Roughly 24 hours before the senior NT match vs. Honduras the young Taeguk Warriors played their first game of the 2018 Toulon Cup, a annual U21 tournament held in Toulon, France. As the headline suggests, the team got… destroyed. But there were plenty of talking points:
The initial squad:
GK: Min Sung-Joon (Korea Univ.) Park Ji-Min (Maetan High School)
DF: Lee Jae-Ik (Gangwon FC) Lee Sang-Joon (Busan IPark) Lee Ji-Sol (Daejeon Citizen) Hwang Tae-Hyun (Ansan Greeners) Kim Hyun-Woo (Dinamo Zagreb) Cho Jin-Woo (Matsumoto Yamagawa FC) Lee Kyu-Hyuk (Dongguk Univ.) Choi Joon (Yonsei Univ.)
MF: Cho Young-Wook (FC Seoul) Jeon Se-Jin (Suwon Samsung Bluewings) Ko Jae-Hyun (Daegu FC) Lee Dong-Gun (Daegu FC) Kim Gyu-Hyung (Dinamo Zagreb) Kim Jung-Min (FC Liefering) Lee Kang-In (Valencia CF) Um Won-Sang (Ajou Univ.) Chung Ho-Jin (Korea Univ.)
FW: Oh Se-Hoon (Ulsan Hyundai)
No real surprises here as most of the players involved in the U19 Suwon JS Cup in April were called up. The talking points, of course, were the inclusion of abroad players Lee Kangin, Kim Jungmin, Kim Hyunwoo Kim Gyuhyung, as well as the Suwon Bluewings/FC Seoul duo of Jeon Sejin and Cho Youngwook. The squad was modified a little due to Kim Jungmin getting held back by Liefering and Kim Hyunwoo getting injured. A number of these players are already established emerging talents:
GK: If there’s something you can always count on with a KNT youth team, it’s the emergence of a hype GK. We saw the rise (and fall?) of Lee Changgeun, Lee Donjun, Song Bumkeun, and the list goes on – and now the big hype GK is Min Sungjoon who pulled off some amazing saves in the JS Cup vs. Morocco Mexico and Vietnam.
DF: Recall that Kim Hyunwoo recently made a move to Dinamo Zagreb (and is actually getting some playing time). Hwang Taehyun was the backup RB in the 2015 FIFA U17 WC (where Lee Seungwoo and co. beat Brazil in the group stage), while the other defenders have been rotating on and off – KNT youth squads usually have a decent defense but not this one, the defense has been very disorganized in all their appearances (conceded every game, even against Vietnam, and conceded 4 vs. Mexico and vs. France).
MF:If there’s something else you can count on about KNT youth teams it’s the emergency of a new attacking midfield, and in this generation the new star is Uhm Wonsang. The clear outfield MVP of the Suwon JS Cup, he displayed incredible pace in all three of the games and sparked a frenzy of “Uhm Wonsang ball touch” vids on Youtube. He was even singled out in praise by all three of the opposing coaches. Though it may be a little unfair to call him a breakout player – in the AFC U19 qualifiers he almost singlehandedly destroyed Indonesia (but it was Indonesia and no one really paid attention to those qualifiers).
Otherwise, this MF is stacked – Kim Jungmin is a household name for us Korea fans esp after his heroics in the 2015 U17 WC and his instant impact at Liefering, but didn’t make the trip to France. This generation also boasts Jung Wooyoung, the winger for Bayern Munich II, who would’ve been called up had it not been for an injury a few months back. Lee Kangin, Cho Youngwook, and Jeon Sejin likewise need no introduction. The Dinamo Zagreb player Kim Gyuhyung had yet to make an appearance for the KNT, so many were eagerly anticipating his performances as well.
FW: The only listed FW is Oh Sehun, who you may remember for scoring the winning goal against Ghana in the U17 WC group stage in the last minute (he was wearing the #20 jersey back then). He hasn’t really impressed in recent history, but he’s locked himself as the starting FW of this generation.
My personal theoretical attacking lineup for this generation would be Uhm Wonsang – Cho YW – Jeon Sejin up top with a MF line of Lee Kangin – Kim Jungmin and (one of the two DMs here). And that’s even more OP on paper than the old U19 team of Kim Gunhee – Hwang Heechan Paik Seungho Seo Myungwon from back in the day, esp considering that Jeon and Cho are established K League goalscorers while Lee Kangin and Kim Jungmin are playing regularly in Europe already. Guess who else is playing regularly in a Europe youth team? Jung Wooyoung. Clearly, this generation has talent.
I was also really looking forward to seeing Kim Hyunwoo play since the current U19 CBs have been underwhelming but an injury messed up those hopes (as well as any hopes of seeing Bayern’s Jung Wooyoung in action) (What’s up with Koreans and injuries recently…)
The France game:
This lineup was more or less what I expected – no surprises here. None of the players were making their U19 debuts.
Admittedly, I didn’t watch the game – Michael Welch caught the first half – but going off the Korean news articles, Michael’s comments, and highlights, we can make the following conclusions:
Lee Kangin literally stole the show
This 17 year old played against 21 year old Ligue 1 players… and held his ground. It wasn’t the best of days for Lee, who Michael observed dropping very deep to even get the ball, but you will see him pulling off a few Marseille turns here and there along with some shots on goal. Unsurprisingly the Korean media is raving about LKI. They’re pulling off one of my biggest Korean media pet peeves rn (one article is emphasizing the interest from Real Madrid way back in the day and another’s talking about Soldado tweeting about LKI a few years back… really now?) but anyway:
“It was a difficult game as [coach] Jung expected. The team lost convincingly, but the clear standout was Lee Kangin. Despite playing with teammates two years older than him he expressed his style of play and held his ground in attacking midfield against the physically much stronger French players. His ability to keep the ball and distribute it across the pitch was impressive. In the 18th minute he drew cheers from the crowd with a Marseille turn past two defenders and registered Korea’s first shot on target with a long range drive foricng a good save from the opposing keeper.
“In a match where the team had a difficult time stringing passes together, Lee’s passing accuracy was 80%. Even while Korea was very clearly losing he showed a strong drive to keep fighting, even registering 4 fouls.”
Here’s his highlight reel: A lot of korean ball touch videos are fluff (this video starts off with his fouls), but there are some good moments in here worth watching
Our defense still sucks.
Granted we’re playing against players who somewhat regularly start for Ligue 1 teams, but it was still clear that our defending leaves much to be desired. Excerpt from Naver:
“It was not an easy game for Korea. The phsical condiiton and focus was not at 100%. France qiuckly found exposed spaces and took their chances, scoring as early as the 4th minute. Korea never really got back into the game, with the defense constantly allowing French players to run in behind them, and conceded again in the 8th…. though their play wasn’t perfect, Korea coudln’t capitalize on their mistakes. In the 35th minute Kim Gyuhyung was replaced with Uhm Wonsang, who displayed his speed on the left flank and got a few shots on target. Lee Kangin started to impose himself on the game as well, and Korea started to improve before the start of the second half. At halftime, Jung Hojin was taken off for Daegu’s Ko Jaehyun. Within 30 seconds of the second half, Jeon Sejin found a long range shot, and the momentum carried on, eventually leading to Lee Kyuhyeok getting fouled in the area and Cho Youngwook burying the PK. But France did not relent, and within 6 minutes found their first shot of the second half. In the 49th minute and 57th minute, France had scored their 3rd and 4th goals.”
You can see some of these moments in the highlights:
Aside from Lee Kangin, I do think Uhm Wonsang showed his stuff in this game as well. That dude is ridiculously fast… and imo, should be starting every game for this team. The other players didn’t really have much time on the ball and I think the future games will be a better indication of how they’re doing.
You can also see that our players were literally boys among men against France… their players are much bigger than ours to begin with, not to mention that this is an age group where every year actually makes a difference in terms of physical development. Even still, it’s interesting to see that our youngest player was the one who held his ground physically – Lee Seungwoo, had he been playing, probably would’ve fallen down looking for a foul on numerous occasions.
Our lack of possession and ball retention in this game makes me think that Kim Jungmin actually would’ve made a big difference esp this game. We probably would’ve lost anyway, but we sorely missed his ball control today.
Togo and Scotland U21’s await
Almost every year, France wins the Toulon Cup – it’s kind of a rite of passage for the young French players in Ligue 1. That being said, Togo and Scotland also brought their full U21 squads, and there is a very high chance we will get physically pushed around again in both of these matches. If there’s one thing this generation does very well it’s attacking prowess (this team scored at least 1 goal in all 8 games led by Jung Jaeyong). Cho Youngwook, Uhm Wonsang, and Jeon Sejin are the main goal threats in this team, and if we can play them into space (looking at LKI here), we should be capable of scoring a few against Togo and Scotland.