Back to (almost) square one: Russia 2 Korea 1

The team made their first foray onto foreign shores under Hong Myeong-Bo last night, as the team faced off against Russia in Dubai. In the end it was a disappointing match that ended up being a 2-1 Russian victory. While the end result was disappointing, the way the team played, and in some ways approached the match, was even more disappointing for me. We just recorded the latest podcast, but I fear I was a bit on the rambling and incoherent side (6am, slept about 4.5 hours), so this will be a more comprehensive review.

The Team

Hong made five changes to the side that started against Switzerland. Out went Kim Bo-Kyung, Jang Hyun-Soo, Lee Yong, Kim Jin-Su, and Kim Seung-Kyu. In came Lee Keun-Ho, Park Jong-Woo, Shin Kwang-Hoon, Park Joo-Ho, and Jung Sung-Ryong. On paper, Korea maintained their 4-2-3-1 shape, but in reality the team functioned more like a 4-4-2 or 4-2-4.

football formations

1st Half

The first half was a very open game. Both teams attempted to gain the upper hand, but both were guilty of some very sloppy play. Russia in the first 10-15 minutes or so, often passed the ball straight to Korean players, allowing some dangerous chances. Korea’s goal, scored by Kim Shin-Wook, was another example of poor play. A corner came in, was headed back in from the far post, and the Russian defender simply knocked the ball down to the feet of Kim Shin-Wook. Russia’s equalizer was of equally, if not more, poor play, when a tame cross squirmed under Jung Sung-Ryong, allowing the Russian player to easily tap in.

Korea asserted more pressure after the Russian goal, but few real chances came. The attack seemed far to disconnected from the defense, and the team was forced to resort to a very direct style of play, which Russia seemed quite comfortable in dealing with. Similarly, Russia was unable to really create any chances at the other end, with Hong Jeong-Ho and Kim Young-Gwon generally marshaling any Russian attacks.

2nd Half

In the second half, the game really ceased to be a contest of teams. Rather it became a chance for individuals to show what they could do. Both teams eventually made wholesale changes, and the shape and styles of play were generally lost. Nam Tae-Hee was the first to enter for Korea, with Kim Shin-Wook making way. This was an attempt, perhaps to re-shape Korea more like they were against Mali, with the more diminutive Lee Keun-Ho up top, and three attacking players behind him. Shortly after Kim Bo-Kyung entered for Lee Chung-Yong. Then Ji Dong-Won for Son Heung-Min, and Ko Myeong-Jin for Ki Sung-Yueng. By then, Korea looked extremely disjointed with each player just kind of doing their own thing and hoping that they linked up. Russia’s winner came from a corner. Their was nothing special to it. He just out-jumped the defender.


Tactically, I feel this match can only really be looked at for the 1st half. In the 2nd half both teams made so many changes that it really lost it’s shape, and became more of an individual run-out for other players to show what they have (rather than a match where a team was trying to win).

Hong had said in the build-up prior to the match that since this was the last friendly until next year, that he would try out some different things. And certainly that appeared to be the case. As mentioned earlier, the team seemed to operate more as a 4-2-4. A very attack-minded formation, that is predicated on pressing high and pinning the opposition deep in their half. The slightly more open defense is (supposedly) shielded by this. Opposing teams don’t have time to build from the back, and are forced to play more hopeful long passes to the forwards, who are often isolated, thus allowing the team to win the ball back quickly and re-assert attacking pressure.

To an extent, the tactic worked. During the first half, Korea had the bulk of the possession, and Russia struggled to create much. In that aspect the plan worked. The problem came in attack, where the attacking four didn’t create much, and later when Russia realized that if they could get the ball into midfield, they had a man advantage (usually 3v2) and Korea would have to retreat into a more standard 4-4-2 shape. Once Korea did that, Russia was able to attack with more conviction. But back to the bigger problem, the lack of fluidity in attack. A slight surprise, given that those same four players did quite well against the Swiss in the second half of that match.

In this match though, three of them, Lee Keun-Ho, Son Heung-Min, and Lee Chung-Yong seemed much more subdued. Perhaps the travel did them in a bit, or maybe a bit of Russian physicality, but either way, they didn’t have the same impact as last week. The trio looked slightly less fluid, and a bit sluggish. Their touches often heavy, and nothing really seemed to go like they wanted. I don’t have any long-term worries about them, and suspect it was probably more of a one-off.

Player Ratings

Jung Sung-Ryong 5.0 – An absolute howler for him, and one that likely cost him (at least for now) the number 1 shirt.
Shin Kwang-Hoon 6.0 – Nothing good or bad from the Pohang man. Didn’t contribute much to the attack, and wasn’t really tested defensively.
Hong Jeong-Ho 6.5 – Decent night for Hong. Almost got caught out again attempting to play the offside trap, but was bailed out by a slightly wayward pass.
Kim Young-Gwon 6.5 – Decent night. Nothing really of note.
Park Joo-Ho 6.0 – Looked a bit lethargic. Didn’t seem to have the energy that Kim Jin-Su does.
Park Jong-Woo 6.0 – Can’t really remember much from Park Jong-Woo. Doesn’t seem to partner Ki extremely well. Tried to stay deeper and more defensive, but it’s really not his natural game.
Ki Sung-Yueng 6.0 – Muted performance. Got forward a bit, but wasteful when shooting.
Lee Chung-Yong 6.5 – Looked the brightest of the attackers, but his touch was off and his decision-making seemed a tad too slow.
Lee Keun-Ho 6.0 – Brought a spark to proceedings against the Swiss, looked lost against the Russians. Didn’t seem to know when to make runs into space or drop deeper.
Son Heung-Min 6.0 – Fairly anonymous. His touch let him down, and he seemed to lack that burst to beat defenders.
Kim Shin-Wook 6.0 – Knocked down passes, played some others in.
Nam Tae-Hee 6.0 – Sub 46′. Had a nice free kick saved. Made a couple runs. Doesn’t seem quite ready to deal with bigger, more physical teams.
Kim Bo-Kyung 6.5 – Sub 59′. The closest to a standout performer, but even his performance wasn’t outstanding. Brought some energy to things, and seemed a legit goal threat. Unfortunately most of the other starters departed already or were about to.
Ji Dong-Won 5.5 – Sub 66′. Failed to make any real impact.
Ko Myeong-Jin 5.5 – Sub 70′. Same as Ji, failed to really make any impact on things.
Hong Myeong-Bo 5.5 – Thought he chopped and changed a bit too much, and that by doing so he disrupted the momentum the team was building.

Final Thoughts

Disappointing to say the least. The result is a bit harsh, and 1-1 would have been fairer. Neither side played well, and neither really deserved to win. I understand Hong’s desire to test out some other players and ideas, but felt that he went too far this time. Matches, ‘A’ matches more specifically, are few and far between from now until the World Cup, and it seems to me that Hong needs to be focusing more on solidifying his team and ideas, rather than experimenting and mixing things up. His decision to start Jung Sung-Ryong in goal was baffling as was the decision to start Park Joo-Ho. Why was Jung dropped for the Swiss game? His poor form for Suwon. Did he suddenly get better overnight? No. And in that case, Kim Seung-Kyu should have continued between the posts. Kim Jin-Su was on the receiving end of plenty of praise last week, so to suddenly drop him for a player that wasn’t even on the initial list is a bit strange to me.

Kim Shin-Wook was the player under the biggest spotlight coming in. He showed enough for us to say that he deserves, and should, go to Brazil, but he certainly isn’t the answer to our striking woes. Personally, I don’t feel like we’ve learned anything new about Kim. I saw basically the same things that I saw when he played against Iran under Choi Kang-Hee. People say he improved his ground game, I didn’t really see it. He’s useful, but that’s about it.

If there’s any lesson that was learned from these two matches, it’s that Korea can compete with very good teams when they play together and work well as a team. Individually they aren’t good enough. And to be honest few are capable of breaking other teams down by themselves at the international level. Against Switzerland they did this, and were rewarded with a solid performance and win. Against Russia they didn’t, and it showed.

World Cup Rounding Into Shape

Virtually all of the playoffs are done with, and in the end there were few surprises. In Europe, Portugal, Croatia, France, and Greece won their matches to advance to Brazil. In Africa, Algeria, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon all advanced. Tonight and tomorrow, the two inter-continental ties will officially be decided (although Mexico and Uruguay would need monumental collapses to not make it). It’s not official yet, but the pots would appear to be:

Pot 1: Brazil, Spain, Columbia, Germany, Uruguay, Switzerland, Argentina, Belgium

Pot 2: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Iran

Pot 3: Chile, Ecuador, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Algeria

Pot 4: Netherlands, Italy, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Portugal, Croatia, Greece, Russia, England

Special Pot: France (lowest ranked pot 4 UEFA team)

The final draw is on December 6.

About Jae Chee 337 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


    • The way the top pot is likely to shake out (with Uruguay technically being unknown), there would be 9 non-seeded UEFA teams. In the past when that happens, the lowest ranked team drops into a “special pot” by themselves. That team can only be drawn into a group with a non-UEFA seeded team to ensure that each group has at most 2 UEFA teams. In reality they fill the vacant spot in pot 3 (which has 7 teams, 2 non-seeded COMNEBOL and 5 CAF).

  1. There were quite a few long balls in the 2nd half. Always a bad sign and to me that indicates our inability to deal with a pressing side. Some like to call this fluidity issues.

    • I actually didn’t think that Russia pressed that much. The long balls were just the result of the players on the field. It wasn’t a group that builds from the back. The idea, in theory (I think), is that the back (Hong, Kim, or Ki) plays a direct pass to the forwards, who then combine in the final third to create chances.

      • Fari enough. I was half asleep when I watched the 2nd half and from what I remember, a lot of the one on ones seemed to result in our guys on the ground or easily being shaken off balls. But you are right. There were a lot of substitutions in the 2nd half that I wasn’t paying much attention to.

        I know I should not, but Japan handling business in Brussels today is adding to my frustrations honestly. Our federations are in two different leagues it appears, and they are really pulling away. Jello

        • The second half was piss poor. The Russians were physical, but for the most part they were content to drop back and only go in when Korea came into their half. Korea was sloppy. Touches were too heavy, or players waited on the ball too long.

          We’ll see how it turns out for Japan. They’ve been scheduling tough opposition since they qualified. That gamble might ultimately pay off for them. But yes, the difference between the JFA and KFA has long been a talking point over the past year or two.

          • Japan did very good against Netherlands by tying 2-2 and Japan beat Belgium 3-2. IMO Belgium is a stronger team than Switzerland. Korea continues to get these poor results while Japan is getting stronger and stronger. Kim Seung Gyu should become starting goalkeeper, Korea should learn to always link up together no matter what player is on the field just like Japan. With Japan the team chemistry seamed very high with the team linking up with each other very well. Korea needs to learn from this.

          • I thought the Switzerland game regained my confidence for the KNT but the Russia ruined my confidence again.

          • Belgium is a top 4 Euro team imo and will be gunning for it this summer. That was a very impressive win today. Its amazing to me how fast they outstripped us. Bigsoccer gurus will argue against this laughably but those jokers are in denial.

          • It was impressive for Japan, both results, against Belgium and the Dutch. I do think Japan has left us behind in the past few years, and feel that it’s largely due to the stability they’ve had at manager. Zaccheroni has been there since 2010, Hong since last summer. When the WC rolls around, Zac will have been there four years, Hong less than one, and in those four years the team will have gone through three very different managers. So basically, the team has been re-build/re-structured every year.

          • I bring this up very often but I have to restate this. Cho Kwang Rae should never have been fired in 2012. 13 wins, 5 draws, and 3 losses when Korea had Cho as coach I think.

          • His record was good, but some questions were creeping in at the end (player selection, tactical stubbornness). I agree though that his firing was hasty, and it’s hard to argue (with the benefit of hindsight) that Choi Kang-Hee was an improvement. Politics is what did him in ultimately.

  2. In my opinion Jung Sung Ryong is the reason why Korea can’t build up play…
    When players start clicking en playing their own game, a ball gets to Jung and BOOM,
    he schoots the ball as far as he can and by that, losing possession, every time.
    In the Swiss game, Kim Seung Gyu was relaxed with the ball, seeking a player to play to, and keep possession and being able to play their own game instead of losing it and running after the other team.
    I’m from Holland, and the national team isn’t always performing well, but our keepers are always calm and good with their feet, so that the team can play their own game.

    Keep up the good (foot) work!!


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