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.
— Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) June 23, 2018
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
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).
Key moment analysis from #KORMEX
Great example of using spaces, which opponent is not aware of. Defending is not individual aspect of the game and couldn't be focused only on the ball and this video, clearly explains why. @theKFA @taeguk_warrior @KORFootballNews @RealSteveScores pic.twitter.com/Cy4veLkQZC
— Mindfootballness (@slawekmorawski) June 24, 2018
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:
It may not have mattered in the end, but Son's goal was a BEAUTY. #KORMEX
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) June 23, 2018
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 Sung-yueng highly unlikely to play against Germany last week after sustaining a leg injury of some sort during the Mexico game. He was injured after Korea had used all three substitutions and had to play fulltime.
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) June 23, 2018
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
— Korea Football News (@KORFootballNews) June 24, 2018
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:
How can you not cry at this man..
Heung Min Son and President Moon Jae In in the changing rooms.
Moon Jae In :
“Everyone in Korea will feel down, however, you fought until the end and we are very thankful for that.
We play the champions next, please fight hard again”#손흥민 #KOR pic.twitter.com/b0GuEETU47
— 기연이에용~!! (@ZionPark_) June 24, 2018
- 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:
Clarence Seedorf on Son Heung-min’s goal via Fox Sports 1: “Best goal of the tournament so far.”
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) June 23, 2018
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.
Ex-Korea leftback Lee Young-pyo in Rostov: "Our defensive organization against Sweden was good, but once we dispossessed them, we needed to counter much quicker. As we were regaining possession, 2-3 players should've made runs through the wings, but we struggled with that."
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) June 22, 2018
Lee YP: "I said the same thing in 2014. What's changed since? Nothing. I may be saying the same thing in Qatar four years from now. Korean football needs a revolutionary change."
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) June 22, 2018
Lee YP on the remaining 2 games: "A part of me is looking forward to our players' fighting spirit. We've shown before that we can fight against the odds, but how much longer do we rely on that fighting spirit? We'd be better off if we were simply good at the basics of the game."
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) June 22, 2018
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:
IN GRAPHIC via @OneVolante: Carlos Salcedo with 6 blocked shots against Korea. 3 of them were taken by Son Heung-min. The 32 teams (as a TEAM) at the World Cup have so far averaged 2.9 blocked shots per game. Mexico blocked 9 today. pic.twitter.com/ac8emUYPbx
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) June 24, 2018
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).
Moon expressed optimism about prospect of co-hosting 2030 World Cup with N.Korea, to which FIFA Pres. responded, "It's only been a year since you mentioned the Korean co-host. Didn't feel realistic then, but a lot happened in the meantime. You've done a lot. Everyone loves you." pic.twitter.com/kDdTqqWRRu
— Min Joo Kim (@Min_Joo_Kim_) June 24, 2018