2023 AFC Asian Cup Quarterfinal: South Korea advances 2-1 vs Australia

WOW. What a game. I really thought we had lost this one, but our tenacity and individual quality came through. Heading to work right now but a full recap to follow from Roy Ghim in the coming few hours.

A few thoughts before I sign off and start mulling over a “Tournament So Far” post:

  • You can never count out Korea. I always said we had the best offensive players this tournament and the best individual quality. Maybe we struggle to score from open play but man we keep knocking and knocking and eventually score.
  • Tactically we still have work to do but the 4-4-2 was executed better this PYW positioned himself a little bit better in defense which let the CBs do their thing – whether it’s KYK passing through balls into HHC or KMJ running up field and no one marking him (since CBs always cause confusion in the defense when they go up). But the whole “we have too few numbers in midfield” issue came back again as the Australian press was effective against the HIB + PYW midfield duo.
  • If nothing else, Klinsmann knows how to modify the game to get the last minute goal. Subs are always on point.
  • How do we keep losing focus in defense? How do we keep conceding from really stupid one off plays? We seem to consistently do this. Australia scored off of their usual method of scoring, and we completely lost them. Unnecessary way to concede when we had control of the game.
  • I legit thought we were out as Australia carried good momentum around the 80th minute onward. Thank God we got the pk.
  • Son’s free kick was straight up ART. The curve, the power, having Yang Hyun Jun and Lee Jae Sung in the wall to obscure GK Mathew Ryan’s vision so he couldn’t react quickly – now that is how you take a free kick. We are truly blessed to have two incredible free kick takers on this team. Not to mention that Son CREATED the PK chance by outstretching his right leg so that Miller’s tackle would foul him. MOTM for me. And sweet sweet revenge for 2015.
  • How are we in the semifinals already? We’ve played so poorly all tournament but somehow we manage to advance.
  • Kim Min Jae is suspended for the semifinal against Jordan. He was the MVP against them for sure. Hopefully we should be able to cope (we should on paper but you never know)…
  • Great plays from team 막내 Yang Hyun Jun who was subbed out for Kim Tae Hwan and asked to play RB. Before the AC I know a lot of people were saying he was struggling at Celtic but I disagree, he’s had more game time than the other Koreans and every time he comes on he’s looked good for them. And a very impressive showing from LB Seol Young Woo as well. He will surely have impressed the scouts watching him today. The Crvena Zvezda technical director Marko Marin (a familiar name from the Bundesliga) was in the audience and perhaps some West Ham scouts were there as well.
  • Klinsmann and Leuthard must be doing something right in training because I really don’t know how we ran so hard after playing 240 minutes in 3 days
  • So many good plays come out of Lee Kang In and Hwang Hee Chan. So blessed to have them on this team. Lee Kang In’s through passes to Seol Young Woo (for the offside goal) and to Lee Jae Sung, granting him a one v one, was so incredible – not too may footballers can split open a turtling back line with a single precise and accurate pass.

UPDATE: Roy Ghim here (aka the Old Tavern Owner) to deconstruct this quarterfinal come from behind win. Let’s go:

With less than 3 days to recuperate after battling through 90 minutes + 30 minutes extra time and THAT Cho Hyun-woo goalkeeping heroics to dispatch the Saudis on penalties, the Australians were waiting after a comfortable 4:0 win against Indonesia on Sunday- meaning fresher legs and 2 extra days rest than the Koreans. Topping off more concerns in the lead up to the game, thanks to Klinsmann’s lack of foresight, the core players like Son and Lee Kang-in had played practically every minute of the group stage. Could Korea weather the overload and additionally look to advance in spite of their highly scrutinized manager

https://twitter.com/theKFA/status/1753425673044238800

Jurgen Klinsmann opted for a 4-2-3-1 with Park Young-woo back in the XI to offer midfield CDM support and Lee Jae-sung given a breather. No Back 3 system today. Also: Hwang Hee-chan started for the first time, with Jeong Woo-young making way. The Socceroos offered up a 4-3-3, but from the start Korea came out attacking with the lions’ share of possession. The passivity to not press Korea was surprising given more days rest for the Aussies but perhaps head coach Graham Arnold was playing rope-a-dope counter to Korea’s overwhelming attack. This expansive football from Korea looked better than in previous games until you realized that despite 80% ball possession, there were zero registered shots on goal. There were however decent attacking spells, with half chances created by Hwang Hee-chan with balls over the top provided by Kim Min-jae. Suddenly in the 30th minute, Lee Kang-in (who was too isolated on the right) drifted centrally, his deft vision found Seol Young-woo to the left with space, his cross squared with Hwang Hee-chan for Korea’s first goal – or not. A VAR check showed Seol’s shoulder just a hair offsides. Nevertheless it put Australia on notice. And yet, for all the possession, Korea weren’t able to find a way through Australia’s compact defense. Nearly on the stroke of halftime, a flubbed pass by Hwang In-beom allowed Australia’s Craig Goodwin to take advantage of Korea’s defensive shape breaking down to get one past Jo Hyun-woo. Yet again, a series of unfortunate events led to Korea staring a knockout defeat with 45 minutes left to go.

Korea battled to get their chances to get even, but between Cho Gu-sung reversion back to his wasteful group stage form and Australia channelling their best Mourinho ‘park-the-bus imitation, Korea found it difficult to find solutions. Shots and opportunities went begging. After yet another egregious missed opportunity, Klinsmann finally took Cho Gu-sung off in the 69th minute and brought in Mainz’ attacking mid Lee Jae-sung, allowing Son to go up top.

Korea kept battling with waves of Korean attack, chance creation after chance, which kept Korea supporters on the edge of their seats. Korea was on a knife’s edge. The occasional misplaced pass in midfield led to cunning Australian counter attacks, two in particular nearly put the game to bed. Lee Kang-in was the conductor and his vision and timing on the ball was telecasting his desire to take the game by the scruff of the neck. But for all that effort, Korea just could not buy a goal for the entire 2nd half. Australia were defending for their lives, and as 7 minutes of stoppage appeared on the 4th official’s timestamp, a strange sensation came over this observer -like a whisper from Obi Wan Kenobi – to trust in their instinct, their skill and the overall tenacity to find a solution. Despite the tank running low, the sense that Korea still could find a way was still there, blame that on recency bias from all the other last gasp goals to rescue Korea in the tournament.

Cue minute 4 of stoppage time: Son Heung-min, with what seemed like his hundredth run into the area, dribbled dangerously closer to the goal, then cut down in the box by substitute Lewis Miller. A VAR check, more waiting, more anticipating, and the decision was made: PENALTY. Hwang Hee-chan surprisingly took the ball and waited by the spot.

The Wolves man ripped his shot into the upper left corner – sending teammates and supporters into utter rhapsody. In Extra Time, Korea did not hesitate to unleash even more devastating attacks on Australia’s goal; Lee Kang-in was incredibly close to getting the go ahead goal. In the 102 minute, Hwang Hee-chan was fouled at the edge of the area. Captain Son and Lee Kang-in stood at opposite ends of the dead ball while the Socceroos set up their wall. Captain Son curled a breathtaking freekick into the near post, with Matt Ryan scrambling but unable to keep it out of net. Ecstasy. Elation. Relief. What had we witnessed? From ponderous and shambolic to individual brilliance to tip the scales, Son Heung-min delivered one of THE goals of his illustrious career. Add a red card for O’Neil’s studs up challenge on Hwang Hee-chan and Korea had to game manage their way to victory. Of course, Korea never makes it easy for themselves, and after 3 more ‘surely they must score’ but miss chances from Korea, Australia were able to recover the ball for several knocks at the door to equalize. When the full time whistle blew, Son fell to the ground in tears, absolutely shattered.

One could view this match and the takeaways from this in a Rashomon-like way (Akira Kurosawa anyone?). Ecstatic morale boosting victory. Individual brilliance making up for managerial ineptitude. Both can be correct. Split the diff between positives and negatives, Korea comes up spades for now as they moves on to face Jordan in the semifinals on Tuesday at 10am US EST / Wednesday 12 midnight in Korea.

A quick analysis of the tactics: a number of pundits in real time offered praise for Klinsmann getting his tactics right. I would diplomatically disagree. On paper Korea offered a double pivot but when Korea opted to play out from the back, there was only one CDM to offer a central supporting option – and other times in which there were zero CDM support as they were higher up the pitch. That lack of midfield supporting angles/options forced Korea’s back 4 to distribute wider – which Australia anticipated and led to turnovers and danger. A number of pundits adroitly observed the lack of midfield numbers to get into central supporting space was key to why Hwang In-beom turned over the ball against Malaysia. Hwang, normally an above average center mid, gave the ball away today leading to Australia’s goal.

Which leads to another observation: unlike the Bento era, this game in particular saw Korea lobbing long balls more often than not, with only a meager few finding heir target. Sure, when it’s timely and hit with precision and weight – they can play efficiently through several Aussie lines. But the Hail Mary aspect of those are a reason why the DeZerbie’s and Guardiola’s of modern football tacticians would rather play a risky yet rewarding play creatively out the back way of moving the ball forward. For that matter, add former Australian manager Ange Postecoglou to that list. Ergo, the tendency towards lobbing long balls is indicative of Klinsmann ball, which to be fair has some measure of tactical nous, but not nearly enough.

Steve Han observed by halftime:

That was K-League United founder Ryan Walters who chimed that in before FT.

The ball movement was overall better in probing to find Australia’s weakness. The final pass and/or the clinical finish (aside from Son’s unbelievable freekick) was found wanting. Korea’s goal converting rate from open play this tournament has been abysmal. We keep thinking that all that work will eventually pay off. This inability to be ruthless in front of net through the tournament has been nothing short of exasperating. Exhibit A came after Son’s brilliant goal in extra time; when team Korea could’ve put the game away and hammer that nail in the coffin, there were 3 golden opportunities served on platters – let’s keep sticking with gold – yes GOLD platters and those chances went begging.

One more critical note before ending on positive vibes: Yang Hyun-jun and Park Jin-seop were finally utilized – Yang’s tournament debut! Yang in particular looked bright, a pin point accurate cross to Oh should’ve been one of the extra time nails on the coffin. That sounds positive and it is, and yet I add that to the critical column simply because Klinsmann’s lack of foresight and trust in his bench in group play meant that the likes of Son and Lee Kang-in had played nearly every minute of the tournament – including now 2 games played into extra time. The tank did get to empty, but luckily time ran out before the Socceroos were able to capitalize. I don’t know if you caught this but Son was not only limping towards the final minutes, he was clutching his hamstrings. Overload leads not only to injury but in heavier touches, poorer decision making and less sharp finishing (Son had his share of sloppy touches and poor shots despite his well deserved status as hero of the match).

And just as the exhausted players will be dunking in the ice bath, in the back of their minds, they knew that the quarterfinals would be THE gauntlet to get through as they now face Jordan for semifinal opponents (who did manage a very respectable 2:2 draw with Korea in group stage). Klinsmann would be wise to finally get around to rotating (somewhat) in order to look ahead to a possible title conclusion. With Kim Min-jae’s yellow card suspension, Klinsmann’s hand is forced to tinker with a Kim Min-jae-less defense.

Positives: Australia was never going to be a walk in the park. The team that fought admirably against eventual World Cup winners in Argentina was compact and difficult to break down. In the end, it came down to players’ individual brilliance and collectively their ability to summon super human conditioning with little in the tank after playing 120 minutes + less than 3 days turnaround. THAT must be commended. The never-say-die-attitude -tuhon, whatever you want to call it… I’ve lost count how many stoppage time goals Korea has scored to rescue their flailing Asian Cup campaign (*no way we’re gonna call that “Klinsmann time”). Lee Kang-in, Korea’s 22 year old magician continues to astonish. If Korea could’ve finished a fraction of their chances from open play, the scoreline would’ve been a rout thanks in large part to Lee Kang-in’s vision and dribbling ability. The decision making is not always 100%, but it’s still head and shoulders above his seniors. Seol Young-woo has gradually improved in the tournament, one courageous lung busting run in extra time was exhilarating. Park Yong-woo still isn’t the ideal choice as Hwang In-beom’s CDM partner, but he grew into the game. Hwang Hee-chan showed his mettle, the recipient of Australia’s physical approach, it backfired spectacularly, the foul on him that led to Son’s freekick and finally the studs up challenge on him that reduced Australia to 10 men. In post match comments, Hwang reported wanted to take the penalty that took them to extra time. I consulted a translator who told me that there isn’t a direct translation for testicles in Korean language (other than literally ‘bulal’ which wouldn’t code switch smoothly back to ‘cojones’ or balls). So there’s ‘beht-chang’ – courage from the player Jinseok nicknamed as ‘our lord and savior.’ The man that converted Son’s pass to beat Portugal in the World Cup. ‘Beht-chang’ defines the man.

Video highlights:

Final remarks on Klinsmann ball:

Klinsmann has taken much criticism and rightly so before and throughout this tournament. He’s still not off the hook, and despite advancing to the semifinals, Klinsmann ball was evident, particularly in the first half. Interesting background info: the players met as a team separately before the quarterfinals to talk tactics. While they said this was perfunctory, many read this as a sign that the players don’t trust Klinsmann, his abysmal lack of tactics and management that have had Korea in a wobbly way. One can’t help but to wonder if the players have quietly taken the lead to put their stamp on proceedings. I’ve said this before, it’s very unusual, but not unprecedented for this to happen (Spain Women 2023 World Cup). In the case of Korea, it may not be so much an open mutiny as a discreet take-over. If this is true, then Korea literally has the tournament in their own hands, with or without Klinsmann in charge. However the tournament ends -and it will be harder for a proper inquest if they manage to win it all -it’s absolutely imperative that Korea take a real critical look at the decision making that led to Klinsmann’s hiring, and what remediation is needed to properly overhaul, not just the KNT management, but the KFA as a whole.

About Jinseok 260 Articles
Diehard Korean football fan. https://www.taegukwarriors.com/jinseoks-story/

13 Comments

  1. I am happy, but at the same time wish we’d lost. We embarrassed ourselves. Look at how many shots we took in the 1st half and how many Australia? We didn’t create anything, we just strolled around the penalty box. Lucky again… Luck is a good thing, but it doesn’t last forever.

  2. also…

    it’s good to see that this blog is still active after all these years. thank you Jinseok and the others 🙂

    I remember the Hangouts you guys used to do (haha Hangouts). a reunion (obviously not Hangouts since it’s gone lol) would be fun.

    It seems people who wrote for the Tavern have eventually gone onto do other things (such as Fighting Stripes, I think there’s a new one called Bibim Ballers? or something like that) but it’s always good to see the OG place still active.

    And Roy if you see this, just know you are the GOAT for starting this awesome blog.

    really glad you guys are still around and dedicated for Korean football.

    • Wow you’re a real OG fan!! Thank you for remembering our Googe Hangouts. While the OG crew talk frequently on a facebook group chat (esp now that the AC is ongoing) I think we’re a bit too busy for Hangouts at the moment. But I will definitely bring up getting a reunion going at some point!

  3. That was an inspiring win. Two amazing come from behind victories has us in the semifinals.

    Interesting piece of knowledge on the team meeting but still I’m not gonna go on about the klinsmann criticism. There’s just too much good out of this to spend any time on the negative.

    HHC is such a baller man. I love his toughness and how he doesn’t back down from anyone. For the penalty kick I did think about how Kane had to kick so many in the Euros and failed his last one. Having to make 4 penalties is a lot so I absolutely had no issue with HHC taking that. In the lead up to this tourney he has always been the guy mentioned last but he is so so vital to this run. Hitting the penalty, drawing the foul, and drawing the red card. What a game. After this tourney I hope he rests and scores a crap ton more goals with Wolves, I wonder if he can parlay that into a transfer to one of the top PL teams, Man United? Lol.

    Son is him.

    Jo Hyeon Woo – I hope it’s not lost how big he was again in this game.

    Seol Young Woo – score another goal and you’ll have your IG count explode too! I’m hoping he can move to a European side as well.

    I never saw Yang play and I understand it was against a tired and outnumbered team but man he was impressive. As you said hopefully he can move on to a European side as well.

    Kim Min Jae is a stud. If they can beat Jordan I think it’s sneaky good that he gets a lot of rest.

    For Jordan – please don’t make a stupid error. Make the simple and safe pass if you’re going to play out of the back, it’s infuriating. I hope Sonny’s Dad is training the youngsters how to deal with pressure and make passes and receive in tight spaces.

    I would like to see Jeong Woo Yeong get some PT against Jordan and maybe even Yang. Must score early!

    This tourney has been so exciting and having these come from behind wins are amazing. Why not everyone get on board and enjoy it?

    • I think there is an expectation in our fanbase and public that with guys like SHM or HHC we should be steamrolling everyone, which isn’t true. Yang has played really well at Celtic imo, making the most of his chances. I also think the whole team meeting news was blown out of propirtion and was out of context by the media.

  4. I’m honestly kinda pissed that Iran just beat Japan. I really wanted a 한일전 final.

    But honestly not sure which team would be harder to play in the final…

  5. I’m enjoying the “less tactics” and just letting the players play. The chaos, beauty, and creativity that comes out of our players, I’m all for it. I love how much the players are constantly communicating and yelling at one another. It’s their fucking team and they’re taking control. Stop hating and enjoy the ride.

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