The opening game of the Asian Cup for Korea ended in a 3-1 win against Bahrain. Bahrain is a team that in the past we’ve had some difficulty against, in the past. We did have some difficulty, not entirely because we played poorly, but also because some blatantly biased refereeing. Read on for some of my personal thoughts on the game:
Hwang Hee Chan, Kim Jin Su, and Lee Jae Sung picked up injuries in training after arriving in Qatar. Hwang is expected to be out for the first two games (please please please let him still be in form after coming back), Kim Jin Su for 2-3 weeks, and LJS had the most minor injury. To my surprise he would start the game – I thought it’d be JWY or HHS.
The other strong teams who played before us struggled a bit. Australia could only manage two past one of the weakest teams in Asia (India), Iran conceded against Palestine, Uzbekistan drew 0-0 against Syria, and Japan conceded two to Vietnam and at one point were 2-1 down. Just shows you that the Asian Cup trophy really isn’t easy…
Overall thoughts on the match
Seeing more negativity than positivity in the reactions to this game. Some things did cause concern, yes, and I will get into that, but overall I thought played OK given the cards that were dealt to us. I wrote this in the comments before writing this post:
Yes, we struggled more than we should have, but this game was not a normal game. These guys fouled and got away with it, or kept falling to the ground unnecessarily, and also got away with it. It’s insane that the ref bought it, giving us fouls for merely touching a Bahrain player while letting them get away with studs up tackles and even red cardable offenses. If a team’s entire gameplan is to not let you play football, yeah we’re not gonna look good. I think the highlight reel makes us look worse than we really were because it highlights the 2-3 chances Bahrain actually got. We were never in danger of losing or drawing today, admittedly thanks to individual brilliance, but perhaps the scoreline obscures the fact that the game was actually quite difficult.
For my rant on the referee see the last section below (what I posted immediately after the game).
There was also a small tactical aspect that went wrong for us. Klinsmann’s 4-4-2 is really thin in the midfield (any 4-4-2 is tbh) and given that Hwang In Beom is more of an offensive #8 than a defensive one, he was usually higher up the pitch too, leaving only Park Yong Woo to cover the entirety of the middle of the park (something which left us vulnerable on the counter). Bahrain on the other hand totally crowded out the middle, played compact, and didn’t 100% turtle. This way we had very little options for passing into the center from the wide areas, the distance that the passes from wide into the middle increase making it easier to intercept, and we often had to bypass the center midfield completely to make chances. We were actually able to make chances because of Kim Min Jae and Lee Kang In playing insane throughballs and long balls (Minjae was responsible for setting up goal #1) – but if we didn’t have two world class players as above we might have drawn or lost this one. We need to make tweaks to our system to prevent things like this from happening again.
The negatives I’m taking away is that it took us a good while to adapt to this, that we still had some defensive lapses (as usual), and we relied on individual brilliance to get us back to winning. These factors really don’t bode well for winning a tournament. And we should not be relying on one man’s genius to beat Asian minnows. But even favorites Japan and Australia didn’t look the most convincing in their first game, and it’s a long and tough road ahead before reaching the final. Every team has things that they can work on. It’s luck and adaptability and determination that’ll lead to the trophy. And hopefully it’s us this time.
Lee Kang In is surely everyone’s man of the match this game. A goal out of nowhere to put Korea in the league, a calm finish after juking a defender for the 3-1, seven successful dribbles, and several key crosses and through passes gifting Cho Gue Sung and Son Heung Min easy 1v1s that were squandered. Lee Kang In not only has nerves of steel in hitting that 2-1 and taking the extra touch to beat the defender for the 3-1, but also has this winning mentality that maybe Son Heung Min doesn’t. After the match he went to the press saying (paraphrasing here) “our game plan doesn’t change even after conceding. If we concede it’s the job of the attackers to score more.” He even appeared a little bit annoyed after scoring, as if scolding his teammates for not being clinical earlier.
Lee Kang In, I think, will be a stronger force for the NT than Son ever was. Son has ALWAYS played better for club than for country, and although he can put the team on his back at times, it’s not consistent. Park Ji Sung was a player who was great for both. Lee is turning out to be more like Park Ji Sung – someone who can seize the key moments in a game and single handedly bring us the W. Someone who actually plays just as well on the NT as his club. What a special player we have.
Other players with a shout for MOTM include Hwang In Beom (assist for #3, scored #1, influential all match) and Kim Min Jae (truly the best CB in the world – does everything right).
An interesting point – is Park Jin Seob the better DM? Park Yong Woo did okay today, but PJS surprised me with his passing and aerial ability. Though to be fair, he did get subbed in when everyone was tired. I could see PYW and PJS rotating throughout the tournament.
Cho and Son obviously had off days. Cho surely must be rusty considering the Danish Superliga went on break on 12/4. Jung Seung Hyun and Lee Ki Je had some defensive lapses as expected. The former was the one who deflected the ball for Bahrain’s goal, and he also lost his marker around the 32′. I wonder if it might be worth the tradeoffs of putting KMJ on the right and KYK on the left. Esp if we can’t play Lee Ki Je and play a FB pairing of Seol Young Woo on the left and Kim Tae Hwan on the right such that KMJ’s covering of LKJ’s space isn’t necessary. The rest of the players I thought were OK.
Jordan is the strongest opposition we will face, on paper (I think they’ve been slightly stronger than Bahrain in recent years). Their #10 Al-Taamari plays for Montpellier, scored twice against Malaysia (the weakest team in the group), and has 3 Ligue One goals this season. We cannot afford to draw.
I reckon we will see the same lineup against Jordan, but in order to ensure that our players are available for the group stage games, maybe we should have at least Son Heung Min and Kim Min Jae pick up intentional yellow cards and rest them against Malaysia. We should probably do the same for the other yellow carded guys Lee Ki Je, Park Yong Woo, and Cho Gue Sung. Maybe Cho should just keep playing to get his form back up to speed?
What I posted at 5:30 AM right after the game:
- The main talking point of this match is easily going to be the terrible refereeing. This game just reaffirms how AFC refereeing standards are garbage. And man middle eastern teams… we touch one player and they go down, rolling in floor clutching their faces, looking for the ref to bail them out. And somehow the awful refs buy it and we end up getting 5 yellows (some deserved, some not esp Son Heung Min’s “dive”) and many many more fouls. The ref also completely looked over numerous reckless challenges including a very deliberate kick to Son Heung Min’s legs nowhere near the ball early in the second half that literally any other ref would have at the very least given a yellow (some would have given a straight red). The several other two-studs-up challenges, the hit on Lee Kang In’s knee again when the defender was nowhere near the ball, and the intentional stomp on Seol Young Woo towards the end also could’ve been reds to a competent ref. This Chinese ref was 100% on a mission to punish Korea – I’m not being biased here. Anyone who watched this match could tell. The fact that middle eastern teams have played this way for decades and get away with it, and that refs allow it, is crazy. You know you suck when your playing style is weaponizing the ref.
- Lee Kang In can carry this team on his back. Wow he is something special. Enough said.
- Huge off day for SHM and CGS both of whom missed a couple of sitters. Bailed out by LKI creating that goal out of nowhere. CGS seemed invisible all game minus those sitters.
- Park Jin Seob may actually be the deserving starting DM over PYW. Solid showing today and I expect articles on this in the media. Admittedly though he came on at the right time when Bahrain sort of gave up.
- Unlucky goal to concede, unlucky for the deflection to fall straight into an incoming attacker. Next two games will be clean sheets.
- Team was OK overall. We will get better as we progress and Hwang Hee Chan comes back.
- Was there a perv behind the cameras this game? Every interruption in play and we got shots of Korean women in the stands. Maybe 5% were Bahrain fans or male Korean fans but the vast majority of the time… surely you guys noticed this too