It was dramatic stuff to end a match that was, for the most part, anything but. Lee Keun-Ho put Korea in front, only to see Khalfan Ibrahim to equalize minutes later. A devastating draw seemed to be the likely outcome until Son Heung-Min poked the rebound in from a Lee Dong-Gook shot that hit the crossbar in the 5th minute of stoppage time.
Even though all the news and reports leading up to the match hinted that Choi Kang-Hee would go 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2, in the end he reverted back to the 4-2-3-1. The starting XI was largely as expected, with the exception of Kim Shin-Wook starting up top ahead of Lee Dong-Gook. Kwak Tae-Hwi recovered from his leg knock to start. So, at the beginning it looked like this:
Ji Dong-Won / Lee Keun-Ho / Lee Chung-Yong
Koo Ja-Cheol / Ki Sung-Yueng
Park Won-Jae / Jung In-Hwan / Kwak Tae-Hwi / Oh Beom-Seok
Choi Kang-Hee would only use two substitutions this match, with Lee Dong-Gook coming in for Ji Dong-Won, and then Son Heung-Min coming in for Lee Keun-Ho. After Lee Dong-Gook came in, the formation reverted to more of a 4-4-2, with Lee Dong-Gook and Kim Shin-Wook playing up top, Lee Keun-Ho drifting wide, and Koo Ja-Cheol and Ki Sung-Yueng pushed higher up. The Son Heung-Min/Lee Keun-Ho sub was like for like.
1st Half Analysis
The first half was definitely low on quality from both sides with neither creating many chances. Korea seemed a bit lethargic, with sloppy passing and slow movement off the ball. Touches were often heavy and possession was lost far too easily, especially in the first 10-15 minutes. Only Lee Chung-Yong seemed up for the match, making some nice dribbles, but his teammates weren’t up for it, and usually there was no good pass to make (due to poor off-the-ball movement). Lee Keun-Ho did well, but clearly looks a step slower than he was last season with Ulsan. Playing in the second tier with Sangju Sangmu (the army team) does seem to have affected him a bit. Ji Dong-Won, Kim Shin-Wook, Ki Sung-Yueng, and Koo Ja-Cheol were all fairly disappointing. Ji Dong-Win and Koo Ja-Cheol were fairly invisible, and didn’t contribute much to the play. Kim Shin-Wook and Ki Sung-Yueng had chances, but generally were ineffective. Kim Shin-Wook had opportunities to score, but was wasteful. Ki Sung-Yueng’s corner delivery was generally poor, and he was too limited in his positioning (sat too deep to really influence the game).
Second Half Analysis
The team’s performance started improving towards the end of the first half, and continued to do so in the second half. The introduction of Lee Dong-Gook was important. While Lee Dong-Gook gets a fair bit of flak these days (some of it quite deserved), he was certainly an improvement up top. His first touch was resulted in Korea’s first shot on target, and he continued to win virtually all of the aerial battles. Ki Sung-Yueng, disappointing in the first half, started to grow more influential in the second, although his set piece delivery still left a bit to be desired. The other two Lee’s (Keun-Ho and Chung-Yong) remained the two best players. The opening goal was a bit fortunate, as slack marking by the Qatari defense allowed Lee Keun-Ho a free header, which he looped over the goalkeeper. But minutes later, Qatar was level. A rare push into the Korean half saw Ibrahim just outside the penalty area with the ball. Kwak Tae-Hwi and Jung In-Hwan were slow to close down, and Ibrahim scored. Jung Sung-Ryong, largely a spectator thus far, could only get the tips of his fingers to it, but not enough to push it around the post. Korea, shocked at the sudden goal, started pushing again, but quality in the final third remained elusive.
Choi Kang-Hee finally introduced Son Heung-Min in the 80th minute for Lee Keun-Ho. Son Heung-Min looked a bit out of sync with the team at times, as the positioning seemed more free, with Lee Dong-Gook generally being center (but drifting wide left at times) and Kim Shin-Wook center and to the right (and a little deeper). Son Heung-Min was officially the wide right player, but often drifted into the space Lee Dong-Gook vacated. Qatar started wasting time, with two substitutions in stoppage time, an “injury”, and a minor scuffle with Park Won-Jae over nothing. As such the Japanese referee added a couple more minutes, and it was then that Korea struck again. Lee Dong-Gook hit a looping shot from a cross that hit the crossbar and dropped straight in front of Son Heung-Min, who had the simple job of tapping in from maybe a yard out. Korea would even threaten a third right after the restart, but the effort was saved.
Since this is the first ratings I’ve done, general breakdown: SV – no rating, 3 – awful, 4 – poor, 5 – average, 6 – good, 7 – great, 8 – fantastic, 9 – world class, 10 – lifetime performance
Jung Sung-Ryong: 5.5 If Qatar hadn’t scored that one goal, then Jung may have gotten an SV given how little he had to do. Thought he maybe could have done more to prevent the goal. Seems to be going through a little bit of a below-average patch for club and country.
Oh Beom-Seok: 5.5 The right side was rarely threatened, but Oh did not threaten much either. I don’t remember him combining much with Lee Chung-Yong, instead sitting behind him almost the whole time. Maybe deserves another chance against Lebanon, but I don’t think he did enough to earn a regular spot.
Kwak Tae-Hwi: 5.5 Recovered to play, and fortunately was not tested too much, as I feel he would easily have gotten burned for pace. Would have liked to see him challenge more on the goal, as it seems that he was late to recover.
Jung In-Hwan: 5.5 I still do not see what the big attraction is with Jung. While he wasn’t poor, he certainly wasn’t great either. Against a weaker team like Qatar, you’d expect a fairly commanding display.
Park Won-Jae: 6.0 While Park Won-Jae wasn’t terrific, he was above average compared to the rest of the backline. His crossing wasn’t great for the most part, but he did seem to get forward more effectively than his right-sided counterpart. A bonus 0.5 for the assist for the first goal.
Koo Ja-Cheol: 5.0 Worryingly, Koo was definitely subpar for a second straight match. Although that may have had more to do with his position. Both games he played deeper, in an almost regista-esque role. A role that he seems rather unsuited for.
Ki Sung-Yueng: 6.0 Other than Son Hueng-Min, there wasn’t another player who was hyped more than Ki. His first half was disappointing, as he seemed to be in his usual Swansea mode of short passes laterally and backwards. His second half he put in a more commanding performance, making runs from deep and actually hitting a few long diagonal balls.
Lee Chung-Yong: 7.5 A man of the match performance for Lee Chung-Yong who put in second straight solid performance on the right. Looked lively in the first half, and remained important in the second half. Would still be nice to see Lee develop a better scoring touch, but until then . . .
Lee Keun-Ho: 6.5 A decent return for Lee Keun-Ho. Missed out the last match due to his move to Sangju Sangmu, but was recalled for this one. Seemed a step slow, his touch a bit heavy, but still showed more life than many other players.
Ji Dong-Won: 5.5 Largely MIA for most of the game, and was subbed off early in the second half. His usual energy was missing, and as such his performance suffered.
Kim Shin-Wook: 5.0 A surprise starter who largely failed to meet the spotlight. Did win some aerial battles, but was unable to really threaten the Qatar goal, which of course is the job of a forward. Somehow played the whole 90. Not sure what was up with that.
Lee Dong-Gook: 7.0 Got a lot of flak after the Croatia game, but showed why he still gets called. Won aerial battles, created space for others, did everything, short of scoring, that a number 9 should.
Son Heung-Min: 6.5 Came on as a late sub and eventually got the defining touch of the match. A simple tap in that scored Korea’s second goal. Other than that, his contribution was mixed. He had some nice touches and good runs, but largely seemed to be separate from the rest of the team, a criticism that is often levied against him.
Despite winning, this match was not a great showing for Team South Korea. Despite a “must win” tag on this match, the teamed played like it was a friendly. The energy was lacking and the team seemed ill-prepared. The win may have prevented any serious calls for Choi Kang-Hee’s job, but questions must still be raised about his ability to manage at the international level.
Much of the talk leading up to the game was how to break down Qatar’s likely defensive play, and to an extent Choi made the right decision to leave the more defensive midfield options like Ha Dae-Sung and Han Kook-Young on the bench. But, the team seemed to be instructed to still play a conservative game, even after it became clear that Qatar wasn’t interested in attacking. Ki Sung-Yueng and Koo Ja-Cheol were both sitting far too deep to really affect the game early. Particularly Koo, who seems to be at his best when he’s playing in a role similar to Cesc Fabregas. A withdrawn forward/attacking midfielder who makes smart runs into the box. I suppose Lee Keun-Ho was supposed to be doing that role, but he was largely drifting into wider position. Ki Sung-Yueng was a more interesting case, as his role with the team seems to be in a bit of limbo. To play him deeper like he often does with Swansea, or more advanced to allow his good passing to be more effective? Choi doesn’t seem to really know yet. Ji Dong-Won had a quiet game, and may well cost him his starting spot come June. I’m not really sure what his issue was, as his energy levels seemed way down compared to usual.
The decision to start Kim Shin-Wook was a bit surprising. I had remarked in a WtW segment a few weeks ago (when Kim’s Ulsan played Lee Dong-Gook’s Jeonbuk) that Kim Shin-Wook was the better player in that match as he used his size well to dominate the Jeonbuk centerbacks (including Jung In-Hwan). While Kim did win some aerial battles, his inability to transition from first ball winner to goal threat was a real disappointment. If there was ever a time for him to claim a starting spot with the senior squad this was it. Lee Dong-Gook, Park Chu-Young, and Son Heung-Min are clearly on the outs with Choi Kang-Hee, and Kim could have made a real statement. Instead, one feels that Choi will likely return to Lee Dong-Gook unless Park Chu-Young can make the most of the last months of the Spanish season. Speaking of Lee Dong-Gook, he impressed. I know there are many who don’t think he should be anywhere near the national team, but right now he still offers something.
Son Heung-Min continues to offer problems, both for opposing teams and the coaching staff. While his talent is unquestionable, but his ability to be part of a team is. And it seems like he is still struggling to find a niche in the first team lineup. I plan on putting up an updated post on Son Heung-Min soon.
The defense is still a major worry for me. I don’t really feel that confident about any of the five. Park Won-Jae doesn’t seem to be any real improvement over Choi Jae-Soo. Hopefully Yoon Suk-Young will start to see some action at QPR, and he can get back in the picture. I’m beginning to worry that Yoon will be in the same situation as Ji Dong-Won was at Sunderland. Perhaps it’s time to take another look at Park Joo-Ho who seems to back in the fold at Basel. Right back is equally problematic. While Oh Beom-Seok wasn’t bad, he didn’t do enough to guarantee a starting nod. Unfortunately we don’t have as many right back candidates as left back. Center back is still a problem as well. Kwak Tae-Hwi is clearly on his last legs, and I’m still not convinced by Jung In-Hwan. Even at goalkeeper I’m no longer confident. Jung Sung-Ryong seems to be going through a poor spell right now, and it’s worrying that there is really no one to challenge him for the number 1 shirt. Kim Young-Kwang seems destined for back-up status, and Lee Bum-Young is still a couple years away at best.
I’m still confident that a top 2 place is attainable, and that Korea will qualify for Brazil. But unless some of these issues can be addressed, how to fit in Son, shoring up the defense, clearly defining roles, and more, that trip to Brazil may be a very short one.
On a separate note. In an article he wrote for ESPN FC, John Duerden mentions an incident at the end of the match when someone in the stands threw a bottle at the referee who is Japanese. It is fairly well known that Korea does not have good relations with Japan, but I hope that these ugly incidents do not happen in the future.
Korea’s next match is on June 4th in Lebanon when the final weeks of qualifying begin. I imagine a friendly will be scheduled between now and then, but have not heard any word on who or when.