South Korea began their AFC U-23 Championship campaign today against Uzbekistan in Doha, Qatar. The U-23 Championship is doubly important this time around as it also doubles as the final qualification for the coming Rio Olympics. In case anyone has forgotten a medal at the Olympics = military exemption, something all of these players will want in order to further their football careers. Korea was placed in a slightly difficult group (C) that contains: Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Iraq.
Shin Tae-yong used the earlier warm up matches to experiment with different players and formations. In the end, he went with the 4-4-2 diamond formation.
Seongnam keeper Kim Dong-jun was in goal. The backline consisted FC Seoul’s Shim Sang-min, Suwon’s Yeon Jei-min, Mito Hollyhock’s Song Ju-hun, and Jeonnam’s Lee Seul-chan. The midfield saw Seoul’s Park Yong-woo as the holding midfielder, Jeju’s Lee Chang-min and Pohang’s Moon Chang-jin in the wider roles, and Leverkusen’s Ryu Seung-woo in the advanced role. The two-top strikeforce consisted of RB Salzburg’s Hwang Hee-chan and Incheon’s Jin Seong-uk. The lineup was largely as expected, but the one slight surprise was the absence of Suwon’s Kwon Chang-hoon.
Korea opened the scoring in the 20′ when Otabek Shukurov was adjudged to have handled Hwang Hee-chan’s cross in the area. Replays showed that the call was a poor one, with the ball hitting Shukurov in the chest/shoulder area rather than his arm. Nonetheless, the penalty was given. Moon Chang-jin took it, and comfortably converted to give Korea a 1-0 lead. Other than that, clear cut chances were few and far between. Jin Seong-uk had already wasted Korea’s best chance when he got through one-on-one, but was denied by the Uzbekistan keeper. Korean keeper Kim Dong-jun likewise needed to be alert when a Yeon Jei-min gifted the ball to Uzbekistan. Yeon attempted to back head a long goal kick, but misjudged the flight of the ball and it ended up just rolling off his back and to an Uzbek player. Kim Dong-jun did well to deny him a goal.
Korea got off to a much better start in the second half. Again, Hwang Hee-chan was the protagonist as his pace and dribbling gave the Uzbekistan defense fits. Hwang dribbled into the Uzbek area from the left, beat a man, and drove a cross across the face of goal. The keeper and defenders couldn’t get to it, but Moon Chang-jin did and his powerful shot from a tight angle bulged the net to give Korea a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately Korea wasn’t able to keep a clean sheet as 10 minutes later Uzbekistan pulled one back. Dostonbek Khamdamov got the ball outside the Korea penalty area and unleashed a rocket of a shot that Kim Dong-jun couldn’t get a hand to. Was this a beginning of the tide turning back in favor of Uzbekistan? It wasn’t to be as a little while after, Jamshid Boltaboev was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Lee Chang-min. Near the center circle, the two went for a loose ball, but it was Lee Chang-min who got there first. Boltaboev’s challenge wasn’t malicious in intent, but he didn’t get any of the ball, and his studs did end up coming down on Lee Chang-min’s right knee. Neither side was able to create any more good chances, and the match ended 2-1.
(My memory isn’t good enough to write player ratings, so I’ll just write some general thoughts/feelings on some of the players)
- Hwang Hee-chan would be my ‘Man of the Match’. Hwang was the team’s most dangerous player, and really the only one that was able to create any chances for the team.
- Moon Chang-jin will get most of the plaudits probably because of the goals, but other than those two moments he was fairly quiet. Korea attacked the Uzbekistan right side a lot, and Moon Chang-jin was on the other side, so that was a factor.
- Lee Chang-min was solid, and hopefully his withdrawal (which looked forced after the knee incident) and injury aren’t too bad.
- Yeon Jei-min was good for the most part, but the brainfart he had is slightly disconcerting if only because it seems to be something that plagues Korean centerbacks in general. Fortunately it didn’t cost the team this time around.
- Jin Seong-uk was largely anonymous, and I wonder if he should start again. I understand the reasoning to have a more traditional center forward in the line-up, but it just didn’t seem to work.
- Kwon Chang-hoon ultimately didn’t do a whole lot in the 30 minutes he got, but his talent and skill did shine through.
- Ryu Seung-woo also did not have a great game, and struggled to deal with the Uzbek press. Perhaps he’s rusty from not playing with Leverkusen, but he’ll need to get his act together quickly if he’s to continue as a starter.
A good result, but not a good performance. The attack looked disjointed again, and it successful attacks were largely down to Hwang Hee-chan’s individual performance. The defense looked good though (Yeon Jei-min’s horror moment aside), and that’s always a plus. The looks good enough to get out of the group, and should have a very good chance at making the top three, however, the attack will certainly need to find more cohesion if they want to make a run at winning the whole event.
Pohang Fans Dream of What Might Have Been
Seeing Hwang Hee-chan and Moon Chang-jin link up must’ve brought some Pohang fans a little bit of sadness. Moon Chang-jin has been a part of the Pohang first team for a few years now, but Hwang Hee-chan turned down the opportunity in order to move to Europe. I’m sure that some fans had thoughts about what if Hwang had stuck around for a year or two. Would his talent have been enough to get Pohang another title? Him, Moon Chang-jin, Kim Seung-dae, Son Joon-ho, and the rest. Curious.
Korea will face Yemen on Saturday at 10:30PM KST. Yemen lost 0-2 to Iraq in their opener.