Embarrassing Offense + Next Level Grassrolling: Korea 0-0 Syria

As a KNT fan there are a number of matches, especially in recent memory, you just don’t want to hear about ever again. For me they have included 3-0 China, 3-0 Japan, 2-1 Lebanon, the Honduras game, the entire 2014 WC, and pretty much every match of the 2014 WC qualifying campaign last time around. I am now officially adding today’s (yesterday’s) Syria match among them – to everyone who woke up early/stayed up late to watch, I am very sorry, and to everyone who couldn’t (*cough* *Tim*), consider yourself lucky. Twitter was filled with expletives/superlatives today from people who usually don’t resort to expletives or superlatives, which gives you an idea of how bad the game was.

Though AFC WCQ Second Round went swimmingly with 0 goals conceded and all, our final round of qualifying has started quite poorly. The team isn’t playing like it used to, Stielike has made some baffling decisions, and unless Stielike makes some big changes we’re looking at a repeat of the incredibly shaky final round of WCQ from 2013 *shudder.*

The Starting Lineup:

The FW-MF lines were essentially the same. Since Son HM returned to Tottenham early, the only change made was Lee JS for SHM, which I approved of. The defense was rotated fairly heavily, with Oh JS starting alongside Kim YK, Jang HS (as CB!), and Lee Yong as RB. Kim Seung Gyu was substituted as the keeper, and without him we’d be looking at an incredibly embarrassing loss to Syria.


Overall I thought this would work just fine. We played our usual meaningless possession – take it out wide – backpass approach (worked fine against China!), and found ourselves unable to convert some decent chances. Koo JC almost scored early on thanks to a throughball from Ji Dongwon, but his shot was saved by the legs of the Syrian keeper. This time he didn’t fall to the ground clutching his leg (more on this later).

Of course our opponents got a chance or two as well. After breaking down the left flank, Syria’s #9 received the ball right in the middle of the park (very reminiscent of Massimo Luongo’s goal actually..) and took a touch and volleyed it on target, which Kim Seung Gyu barely saved.

Right afterward, Korea botches a counterattack once again (would someone PLEASE remind me the last time we scored a proper counterattack? PJY’s Gaksital goal against Japan in 2012 aside I can only think of 2010, no joke). After a Syrian freekick that is cleared, KSY and KJC find an onrushing LCY who throughpasses to JDW on the right flank (overhit but JDW is in a lot of space). JDW has all the time in the world to get in a low cross to onrushing Korean attackers but instead he floats it over the top … which is cleared easily by the Syrian defenders.

Ki, later in the half, nearly got himself on the scoresheet breaking down the right side of the penalty box, a scenario very much like Son Heungmin’s goal vs. Leicester last year. Only this time Ki hit the side netting.

Honestly despite the disappointing fact that we couldn’t score against Syria I was pretty optimistic that we could find a winner based off the first half alone. There were more longballs than I would have liked and it was quite boring aside from the chances I described above, but still – this is Syria we’re talking about.

But that second half came around and it was starting to look quite hopeless. The team tired out very quickly, and when subs were direly needed, subs were not provided until quite late into the match (75′). Korea ran out of ideas, and Syria just kept defending – despite some good looks on goal from Lee Chungyong (a great cutback cross from Lee Yong sees LCY’s shot saved by the GK) and Hwang Hee Chan (got very close to sending in a cross that beat the keeper), the match ended 0-0.

Of course, this is a West Asian team we’re talking about here, and grassrolling was once again the story of the day. It all started when the goalkeeper made a save (quite a routine save at that…) and fell down with an injured hand. This cycle repeated like 10 times over the course of the second half. The outfield players would also fall down in agony randomly, getting the ref to award 6 minutes of extra time. Of course, half of the 6 was spent waiting for the goalkeeper to get up, but I bet even without the grassrolling and the timewasting we wouldn’t have scored anyway. Because that’s how lacking the offensive creativity was in this game.

Now, I’ve seen a good deal of grassrolling in my life, and the world got a taste of it in 2014 when Iran took to the World Stage, but oh my this was some real next-level grassrolling on display. Have you ever seen a goalkeeper get injured so often? AND STILL STAY ON THE PITCH? Like I understand the Syrians just really want o go for that draw but to stoop so low and so shamelessly… this is why Asia gets made fun of (also for the fact that with Korea/Japan sucking really hard as of late but I digress). Some of the grassrolling is caught in the HL video below.

Stielike and Ki both complained post match about the grassrolling – who wouldn’t? Ki even called it out as something Asia should be embarrassed about. But it almost sounded like an excuse from the both of them – more on Stielike criticisms later, and this time, not even the most optimistic of fans will be defending Stielike.

“It’s not a satisfactory result,” Stielike said after the match. “Our goal was to collect a victory.”

On the other side, the Syria coach stated that their keeper was actually hurt. 1. This might b e the first time I’ve seen a keeper get hurt from a tame shot and 2) this would also tbe the first time seeing a coach deliberately keep in an injured goalkeeper?


Selection Issues

I think the most frustrating thing about Stielike is his player selection – we’ve been complaining about this ad nauseum, especially having survived the CKH/HMB eras,  but here we go again: Anyone who watches the K League right now will know that Jeonbuk and Seoul are miles ahead of most teams. Jeonbuk is carried by their formidable midfield while Seoul boast the feared across Asia attack trio 아대박 – Adriano Dejan and Park JY. Stielike, having supposedly watched so many K League games in person, should also know that the once in form Hwang Eui Jo, despite having scored 8 goals this season, is pretty far from “in-form” at the moment. Even Kwon Chang Hoon has hardly featured for Suwon since coming back from the ill-fated Olympics. But instead, Stielike chooses Hwang Eui Jo to replace SHM instead of someone who’s been playing much better, and regularly snubs much more deserving players like Kim BK or Park CY.

Honestly with teams like China and Syria a Jeonbuk + Seoul XI would get the job done.

Park Chu Young
Yoon Il Rok             Lee Jong Ho       Kim Bo Kyung
Lee Ho/Jang Yunho/Joo Se Jong   Lee Jaesung
Ko Kwang Min  Kwak Tae Hwi  Choi Kyu Baek  Choi Chul Soon
Kwon Sun Tae

And that’s taking from literally two teams in the K League – replacing CKB with Hong JH, for example, would make for a pretty good starting lineup. These players are in form, and most importantly, know how to shoot and finish. Every single one of the five attacking players, except for Lee Jaesung actually, have scored some great long range goals for the KNT at some point in the past and are playing very well for their respective clubs. The European players, meanwhile, just got started with their season and LCY + KJC aside aren’t even playing regularly for their teams.

Also, what kind of coach only chooses 20 players when 23 are allowed? Does he intentionally want to snub Park Chuyoung/Kimbo or something? Stielike was looking pretty good after the AC but something isn’t going right anymore clearly..


Tactical Issues

Stielike has a habit of sticking to one game plan (in fact, I don’t really know what plan B is aside from putting in Kwak Tae Hwi as a target man up front). While I don’t like to see us reverting to long balls to Wookie as plan B, it’s also really frustrating when this team obviously cannot create chances due to the opposition bunkering down hard. If plan A isn’t working, why not shift formation to something more forward-heavy? Do we really have to rehash the same old ineffective ideas with players who clearly can’t do anything and are clearly super tired? Why does Stielike sub players on so late, usually in the mid-70’s or 80’s? Isn’t it common sense for coaches to sub players MUCH earlier if things aren’t working too well? It just doesn’t make sense..

Also I thought when Stielike came in we’d start playing differently than we used to with HMB and CKH, but for some reason it looks all the same, and all so predictable. Why can we still not create anything down the middle? Why do we still start every attack from the fullbacks (in the words of Tom Danicek, Cruyff would roll over in his grave)? Why do we literally backpass all the time even with great options in front of us? You would think the apparent problems Korea has had since the retirement of PJS/LYP would be some of the first things managers would work on. I know NT managers don’t get much time but still, why do these problems still exist 6 years later? Is it just ingrained into the Korean psyche? (don’t think so, it’s been more of a problem as of late and the youth teams aren’t this bad).


Middle Eastern Teams..

Why is something like this so common in Asia?
Why is something like this so common in Asia?

Everyone in East Asia seems to hate playing Middle Eastern teams. I think sandalsforgoalposts put it best:

Amen – while we can’t generalize to say middle eastern teams are taught to grassroll why is it that every time we play them, if we are not in a winning situation in the second half, the grassrolling breaks out in full force? Surely it must be a tactic ingrained in the mindset of middle eastern football? It actually kind of is:

Which would explain why middle eastern GK’s take a sweet long time whenever it comes to any sort of throw-in or goal kick…

You also have to wonder if this is the ref’s fault. Literally every friendly/tournament/WCQ we see instances of AFC refs proving themselves to be some of the most incompetent in the world. In the context of this match, the problem is that the AFC condones the serious grassrolling that the middle east is famous for. Normally, blatant timewasting and grassrolling gets punished with yellow cards – see Iran vs Argentina in the last World Cup. But not in the AFC! Where teams can grassroll all day…

That being said, KSY/Stielike really don’t have a right to blame the grassrolling because even if we had 20 minutes of extra time I bet we wouldn’t have scored anything. We only have ourselves to blame, which skimmilk summed up in a concise five words:


Player Ratings:

Kim Seung Gyu 8 – without two very crucial saves we’d be looking at a 1-0 or 2-0 loss. It’s great to see a goalkeeper play so well for once, the last time I was really impressed by a GK on the senior level KNT was in the Asian Cup…

Oh Jaesuk 6.5 – I think OJS offers quite a bit going forward, and will be a solid option in RB once one of Kim JS / Park JH / Yoon SY find their form again. Made a mistake (missed interception) that fortunately went unpunished though.

Kim Young Kwon 6 – Did his job well enough?

Jang Hyun Soo 6 – see above.

Lee Yong 5.5 – was ehh going forward (nothing to note despite 1 really good cross to LCY) and nearly conceded a goal by getting lazy, failing to properly block a cross that led to a header that Kim SG just barely saved.

Ki Sung Yong 5.5 – this guy needs competition, because right now he is in some real abysmal form.

Han Kook Young 5.5 – “tidy” and can win balls but oh my god he cannot pass for the life of him. Also got pushed around too easily today..

Lee Chung Yong 6.5 – started brightly, created all game, but faded towards the end. The best outfield player in my opinion (not saying much really), despite some overweighted throughballs and failed dribbles.

Koo Ja Cheol 6 – similar to LCY

Lee Jae Sung 5 – maybe this is a little harsh because he had his moments, but of all the attacking players I would say LJS was the most anonymous. I rarely saw him touch the ball at times!

Ji Dong Won 6 – for someone who hardly ever plays for Augsburg and has like 5 goals in the past couple seasons, he played decently well. I give him a 6 because he exceeded very low expectations.

Hwang Hee Chan 6 – Positive impact as soon as he came on – should have been put on much earlier.

Kwon Chang Hoon 5 – I usually don’t give ratings to late subs but KCH was so poor and lost the ball on so many occasions that I had to give him this rating.

Son Heung Min (whatever Tim rated him last game + 1) – yes, I am rating SHM because despite his rather disappointing performances a guy like him was sorely needed today. Shooting was very very poor all game and that is, in theory, something that SHM provides well…


Do Koreans overreact?

I mention this because of the netizen meltdown / insultfest going on (which makes sense given how bad the team was today). On the TV show “Talents for Sale,” hosted by Kim Jong Gook, Lee Seo Jin, Noh Hong Chul, and Kim Se Jeong (fantastic show by the way), Lee Young Pyo was the recent guest. And at one point, Lee Seo Jin mentions how in soccer, the average Korean viewer/citizen turns into a coach – shouting instructions from the couch, etc. He also mentions how in good performances the player gets revered as a God, but in bad performances the player (or the team) becomes chewed out by netizens. A very very accurate observation regarding Korean public opinion.

Lee Young Pyo stated that this reality is something a player must accept. A player called up to the national team especially must take responsibility for the times when they will be criticized, especially if they are to enjoy the moments when they play well and get idolized. Truly wise words from a very wise man (also, I highly recommend checking out Lee Young Pyo’s segment on the show – search Talents for Sale on YouTube and look for the channel KBS World TV, the full episodes are online).


Going Forward

  1. Online commenters all talked about LSW + Baek Seung Ho. TBH I don’t think they would have been able to do much either against a 10-men behind the ball Syria. LSW would probably just get outmuscled while BSH… actually… might have been useful in terms of creativity because we didn’t have any of that today. But BSH has yet to play a single Barca B game and is clearly not match fit..
  2. If we play like this against Iran, we’re not going to have a good time. If today the opposition was Qatar and not Syria, we could have been looking at a loss.
  3. If our KPA still aren’t playing for the clubs, Stielike needs to find a K League XI. There’s a reason why we played so well vs. China in the East Asian Cup. But of course, he’s probably going to find a CSL/J League XI instead…
  4. If KSY still isn’t playing for Swansea, KCH is still out of form, and Stielike still keeps not calling up KBK, I do think Hwang In Beom is ready for the NT. If he’s playing well in the Challenge and has proven himself in the Classic as well, and is doesn’t struggle with the physical side of the game, a playmaker like him who can provide midfield presence (something KSY couldn’t do today or vs China) would be huge. Also Hwang In Beom can shoot..
  5. Stielike surely knows his limitations, but October will tell if he’s as stubborn as HMB and won’t change his ways / learn how to be flexible.
About Jinseok 259 Articles
Diehard Korean football fan. https://www.taegukwarriors.com/jinseoks-story/


  1. Great article Jinseok! This was a horrible game to watch. We played poorly and bad sportsmanship. Definitely showed a need for creative players who are capable of brilliant moments/creating stuff out of nothing (like Rooney who played like shite for 89 mins against Hull but brilliant assist). Saw too much back passing today. HHC was a positive for me because he’s willing to take on defenders, should start over JDW. Also agree that KBK and PJY should be called up. Stielike is definitely avoiding those two because of WC2014 criticisms. Also I think we should adopt a more fluid 4-3-3 with PJY Center, HHC on Right, and SHM on Left. We need positive attacking football.

  2. It’s pretty easy to fix the grassrolling or time wasting in soccer–stop the game clock whenever play is stopped, just like in football and basketball. The game will take too long you say, play 30 minute halves instead. I think I heard before that they are actually playing around 25-30 minutes of soccer per half, based on the current format. If you want to see more goals, do away with offsides. Enforce post game penalties for flopping and other offenses (see NBA). Give them severe penalties, like suspensions and large fines.

    KNT is KNT. To me, we seriously need a captain who will lead by example–who will hustle, play physical–someone who makes others work harder. We just don’t have someone like that since PJS. Also, I don’t think Stielike is an inspiring coach. At least it doesn’t seem that way since we followed up the China game with this dud, against Syria! Embarrassing.

    Frankly, I am getting sick and tired of same old thing. Put in the three Barca boys and let’s see what they can do. Creativity-wise, it can’t get any worse. Too young you say? They will all be in their twenties when the next WC rolls around. Also, have you seen Pulisic play for US lately? He is 17!

    At this point, I just don’t think we are deserving of going through to the WC. I am not even sure I want them to anymore. Even if we did, with this team, we will get crushed. So maybe we shouldn’t make it to WC. Maybe we took it too much for granted and maybe it will stir things up within KFA to make Korean soccer better….

  3. I really like the idea of calling up players from and relying on the top two k-league teams. KNT would probably benefit a lot with those players that are in-form and have good chem. Over the last several years, Spain’s and germany’s huge advantage was having majority of their players from the same teams(besides having superior talent lol).

    I think KNT should play more like a Mourinho team that can counterattack with great pace with more direct and forward passes. RIght now, KNT seems to playing like Van Gaal’s man united team last season. Possession with too many side ways and backwards passes that lead to very little goals. Playing like a Mourinho team could definitely benefit Son who seems to be at his best when his team is playing at a higher tempo and has space to run at the defense. Also, being a good counterattacking team could help the team do better against superior teams at the World Cup.

  4. Great article and I agree your idea of KNT selection.
    I want K league clubs to try to sign KNT CBs in CSL such as KYG or JHS if they got money by selling Brazilian attackers to China or Middle East like Seongnam’s Tiago in the middle of this season(and maybe Adriano in the next window?).

  5. I’m sort of glad this “meltdown” happened, Stielike needed a strong kick in the ass. He was showing signs of complacency everywhere, and that’s not acceptable. Hopefully he finds some fresh talent to bring to the NT, and turns it around.

    • Glad i didn’t wake up at 5 AM to watch this. I actually expected a win and I saw a draw, much to my distaste.
      Like Brian above me said, this was a good wake up call to Stielike and perhaps he will improve the team by the time we verse Qatar and Iran. I’m worried about these next matches quite a bit, and I’ll be even more worried if Stielike calls up similar players again. It’s time to call up PJY and KBK in my opinion as well. Give Park another chance. There are a variety of ways Stielike can improve next time around.

  6. Honestly not sure Korea has what it takes to qualify this time around. Not trying to be blasphemous here, also not trying to have a knee jerk reaction. It seems Korea has relied on a really weak conference for so long. Now that other countries are pumping more money in (more than Korea), and they know better about korea’s weaknesses, another Asian country can get past them. We barely edged Uzbekistan by point differential in the last 2014 qualifiers. We need a high goal count against the “weakest” opposition to prevent that from happening again. And I’m calling it… if we get third place, we ain’t making it through the playoffs. Stielke better get his act together and the players better bust their asses going forward. Hoping for a massive wakeup call from these guys. I’m seriously tired of them, for all the talent they have, not getting their shit together and playing with leadership and pride. The days of Park Ji Sung are long gone. Time for someone to really step up.

    • And yeah, the grass rolling was embarrassing. But at the same time, I bet most European/South American countries would bury the Syrians with 5 goals anyway.

      • We had one more goal than Uzbekistan did… which lead us to going to the World Cup. Yup we barely got there like you said.
        I’m hoping the KNT can pull of some bigger wins against Qatar and in the second matches against Syria and China.
        TBH I wasn’t really worried about this match. Which may be why I didn’t even bother waking up to watch it since I expected a 1-0 win at the least.
        I hope we don’t go 2013 all over again.

  7. It is really frustrating to see our inability to get forward. The midfield gains possession, but instead of flooding forward to take advantage of the shift, they dribble slowly while looking for options, then just stop. Dribble back a little. Then backpass. Backpass, backpass, backpass.

    You remember the last World Cup? So many times, they had the ball all the way into wings … and then backpass. Yes, Korea doesn’t have the classic target man in the box, but hell, try crossing it in. See what happens.

    It’s distressing so see that continue as a trend. I’m beginning to think that it indicates that Korean players are instinctively over-cautious when it comes to possession. They don’t want to lose the ball – so they stick to high-percentage passes.

    Probably not something in our ‘DNA’ – but it might be something they picked up as children. I do remember when playing soccer as a kid that there was a lot of “keep-away” when Korean kids were playing – guys doing tricky footwork to keep the ball were considered the better players. But when I played with American kids, there was less dribbling and more “kicking the ball as hard as you can in the vague direction of the goal”.

    Maybe even if Stielike tried to emphasis rapid counterattacking, it’s just not in the players’ inclination to go for the low-percentage plays.

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