Autopsy Report? Not quite yet: World Cup Group Stage Korea 1:2 Mexico [UPDATED]

Yonhap News

Rostov-on-Don, Russia

One could look at this game and the result from several different prisms – both shading towards positivity and hope on one end and anger/frustration/head shaking cataclysm on the other. But where are my manners, lets contextualize -we are a several long hours after Korea was handed their 2nd defeat in the 2018 World Cup, a 1:2 result that was in some ways predictable from the onset after learning of the starting XI for Korea.

Quick sum up, Mexico exposed Korea’s shambolic defense to open a 2-nil impenetrable lead – that is until one Son Heung-Min delivered a jaw dropping thunderous world class goal (possibly the goal of the tournament thus far) two minutes into stoppage to half the deficit. For 3 minutes Korea was back in the game and on the hunt for a magic equalizer. However, it was too little too late and Korea looked to exit the World Cup in meek fashion — that is until Germany, with troubles of their own, managed to squeak a game winning goal at the death, to not only rescue themselves out of a tremendous hole, but also for Korea a slim yet tangible lifeline in Group F. We’ll explain that permutation later, let’s go to Shin Tae-Yong’s XI selection first to briefly explain the origins of Korea’s 2nd consecutive loss.

A couple of things here – enough to resort to bullet points

  • The obvious one is Moon Seon-min’s inclusion. Sure he had a goal to his name in the Honduras tune up, but anyone really paying attention to his game knows that the intriguing journeyman has energy and…(what else is in his locker?)  The same question from the Korea/Sweden match has to be asked again – where’s Lee Seung-Woo in the starting lineup?  Going back even further – question will rightfully be asked about Shin’s decision to not include Ji Dong-Won, Suk Hyun-Jun and Nam Tae-Hee in the squad, and let’s not forget cutting Lee Chung-Yong from the squad…
  • Ju Se-Jong in the midfield next to Ki…for rotational sake, maybe it could work (?) but did Shin forget about Koo Ja-Cheol?
  • Can Kim Min-Woo shake off the boneheaded penalty against Sweden?  He’s in LB now that Park Joo-Ho is out of the tournament by injuring himself attempting to save Jang Hyun-Su’s mispass from going out of bounds.
  • No Kim Shin-Wook in the XI to clog up the lanes.
  • Questions from several contradicting XI’s issued by the KFA and from FIFA – eventually FIFA changed their formation to reflect a 4-4-2 rather than a 3-5-2 as was originally reported. Bottom line however was a general confusion over the actual formation.

At this point, I’m referring to my scribbly handwritten notes for a recap that highlights important points in the match

Moon Jae-In is the first Korean president to watch Korea play in a World Cup match abroad. Photo: Yonhap News


13′ Korea gets offense rolling, Hwang Hee-Chan doing well to take on a defender, slip past him and get into a dangerous position to switch the ball to Lee Yong – and before the RB could take a shot, Lozano read the cross and tracked back, nay, he blazed it back to deny Lee Yong a chance on goal.

15′ Korea is already ceding the pitch to the Mexicans, only 30% possession at this point (that number will drop even further). Lee Yong with a good bit of defensive work, only for Kim Min-Woo to lose it – resulting in a desperate scramble, with Cho coming way off his line to act as a sweeper and clear the ball at the last moment.

21′ Korea with some golden opportunities – Son latches onto a long ball  – gets the drop on his mark, finds a bit of space and fires off a shot but blocked by the center back. Son gets the ball again – there’s no reinforcements arriving yet – so he fires quickly again, but smothered by the other centerback. He again gets the rebound and tries to round the entire defense – finding a small opening but his third shot goes wide of goal.

23′ After what seemed like a promising attacking spell by Korea, Mexico is on the counter, Chicharito finds Guardado, his cross finds the sliding Jang Hyun-Su and more importantly, his raised arm. The penalty is immediately awarded with VAR backing it up for good measure. Vela takes it and sends Cho going left – his ball goes to the right. [Note: 2nd time in 2 games for Korea that Cho has to manage PKs. Both times he went left – both goals go right. 0 for 2].

Korea 0: 1 Mexico

UPDATE: Incredibly insightful, Mindfootballness on twitter just released their deconstruction of how tactical naïveté on Korea’s part led eventually to the Jang Hyun-Su handball. As you can see, Jang is only at the tail end of a series of team wide tactical mistakes. One could call out Kim Min-Woo, who should’ve cleared the ball properly and very reminiscent of a poor mis-clearance that led to a Bosnia goal in the tuneups a few weeks back (unless that was on Oh Ban-Suk).  Bottom line, Jang and Kim aren’t the only ones who should be called out (hint hint: there’s the guy standing on the sidelines with grim look on his face and arms folded).


27′ Jang continues to execute poorly, a poor backpass leads to yet another Mexican chance on goal.

30′ Hwang Hee-Chan gets fouls 30 yards from goal. Son takes the freekick, there’s power to it, but it ends up a bit too high.

32′ Lee Yong couldn’t link with his teammates properly, stalls a promising attack (though to be fair, was he fouled?). Announcers comment that it’s 89 degrees F / 32 degrees C

38′ Son on another counter – wins a corner kick

42′ Korea defense still allowing Mexico to walk right into their own area. Perhaps some confusion over who was supposed to apply pressure…

45′ A flurry of Korean activity – Korea earning corner kicks but no cigar.

HT and Korea in big trouble. They probably need a win to have any chance of advancing. Korea have never gone 3 consecutive matches without scoring in the World Cup – and they were in danger of breaking that record.  On the positive side, Korea did look far better going forward then in the last World Cup match against Sweden.  Son managed 6 shots in the 1st half, more than the team combined in the previous 90 minutes against Sweden.

47′ Kim Min-Woo hustled off the ball. Ju Se-Jeong hurried pass leads to a turnover. 3 minutes later another Ju Se-Jeong mispass leads to a Mexican chance at scoring another.

51′ MOON SHOOTS AND A POSSIBLE HANDBALL! Korean players surround the ref to check VAR. He’s on the headset, a brief conversation with the VAR crew and he signals PLAY ON. TV replays show the defender bringing his hand to his body before the shot, thus it was considered part of his body and no penalty.

53′ Lee Jae-Sung heavy touch just emblematic of a team struggling to get anything going, while Mexico enjoyed the lion share of possession.

55′ Son loses the ball but captain Ki is right there to send a powerful shot on frame! Ochoa has some trouble containing the shot, but with no Korean strikers in range, eventually tames the bobbling ball.

57′ A pivotal moment in the game, Korea on the attack, but Moon Seon-Min, who didn’t have a bad 1st half, became unglued in the 2nd – the attack stalled with his getting dispossessed again, leading to Mexico to counter. As a consequence, Kim Young-Gwon was handed a yellow on a bad challenge to stop the onslaught, and then some head scratching defending led to a golden chance by Mexico to double their scoreline —that is except for Cho Hyun-Woo to the rescue! A dramatic diving save knocked the ball from going into the top corner of the net!  2 minutes later, it’s again Moon Seon-Min stalling the attack, another penetrating Mexican attack and this time, captain Ki to the rescue, his last ditch block snuffed out what could’ve been another Mexican goal.  Which brings 2 interesting facts at this juncture: 1 is that Ki at this point was the only outfield player with a stellar 100% passing rate (18/18). 2 is the fact he made the tackle in front of his own goal. Was Ki reverting to playing a centerback role again?!?


61′ Lee Jae-Sung shot blocked!  Son looks like he’s dropping deeper to retrieve the ball from the backline – and Ki looks more and more like he’s part of the backline.

The insight at this point: Korea’s transition game, much like against Sweden, looked FAR too slow, allowing Mexico to regroup quickly.  A change was needed. And that change was…

64′ Lee Seung-Woo in for Ju Se-Jeong! Could the Barca academy player help turn things around, or at least bring more pace to the transition?

65′ Death knell for Korea: Ki Sung-Yeung loses the ball in the midfield, a lighting quick counter catches Korea’s fullbacks out of position and it’s suddenly a 3 on 2 (Kim Young-Gwon and Jang Hyun-Su). The ball goes wide to Chicharito and Jang Hyun-Su goes out to challenge him with – you guessed it -a sliding tackle. The ex Man U star easily evades the now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Jang – as he slides out of frame, he witnesses Chicharito score to double the lead.  To be completely fair, Ki Sung-Yeung, while he felt at fault for losing possession in the first place, on replays it shows he was clearly fouled, but the ref didn’t have a great angle to see it. Nevertheless, goal for Mexico, and an unsurmountable lead.

Korea 0:2 Mexico

The next several minutes could be simplified to Moon cross failing to come anywhere near his intended targets, Hwang with a great look at goal but shooting straight to the keeper, and a yellow card to a frustrated Lee Seung-Woo.

75′ A crucial moment for Korea – simply out of ideas at this point with Mexico practically playing keep away WHEN…Hwang intercepts a slow routine backpass to Ochoa!  He decides rather than shooting or rounding the keeper to pass it to Son who was lurking nearby. Upon seeing Hwang seizing the opportunity, Son raced in to provide another outlet. Hwang’s pass to Son was behind him unfortunately; Son wasn’t able to get good footing on ball, and eventually Ki chased down a half chance shot and fouls a defender  – and that was the end of a really great chance to halve the score.

With time running out, Shin Tae-Yong made 2 curious managerial decisions. Here it comes:

77′ Moon Seon-Min out / Jung Woo-Young in.

83′ Kim Min-Woo out / Hong Chul in.

Moon getting subbed out was an admission that his risky move didn’t have the pay off Shin Tae-Yong was hoping for. However his replacement in Jung Woo-Young was odd considering he was a defensive midfielder. The last substitution was even more puzzling – taking out a left back – when they really needed goals…and then the decision to leave Suk Hyun-Jun out of the squad is really coming back to haunt Shin when you consider what the striker options are on the bench.


The last note I have is for the 92nd minute. Quickly breaking down this gem of a goal, Lee Jae-Sung is trying to find space, then finds Son to his left. Son cuts to the inside and with Jung Woo-Young unintentionally screening not just one but two defenders, Son acted quickly and decisively, he curled in his patented shot and blasted it over rows of Mexican defenders, past the outstretched fingertips of Ochoa, and on into the top corner of the net.  It was a shockingly amazing goal and even the biased TV announcers calling it in the US for Fox had to agree:

Korea 1:2 Mexico

Korea scrambled to get the equalizer, but as Lee Seung-Woo found out by giving Son a return pass, Son was out of gas. Too little, too late and Mexico held on to claim all 3 points – a dejected Korea squad falling to the ground and left to ponder what could have been.

But hold on, a few hours later, with Germany in deep trouble, facing a miserable 1:1 draw with Sweden and shorthanded with a red card expulsion of Boateng, Kroos’ devastating freekick goal with only a minute left in stoppage time gave not only the German’s a get out of jail card – it also extended a miraculous lifeline to Korea – because it leaves the race for runner up in Group F WIDE OPEN.


Woops, wrong table, here’s the real one:

So Korea is not out of it (amazingly). For Korea to advance, they need 2 things to happen:

1. Beat Germany, with a 2 goal margin to overcome the goal differential.

2. Mexico needs to beat Sweden.


If Korea is miraculously not out of it, they need a decisive win over Germany, the defending World Cup champs next Wednesday. ADDING to how remarkable it would/could be, there’s this news about captain Ki:

Ki is set to undergo tests tomorrow, specifically for his upper left calf.  The chances for progressing has just become that much more difficult.

UPDATE: This just in on Sunday


Meanwhile, Son got very emotional and cried during a post game interview.

Moon urged the Taeguk Warriors onward in this very emotional locker room meeting:

Closing thoughts

  • Moon Seon-Min starting over Lee Seung-Woo will be seen in a negative light. Moon looked ok in the first half, but really dropped off significantly in the 2nd half. He’s not necessarily a bad player, but world class, he is not. Lee Seung-Woo has more to offer in terms of pace, versatility and creative footwork to create and possibly finish chances. Over the last few matches including the tuneups, Lee looked better as a starter rather than a sub rushed under duress of being tragically behind.
  • The decision to install Hong-Chul and swap a left back for a left back that late in the game facing a 2 goal deficit will be further evidence of Shin Tae-Yong’s managerial disarray and be reviewed when the official autopsy begins after the tournament (and barring a miraculous advancing to the Round of 16). Wasn’t Koo Ja-Cheol a more viable attacking option?
  • The transition game was key. Mexico and Sweden were able to execute that. Korea was noticeably slower on transition, and that killed some momentum.  The struggle to even connect properly, conceding far more of the ball possession to their opponents was a sign that there were significant gaps in quality in amongst their squad. That’s not to say Korea doesn’t have quality players, but perhaps…just not enough. We go back to themes that haven’t really changed in 4 years, the lack of depth, etc. To be continued…
  • Cho Hyun-Woo again comes up big several times in front of net for Korea. One of a few silver linings to Korea’s tournament (thus far).
  • Another positive, Korea created more chances and looked…generally better going forward, particularly in the 1st half. 2nd half, they had some decent opportunities. Had any of those converted, we would be writing a completely different narrative.
  • Korea has now conceded 46 fouls, more than any other side in this World Cup. Media reports point to this being a deliberate Shin Tae-Yong strategy to be somehow more physical to their opponents. Not sure it’s working.
  • Jang Hyun-Su is getting quite a bit of stick from all quarters (particularly netizens) for his share of the goals conceded. He has even been instructed to deactivate his social media account. Sure, even at the Tavern, we’ve criticized his defensive shortcomings (and then some), but that has been known for quite some time. It’s nothing new, AND if we have any kind of influence, it’s not constructive nor right to overtly pile on (or at worst, verbally threaten) Jang – under any circumstances. He’s a player of a football game. At the end of the day, especially to those contemplating yeot throwing at the airport, it’s a game – yes significant to perceived national pride and standards -but the proper perspective is that it is still a game – one that Korea has the potential to improve on. Let’s face it, the manager has to take some measure of responsibility for fielding this roster, as imperfect as it is.  Lee Young-Pyo said it best (cribbing Steve Han’s twitter:

    “Players are just products, but the ones who produce them are our infrastructure and coaches. When this World Cup ends, I hope to speak to the KFA, coaches and players, not to identify who’s at fault, but to discuss who has to do what for us to get better.”

    That said, as much as we can be conciliatory with Jang Hyun-Su, if he were to lose his centerback position for Korea in the near future, let’s just say we wouldn’t be particularly upset.

  • Son’s goal was utterly magnificent. That will give Germany some pause, and you can be sure acres of video will be reviewed to find ways to shut down Son on Wednesday.  And for more plaudits, this:




I want to end with some Lee Young-Pyo quotes (again thanks to Steve Han) that looks at the long game, beyond this World Cup, no matter what happens next Wednesday.  In fact, Lee Young-Pyo said these statements after the loss to Sweden – and they’re practically relevant after this loss to Mexico. The point is not just that it’s a bloody football game; what is more interesting to me is if or when Korea can move the dial and progress from point A to point B. Certainly Korea has come a LONG way from 1954, literally finding rags to procure for their makeshift jerseys, suffering heavy defeats to Hungary and Turkey in their first World Cup (see Tim Lee’s remarkable article on Korea’s 1st entry to the World Cup).  Who can forget the real magic that was in the air in 2002 when Korea overcame the impossible and rode that cinderella run all the way to the semifinals, against the vaunted German machine. But Korean football can’t just play the nostalgia game. The modern game continues to rapidly transform in front of us in real time. Breathing down Korea’s neck, China are making headway in infrastructure investments to building a world class team. Japan is making significant progress with their program; they became the first Asian nation to beat a South American country in the World Cup just last week (maybe Korea gave them the template when they beat Colombia 2:0 last fall).  Lately, Korea seems to have stalled with certain elements of their national program, particularly in the last 2 World Cup cycles (again, Lee Young-Pyo alluded to this). And yet, Korea still manages to produce some outstanding youth talent, and kids like Lee Kang-In are showing that the pipeline isn’t dry.  Korea’s story in football is still unwritten. It is still being forged. For Korea to get from point A to point B in this modern and more competitive era, some serious thinking, followed by the same amount of serious action is required.




Extra time: for the moment in the Germany Sweden match that kept Korea’s tournament alive, here’s Kroos 94′ goal in case you missed it:

















Still here?  This just in a few hours ago: According to transcribed notes, apparently FIFA chief Infantino and Korea President Moon Jae-In watched the match and afterwards Moon brought up the idea of a joint North and South Korean World Cup 2030 bid. Intriguing idea, fraught with geo-political implications, there would be quite a bit of moving parts and obstacles to making this a serious legitimate bid.  We’ll keep tabs on this, but its a fascinating idea, but realistically might only happen if reunification were realized – and that is an incredibly difficult feat to pull off or even imagine. It could however, solve a couple of nagging problems for Korean football development (cough cough, military conscription).


About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
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  1. Thanks for the report. Much gratitude for Roy, you are the man who started this entire fan club!

    I am still shaking my head at the roster.

    1.) Kim Shin Wook. Send his ass home.

    2.) Midfield. Lee Chung Yong, Nam Tae Hee, and Kim Bo Kyung. All three are much better choices than some of the clowns on this roster, especially Moon.

    3.) Forwards. Ji Dong Won and Suk Hyun Jun. These two guys are wayyyyy better than Kim Shin Wook.

    Instead, we get a bunch of no-name domestic league defenders who cannot stop a nosebleed, as we play in the Group of Death in the freaking World Cup!

    I know the Tavern has been closely following the roster and you guys did an awesome job of dissecting this World Cup’s roster. As a die hard fan, to see this kind of play by some of these no name players is just soooo gut wrenching.

    • It’s a strange thing, predicting Korea to struggle in the group stage, but all the indicators pointed to these two results, it’s no surprise. That said, this is a very strange world cup. England just scored 6 goals (they’ve never scored more than 4 goals in World Cup history), Russia advancing to knockout stage (hmmm…awfully suspicious that) and Argentina is nearly out ( ARG tactics in disarray – something Korea supporters unfortunately accustomed to). So could Korea actually get a 2 goal advantage win over Germany? While I wouldn’t count on it, stranger things have happened…

  2. Ive always been wondering how koreas youth players manage school and football? Here in Germany you can easily be decently successful in school and graduate with 1h of disciplined study per day. So you dont have to decide for school OR football. That should highly increase the pool of people actually trying to become proffesionals compared to korea, where youd need to study MUCH more just to be decent and would actually have to decide at the age of 6 to just risk becoming homeless if you really wanted to become a world-class player. Actually I bet no one actually does that so those who actually end up becoming professionals in korea, are those who are very talented and couldve been much better if they spent more time on training.

    Dont think its a coincidence that our best players spent their youths over-seas (LeeSW, PaikSH would easily have become one of KNTs Aces if they didnt get banned). Dont think thats just because they were actually the most talented guys in all of korea, Barca scouts dont see everything. Of course these guys had better coaching over-seas, but dont you think its also due to the fact that they didnt really have to study that much for school?
    So doesnt korean school limit the pool of players and in addition limit their skill levels as they need to sacrifice much training time to be just decent in school?
    Hope someone can give some insights in the life of a korean youth player!

    • I really appreciate your comment and question – a good one re: school and football development. One of the pillars of reform in Korean football needs to focus on getting kids w/ good raw talent (think Hwang Hee-Chan in the Pohang system back in the day) and getting them pro minutes between the ages of 16-18. That happens for some players, but the vast majority are playing for their university sides (attached in some fashion to various K-League clubs). That unfortunately parallels the US pipeline of development – whereby players at that critical age (16-18) are playing for high schools/pay for play local clubs and in particular for colleges and universities rather than playing within professional club infrastructure. It is not the model for world class development at all. Any US based notable players with any chance of becoming world class flee the US NCAA soccer system for the more challenging environs of Europe (think Christian Pulisic). That’s not to say all Koreans need to flee to Europe, the cultural/language barriers are incredibly difficult and not for everyone (those who can acclimate abroad have a better chance to develop chemistry with teammates – think Lee Kang-In now with Valencia B). Back to Korean based development – they’ve really punched above their weight, especially for attacking midfielders (though I have to suspect that developing proper defenders is problematic somewhere at this level, but truly then where things really stall out is getting kids to get pro minutes at K-League clubs. It’s difficult to break down all the various factors, you’d have to also include poor wage structures that discourage talented kids to stay in Korea and it’s domestic system, and not to mention the age hierarchy that favors seniors over speedier faster and possibly more technical kids. And yes, as you mentioned, there’s the perception that uber-schooling is essential so there’s a backup plan in case ACL tear or something of that sort happens. What I’m curious then is to see if there’s any progress being made for footballing academies in Korea to provide that compact academic coursework for kids (1 hr a day? Yes please!) along with a robust, rigorous football training regime (along with a balance of street football absent and blissfully free of over-coaching that explores creative play – ESSENTIAL to growing a independently minded ‘streetwise’ player -this latter part is something the US also struggles with but both the US and Korea need to figure out how to restructure the cultural environment for players to properly develop with best practices). There’s plenty of room to explore with this very topic.

      • Thanks a lot for the insight! I believe though that itd be pretty hard to implement these football academies and have the same results as having a player grow up overseas as no korean parents would send their children to such a school xD
        Theyd only do it in late puberty where itd be clear that their kids would make it to professional level…Im curious though if korean players skill is really suffering considerably due to the school system? At what age / school year does mad studying in Korea start? If not too early, kids could develop their skills enough so a possible carreer could be predicted and then switch to special schools with less studying (without having to risk their future as theyd know that itd pay off) Do youth players visit ordinary schools?
        Its hard to imagine that the school system isnt having an impact on players development…still school cant be too big of a factor as many korean athletes still manage to excell internationally…

  3. Excellent, excellent article. Very well-written!
    Two points:
    1) Loved what you said about Jang Hyunsoo. I wrote about this in the comments yesterday, but kinda feel like saying “He might be a shitty defender, but he’s our shitty defender.” In other words, we’ve been saying it for awhile and nobody seemed to care. Now at the WC, a shit ton of “fans” in Korea who know nothing about this team and only pay attention once every 4 years are ready to throw yeot at him or not let him back in the country. It’s BS- again, I think they’re the cause of the problem since the KFA feels no pressure from fans until right now to make changes that we’ve been following for the past couple years.

    2) If one of Shin Tae Yong’s tactics is to foul a lot, it shows me how backwards his strategy is (not sure it’s actually his tactic, but just going by what you wrote). The fouling that Korea is doing looks so sloppy, pedestrian, and dare I say dirty. We’re not gaining any fans or respect from anyone. If we get to the Round of 16 this way, I’m not gonna be happy. It’s great to be **physical**, but that means out-muscling and bossing the opposing team, CLEANLY. Korea is capable of this- I’ve seen it. But simply kicking the legs of the opposing team is not the same thing. It is part of the game and obviously happens, but the number of times that Korea is doing it is outrageous. It’s honestly the part that bugs me the most about the two games- it’s contributing to the overall sloppy play.

  4. Such a shame that Lee Chung Yong couldn’t make it…even though he has been rusty since he hasn’t played much in Crystal Palace, I think Korea had to bring the experience he had. Also, Lee Seung-Woo needs to play and start!! That kid has the fire and desire in him to prove himself and its quite encouraging to see. Overall, hope there is a significant change in the KFA in the coming years…Korean soccer at this moment isn’t really getting anywhere.

  5. The whole display starting from STY is symptomatic of the serious flaws in Korean. This is by far the most undisciplined KNT squad ever. We just get beaten mentally and that is inexcusable.

  6. Thanks for the post Roy, really appreciate the nuanced writing/takes. Really enjoyed the points you made outside of the Mexico match analysis. I’ve posted my thoughts about the match in a previous post, but I thought Mexico were superior in passing, moving into open space, ball control, possession, speed on the counter, defending in the box and especially, BLOCKING SHOTS. What an incredible block shot that was by Chucky Lozano coming back on the weak side of Lee Yong. That kind of commitment is what you need. As you have pointed out, Carlos Solcedo was tremendous blocking shots. We looked good in the first 25 minutes on the counter, and Sonny’s chance down the left wing in the 39th minute. Sonny’s goal was ridiculous, but by then Mexico knew they had won 10 minutes prior.

    Want to make some comments on what you wrote outside of the Mexico match. It’s clear LYP knows what he is talking about. I noticed when we won the ball back in the Sweden match, they beat us back in their zone when we countered. Shouldn’t happen every time. I know we were playing deep, but when you watch teams like Peru, Morocco, Australia or even Iran bomb up the field on the counter and create havoc, makes us looks very pedestrian. And if LYP did mention there is a fitness problem, well that makes a lot of sense after having seen these 2 matches. If you compare us to the more serious contenders like France or even a team like Colombia today, we look lethargic. I’d say that’s a problem.

    I believe we should no longer talk about “Korea having come a long way since the 50’s” and “we have good attacking players, we are doing something right” and other positive phrases that Korean people use to try and justify in their mind that something is working. IT’S NOT WORKING. In 9 straight World Cups, we will have only qualified to the R16 in 2. Two out of Nine. That’s atrocious. I know there are countries out there that would love to qualify for one WC, but that’s not the point. Qualifying for 9 straight World Cups and not learning much on how to develop/nurture players that are of enough quality to compete on the global stage is, well, a really bad & terrible case of cognitive dissonance & a lack of ambition, creativity, imagination and planning.

    From all the way back to Mexico 1986, Italy 1990, USA 1994, etc, the same comment was made about the KMNT. “They have a lot of determined fast players on the pitch. There’s not much structure, defense, offensive creativity in the final third, or good goal keeping, but they try hard!” Fast forward to 2018 and you can basically say the same thing (aside from the GKer and Sonny). Yes, there are some players that crack a glass ceiling and get into a European club, but fairly few do. And the ones that do, usually end up in mid-table or lower ranked teams.

    2002 was a flash in the pan for Japan/Korea. Many of these players who played on the 2006 versions of their national team looked very average to mediocre 4 years later on neutral fields in Germany. Let’s face it, a huge chunk of the way Japan/S.Korea played in 2002 was because of the fact they were on home field, and it was a substantial advantage. The crowds for Japan/S.Korea matches in their stadiums were absolutely unreal, and I’d love to see either of these countries possibly hosting another WC, it would be a great party! But as we are now 16 years past, they seem like an isolated outlier.

    With the way the KMNT backed into qualification for the 2014 and 2018 WC’s, I think it’s simply a matter of time before some of the other Asian countries catch up. It could start as early as 2022, if it’s still a 32 team tournament, Korea is not guaranteed to qualify IMO. They are losing their advantage and I believe a lot of these other Asian countries can look at the KMNT performances from 2014/2018 and think “They’re not that good, we can take them”. If they aren’t, they should be, because I see a downward trajectory.

    Time to do something different, shake it up and be committed to a new methodology. They cannot assume they will simply qualify for every WC without changing anything.

    • Totally with you. I think one can look at progress from a contextualized prism and see significant progress and yet if someone in 2002 were to be isolated in a biosphere experiment and cut off from the outside world until 2018, they should reasonably expect Korea to have made advances in their devoplement program. The objective viewpoint is that it has in some ways and seems to have stalled in others and/or regressed. If military conscription was a problem then (temporarily ameliorated by the one time presidential exemption of the 2002 squad), one could reasonably expect some sort of legislative progress to figure out a reasonable solution to balance national security concerns with the ability to advance the national football program. Yet the backward mentality of maintaining the status quo (only a few like Lee Young-Pyo have challenged that) because of “sensitivities” of the situation means that Korea is now looking at Japan as the team to catch up to in Asia, and will likely be behind China in a matter of years, not decades. Military conscription is only one of several factors why this is happening. Korea fell behind, despite the solutions being quite reachable.

      Look at how organized and stable the J League is structurally in comparison to the K League. Korea let this happen. Now many in Korea are simply content eating fried chicken and taking in the spectacle of “watching” overweight baseball players “run” around while football stadiums grow silent with the exception of crickets. It’s quite frustrating to witness this decline but there are ways to turn this around. The story going forward is if/when/how this happens.

      • I nod in agreement of what you have said, but I would take it back until around 1994, around the time the world found out the 2002 WC was going to be in S.Korea/Japan. From that year until today in 2018, there should have been a trail of evidence to suggest systemic improvement. I’m not suggesting to evenly compete with the elite teams of course, but the ability to have around a 50% chance of winning against most above average European/South American teams on neutral fields. It’s clear the athletes on the pitch now are better and some are good enough to go to Europe, but the offensive creativity in the final third, defense, knowing what to do in the box in stressful situations, etc…it’s still not there.

        China’s lack of success really is befuddling to me. I would have to think the tangle of bureaucracy that dominates China’s political culture may be a contributing factor to their ability to nationalize & execute a program. I don’t know, but something tells me it’s politics. We are certainly behind Japan not only in professional & amateur league infrastructure, but also tactically. Possession based football is incredibly hard, and although they pay for it at times, I still think they have the right mindset/approach for their National Team. They know they are small, they know they will always have a physical disadvantage, but they have to make up for it with retaining the ball, moving into open spaces well, and being creative on defense (ie. the offside trap against Senegal on set plays). Their patient approach to building amateur teams being closely linked with regional communities, and the established J-League Promotion/Relegation structure will reap rewards. They are creating a culture and want it to stick. It’s an incredible, patient approach but they will be rewarded if they stick with it.

        We are also behind Iran. It is unclear to me why South East Asia seems to be the last bastion of the world that cannot break through the ceiling, but I would imagine it will be a matter of time (ie. Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam). The KFA has to understand that a complacent approach is on borrowed time.

  7. Jeez Son, watching him bawl made me feel really bad and also made me realize that these players want to win as bad as we do. Korean netizens and people like us can criticize as much as we want and brush it off like nothing. I wish everyone on this team was like Son.

  8. Am I the only one who thinks Moon resembles a used car salesman or a snake oil televangelist? The whole thing with making Son say “Fighting” kind of took his dignity away while he was sobbing- treating him like a child. Why couldn’t he let a grown man be emotional without making it awkward?

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