep, on the ground passes) and Lee Sangheon/Lim Minhyeok (who control tempo slightly better and are a bit more of a traditional CAM (though Lee Sangheon has been piss poor in the first two games)) will need to be on their game to spot out forward Cho Youngwook or even Paik Seungho.
Tim’s Predicted XI: Song Bumkeon – Yoon Jonggyu, Lee Sangmin (C), Jeong Taewook (GOD), Lee Youhyeon – Lee Jinhyeon, Kim Seungwoo – Lee Seungwoo, Lim Minhyeok, Paik Seungho – Cho Youngwook
A couple interesting things came up in the media recently concerning some of Korea’s most performing players in this tournament:
- Lee Seungwoo was offered a Catalan passport on multiple occasions and pressed to become a Spanish native – the Korean, however, adamantly refused, admitting “I could never imagine playing in the World Cup with a country other than Korea”.
- Paik Seungho has been and might still be scouted by Internazionale in particular.
- Song Bumkeun, Korea’s goalkeeper, is earning high praise by literally everybody, and has piqued PSG, Marseille, Dortmund and FC Koreaburg (Augsburg)’s interest.
But of course, Uli fucking Stielike had to ruin the party:
“There is still a gap between the U-20 level and the senior level. I think it’s too early to call up the U-20 players to the national team.”
And in unrelated news, he announced his secret plan to defeat Qatar (no, it’s not naturalizing Sebastian fucking Soria)
“Qatar will be affected by Ramadan, and not us.”