Start booking your plane tickets to Rio people. Or maybe book off an entire month next summer for couch potato-ing. The men’s South Korean U23 team is going to Rio! It was a hard fought battle against Qatar, but a late goal from Kwon Changhoon and an insurance goal from Moon Changjin was enough to qualify this team for a Rio Olympic berth – all while setting up an epic Haniljeon in the finals of the AFC U23 Championship.
More after the jump.
Shin Taeyong threw a curveball with his team selection. A 3-4-2-1. Talk about tactical innovation. I struggle to think of any Korean team which has become so tactically adept, not even the senior squad. This team is able to play a dangerous 4-1-4-1, a 4-4-2 diamond which has some flaws but does allow for a two top system, a conventional 4-2-3-1 and played a 3-4-2-1 (also a 5-4-1) which accomplished its purpose today.
A major gamble in taking out a midfielder/forward by adding a defender meant that we needed to bench a couple players. Moon Changjin and Hwang Heechan started the match on the bench, meaning that Hwang Kiwook and Kim Hyun were in the first XI. Hwang probably better fits the 5-4-1 system, as he offers more of a defensive side than the attacking midfield prowess of Moon Changjin, while Kim Hyun represents more of an aerial threat than Hwang.
The idea of the system was obviously to defend and counter, all while neutralising Qatari threats through midfield, like Moein and Assim, and making sure that the defensive pair can always have one person taking care of Ahmed Alaa at all times. In the first half, as you’ll see in the next images, it worked like a charm.
Note: this is not a tactical analysis by Zonal Marking. This is a 16 year old taking a few screenshots from his iPad to try to show why he thinks he’s right.
The play in the 13th minute is a pretty accurate assessment of what Korea was trying to do. Park Yongwoo is given lots of space to play a ball from deep – he’s playing as that ball playing centreback here. There’s a lot of Qatari players in ineffective positions that seem to reflect of a sort of zonal-oriented mindset. Park could have gone with the aerial option, which presented itself more often than not during the match because the Qatari didn’t allow THAT much space up the middle. Kim Hyun came short, touched it over to Ryu Seungwoo, who could have run into the box but he’s lost his balance here and has run out of space. He smartly stretches the play to Shim Sangmin, the leftback, who’s cross whistles past the head of Kim Hyun and Kwon Changhoon, the far attacking midfielder. No, we didn’t score, but it was a half-chance that reflects well how we used the space Qatar gave us effectively, stretched the play when needed and tried to use our target man.
After the first 15 minutes, Korea had 62% possession. But we were playing defend and counter? Sure. But Qatar was so often losing the ball up the middle. Asad and Assim were often shut down quickly by Lee Changmin and Hwang Kiwook, whose defensive contribution was crucial. It was risky to play him in such a vital game, but the main reason the Qataris were unable to keep on to possession and threaten with passes up the middle and their pace was because the play was forced out wide so often, getting the ball into less dangerous spaces. It also allowed Kwon Changhoon and Lee Changmin to track back and pressure Qatar’s indecision.
As I re-watch the game, I notice how much Hwang Kiwook was my favourite player in this game. In the 25th minute, he tries this audacious attempt that had it been on target would have been somewhat reminiscent of Dele Alli’s goal this past weekend. He takes three touches. The first takes Moein out of the play, the second settles the ball down, the third undresses Assim and the finish… well, it left much to be desired. But Hwang’s confidence was high enough for him to try something like this in such a big game – and Qatar’s defensive mids were collectively humiliated by one of their opposite numbers.
Because of the midfield congestion, we also saw a much more direct style of play from Qatar, with longballs over the top that attempted to bypass the Korean midfield. Ahmed Alaa is really in no way a target forward, and he’s not even just tall like Kim Hyun is. The distribution was quite poor as well, and this style of play certainly didn’t work. (Their goalkeeper Muhannad Naim needs a bit of target practice. Goalkeeping distribution not his strength.)
For all of Korea’s hard defensive work in this half, it is fair to say that despite us creating more half-chances than Qatar, and neutralizing their midfield threats, forcing the game out wide where Qatar was decidedly uncreative and making a team not made for a direct style of play resort to a recurrent long ball, we offered very little offensively. Kim Hyun is tall, and he’s not a bad target man – he certainly did a better job today than Kim Shinwook at the EAC vs Japan, we didn’t have enough opportunities with crosses into the box than in other matches. So when halftime came, the Qataris were probably the more frustrated of the two teams, but Korea had to do something to get the goal they needed.
Korea came out with a bit more drive in the second half. It wasn’t so much of a tactical shift than a mentality shift. The team looked more hungry, and knew that neutralizing Qatar would not suffice – we needed to take the lead. And in the 48th minute, we did just that. The goal did indeed come from a counter scenario, but it was more a case of Qatar not recognizing the threat than a rapid fire attack.
(Yeon Jeimin’s put under a bit of pressure. Kwon Changhoon comes short – he does this much better this half.)
The defensive work didn’t stop… here’s Lee Changmin with a vital tackle on Alaa in a rare time when Qatar got in behind both of the central midfielders.
Hwang Kiwook came out in the 60th minute to what looked like the mixture of getting a cleat to the thigh and cramps. Moon Changjin came in, and I suspect this might not have been Shin’s preferred substitution to make, at least, not this early in the match. It took out a reliable defensive mid who was playing an exceptional game and put in a player who is has much more offensive qualities.
Moon was inserted directly behind Kim Hyun as he entered the game, and the impact was immediate – the “flowing attack” of Shin Taeyong’s U23s returned. Moon has a chance with a shot on probably his first touch, but it was right on the keeper. Minutes later, Lee Changmin strike whistled past the bar, with a load of curve on his shot.
The team switched to a 4-2-3-1, with Park Yongwoo and Lee Changmin in the double-six, Kwon and Ryu out wide, Moon Changjin in behind Kim Hyun.
Qatar did have a dangerous chance in the 65th minute, and it really marked the beginning of a much more open game than before. There were channels which previously weren’t open and Qatar made use of them well. Assim played a one two with the right back, and a cross was feathered in and Lee Changmin came halfway on his marking responsibilities of Asad, who hit a powerful header. Luckily, Kim Dongjun had his near post covered and he punched away the save.
Korea made their final formation switch of the game, moving to a 4-4-2 diamond. They were a tad less assured defensively because of the formation switch but Qatar hadn’t really threatened with a serious chance until they scored in the 80th minute. Abdelkarim Hassan hit a blistering cross that went through the box and came out the other side to rightback Musaid.
Alaa taps it with his right foot right at Kim Dongjun, but it’s in that awkward area of indecision where you can either use your feet or try to get down and smother it. Kim is somewhat responsible for the goal, yes, but like that wrongly disallowed goal vs Jordan and the header chance earlier, there’s an inexcusable defensive error or two as a player fails to mark their man.
And now things get crazy. Akram Afif is unleashed in the 82nd minute, and it takes a sliding block from Yeon Jeimin to cut off the angle for Afif to finish his charging run with a shot on target. The crowd hollers for penalty but Afif clearly fell over. 84th minute, shambolic defending. The defensive line falls into a very flat five-back. Qatar play a couple of quick passes, and Yeon Jeimin puts in a errant tackle that allows Alaa a shot on goal 1v1 vs Kim Dongjun, but Kim denies him from close range. 85th minute, Kwon takes a dipping shot from distance but it’s well saved.
After Afif manages to run aimlessly into the heart of the Korean defence twice in less than 30 seconds, and Abdelkarim Hassan decides that as captain, the best thing to do in this situation is to go for glory from like 35 yards with no shooting angle whatsoever, Korea get the winning goal.
Korea makes a final sub, bringing on Jung Seunghyun for Kim Hyun. Qatar is clearly very tired. An errant backpass, missing the touch to control the ball from a pass, crossing the ball into the keeper’s hands. The fatigue was clearly identifiable, and there wasn’t even hope of a last-gasp equalizer from the worn-out players on the pitch.
The final goal came in the 96th minute, and it was signed Hwang Heechan – a truly special amount of skill from the clever forward. He runs to the sidelines and is confronted by two utterly tired Qatari defenders. Touch, nutmeg in he’s into acres of space. The rest is simple – a pass to Moon Changjin, who cuts in and slots home.
The final whistle blows. Shin Taeyong raises his fists in the air. Korea is going to Rio.
A final date with Japan. Saturday morning. An extra time podcast on your way to discuss that. Are you ready to KICK JAPAN’S ASS? (I swear that wasn’t a Sarah Palin imitation.)
Good night. My sanity level is at 0% after working on this post for hours. Thanks for reading.
> Tavern Owner interrupting: Tavern hall of famer Jae Chee translated the KFA article on the newest Miracle of Doha and the U23 win over Qatar – you can read that here.