Epic Fail: Taeguk Warriors fall to Croatia 4-0

February 6, 2013

It’s more than a hangover; it was a crash and burn loss to Croatia in today’s friendly match in London’s Craven Cottage stadium, a 4-0 hiding that was as demoralizing as it was crushing. This marks a milestone 4 game winless streak for the Taeguk Warriors. It’s not enough to lose a crucial World Cup qualifier to Iran, or a loss at home to the Socceroos of Australia in a friendly, but to put on this kind of disgraceful performance in Europe, with scouts and international press watching – it was truly a public humiliation that will be unfortunately long remembered.

Of course, while things today at the Tavern was in a state of pandemonium and general rage, several hours of fixing things like patching up holes in the drywall where pots and pans once flew through has given me time to reflect:

Reflection 1: the defense needs a major re-tooling. Some key players like Yun Suk-Young was ruled out, leaving the back line of Kwak Tae-Hwi (Captain Kwak to you Tavern rowdies), Lee Jung-Soo, Shin Kwang-Hoon, Choi Jae-Soo, and later in the 2nd half Jung In-Whan responsible for not one, but several incredibly inept back line passing, which could’ve given Croatia several more goals. I had to walk over and take some ibuprofen pain medication from the Tavern medicine cabinet after watching a few minutes of this hot mess. Now to be fair, there were moments that individual players deserve credit for breaking up Croatia’s offense; however, those moments were extremely rare. One might have had a better chance seeing the elusive snow leopard in the wild.  We wondered in yesterday’s post whether the defense (which has never been particular notable for the Taeguk Warriors) could hold their ground with Croatia’s offensive firepower. The scoreline answered that quite clearly. With Croatia walking into Korea’s half without difficulty and a poorly organized defense playing keystone coppers in response, it became a shooting gallery out there. More glaringly, instead of concentrating on defending, Kwak and Shin actually pressing up front to take shots. After the 2nd goal conceded, they got the hint and played deeper. 

Reflection 2: the offense had their moments, but didn’t appear to be in sync. One can argue that with 2 days to train together, they hadn’t had much chance to gel. Neither did Croatia. Nevertheless, there were moments, particularly in the first half where Korea’s counterattacks looked very fast and dangerous for the Croatians to handle. Lee Chung-Yong put in a very decent 90 minute shift, giving all sorts of trouble to Croatia’s back line. He delivered some exceptional crosses, particularly to Ki (who tapped it right to the keeper) and Ji (got in a cracking shot in the 38th minute but denied by an equally exceptional blocking save to keep it out of net). Son Heung-Min delivered the first real threat with a 20 yard shot across bow in the 11th. It curled just over the corner of the post. Ki Sung-Yeung had a better first half performance, but by the 2nd half, seemed to lose some steam. Koo similarly was more effective in the first half, but uncharacteristically made a number inaccurate passes in the later half. As is often the case, the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story as there were stretches where Korea had in fact played an impressive possession game against the Europeans, probing for a player to release and find that scoring breakthrough. It’s more than the finishing -I don’t believe that really was the crux of the problem, it’s the sense from watching that they aren’t communicating well. I’m not talking about ‘talking on the pitch,’ but the art of reading each other in the interplay. There were glimpses on the attack that the players seemed slightly confused as to who was supposed to be going where. Promising offensive build ups would then combust, followed by punishing waves of Croatian counter attacks.  In the second half, Coach Choi Kang-Hee swapped out Ji, Son, Shin Heung-Min and the hapless defender Lee Jung-Soo for Park Chu-Young, Lee Dong-Gook, Kim Bo-Kyung and Jung In-Whan…which leads us to our next reflection.

Reflection 3: what the hell is Lee Dong-Gook doing back on the squad?  Coach Choi just cannot let do of his fetish for the aging striker. His style of play is such a contrast to other forwards like Ji and Park, but more damaging is the way in which he clogged up the passing lanes in the middle, effectively chocking off the build up to several promising Korean counter attacks.

Reflection 4: no long balls. No ‘hail mary’ equivalent passes. This is definitely a criticism of the past that Coach Choi must have heard from talking heads since he abandoned this favorite tactic of his for an attempt at a fluid passing game in this match. He’s seen tapes of ‘Chungy,’ Koo, Ji, Kim, Ki and Park all executing passing games for their respective clubs in Europe, so he gave some of the midfielders some creative license to ‘do their thing’.

Reflection 5: the lineup has wrong chemistry.  This kind of reflects some of what I mentioned earlier, but one idea for why the team wasn’t able to score is the lineup contains some back-ass-wards thinking from Coach Choi. If the defense he’s got doesn’t offer a whole lot, he still has some very skilled midfielders and strikers to work with. That said, he still held onto the wrongheaded idea that Park Chu-Young and Lee Dong-Gook can be an effective attacking threat; as we mentioned before, Park and Lee do not have compatibility + Lee clogs.  Why not pair Park with the younger kids like Ji and Son? Why not have your best lineup possible, which could’ve been Park, Ji, Son, Ki, Lee Chung-Yong and Koo?  It was as if he unwittingly diluted the offensive firepower and effectiveness; if his experiments proved anything, it’s that his lineup didn’t work and the lack of team chemistry was the result that was blew up in his face today. Note: yesterday we posted the Tavern’s Starting XI in which we called for a 3-5-2 formation (kind of bizarre but the back 3 could get defensive midfielding help). Coach Choi said in a post game interview that perhaps he needed more midfielders in his lineup. Not to toot my own horn, but perhaps he should’ve gone with OUR ROSTER LINEUP.

Reflection 6: Lee Keun-Ho. He’s been a very effective midfielder for the Korean national team, but because of the strict military compulsory service rules, the 2012 Asian Player of the Year is now serving his military duty by playing for a relegated Sangju/Army football team. That’s how they do. And so, Lee wasn’t selected and called up for this high profile international game. As long as there is no flexibility in the military conscription rule, the Korean national team will be in a state of perpetual slow decline, and will fall further behind teams in Europe and Asia -particularly Japan. You want to talk about improving the structural problems that led to a defeat like today, that has to be one of the fundamental issues that must be tackled, sooner rather than later. Off topic, Lee is the subject of a new quarterly magazine that the AFC just started publishing. Visually stunning layouts, you can view this here

Reflection 7: Choi Kang-Hee has to go. It’s not a maybe. Only one good argument for keeping him exists: the team may be at a point of no return. The Korean FA wanted to have him lead the Taeguk Warriors to Brazil 2014, and to ax him now would possibly mean starting over with a steep learning curve for the team and for any new coach taking over. It’s a risk worth taking as it’s looking unlikely that the Taeguk Warriors will improve with Choi heading the team.  In fact, the team under Choi has gone backwards. It is completely rudderless, his decision making is mind boggling without any semblance of organization or coherence. You can feel it with his players on the pitch, they don’t play with confidence and that is a direct reflection of his inept managerial style. There has been no improvement with the backline to defend properly, nor a sensible strategic lineup necessary to finally score goals (there’s definitely been a paucity of goals in 2012).  Even if the team were to qualify for the World Cup, Korea may be dead on arrival and will not be in any form to prevent humiliating 4-0 scores from being inflicted on them – or worse. It’s an existential crisis for the Taeguk Warriors.


Strangely, I feel better. It’s kinda like talking to a shrink, you let it all out. Now we’ve identified what the problems are, it is now a matter of clinical fixes to right this ship. Now for that beer, because the list is a looong one.


About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner


  1. I’m not saying that any point that you make about coach Choi is wrong, and I can certainly understand the feeling of a fan let down by his national team (Heck I’m English, we’ve had a lot of practice at that!) But it’s worth keeping in mind that he didn’t want to take this job, and only accepted after basically being begged by the KFA.

    He has his style which works in the K-League and works with Lee Dong-Gook. The problem is you have to have faith in the long ball and target-man up-front. Unfortunately, as he has proved, Korea can’t win that way and ultimately it’s not how Son Heung-Min and the other Koreans in Europe are used to playing.

    In addition it’s no secret that the defense’s in the K-League are nothing to write home about. Teams there have always worked (especially in the case of Coach Choi at Jeonbuk) of scoring more goals than their opponent. I only mention this because at the end of the day he is a K-League level manager, it’s all he has ever done at a senior level. If the KFA wanted a manager to play European style football then they should of hired a European!

    I certainly agree with you that Lee Dong-Gook has no place in the national line-up, as he just doesn’t have it any more. Also he has never really possessed the ability to fit in a quick flowing offense that is required for high level national play.

    This is Coach Choi’s chance to say thank you to Lee Dong-Gook for the success he has given him at Jeonbuk, and in some way to make up for all of his missed opportunities at world cups throughout his career.

    Also I would think that if Korea get to the world cup Dong-Gook wont be anywhere near a starting team sheet and will be an honorable mention on the subs bench at most.

    But at the end of the day this is a massive blow to the reputation of Korean football in the eyes of Europeans, and hopefully they use this defeat to address some of great observations you made.

    • Good points. As you mentioned, Choi didn’t want this job and the punishing spotlight it brings (Tavern spotlight included). You’re right – he is at the core of it, a K-League manager. That’s his experience, that’s what he brings to the table. I can blame him all I want, but at the end of the day, it’s the Korean FA that should take ultimate responsibility.

      At this juncture, I think they do need a European manager -that or perhaps Hong Myung-Bo gets enough pointers from Guus Hiddink, he might be up to the task. As for current available European managers, even if Pep Guardiola is taken off the market, Roberto Di Matteo is still out there. If they ask him nicely enough and if he wants a nice challenge…

  2. I feel as if the KFA was to fire Choi, it would have to happen NOW. Otherwise, Hong Myong-Bo and the 2012 Under-23 Olympics team could kiss all of that hard work goodbye! It’s a shame. We are nowhere near the standard of the Japanese National team right now. Yet, the players we have right now can field one of the best World Cup teams we’ve had in years! I wonder what made the KFA hire Choi in the first place. Korean soccer just isn’t being taken seriously right now.

  3. Also, I really don’t think it is the time to “thank” Lee Dong-Gook for his Jeonbuk work by fielding him onto the pitch for anymore matches. It’s pathetic, and even if it was true, that must mean the KFA is in a really deep shithole! Choi is a disgrace! Park Ji-Sung, please come back from international retirement! Hong Myon-Bo, we need you more than ever!

    Choi is just too textbook and outdated for any real football.

  4. First off, great blog. Just found it. Anyway just wanted to throw in my 2 cents, if I may, on your reflections.

    1) The defense does need a retooling, but if we’re realistic, is there a defender to bring in who will really make a difference? Yoon Suk-Young? Park Joo-Ho? We’re talking about two left backs here. While Choi Jae-Soo wasn’t great, I don’t think a better left back will magically solve our problems. Personally I was hoping Kim Ki-Hee would get a chance (instead of Jung In-Hwan), thought he did quite well against the Aussies.

    2) I feel that Choi Kang-Hee gave them too much freedom. Everyone seemed to be doing their own thing, and hoping that it would work in the end. The only player I thought put in a good shift was Lee Chung-Yong because HE DID WHAT HE WAS SUPPOSED TO DO! Help the right back defensively, hug the touchline, put in good crosses. These players are young! Choi Kang-Hee! Give them guidance! Directions!

    3) Reading a few articles around the web, I think that Lee Dong-Gook is getting a bit more stick than he deserves. Yes, he’s past it. Yes, he should not be a regular starter. But of the four forwards (Park Chu-Young, Son Heung-Min, Ji Dong-Won, Lee Dong-Gook) did any of them do a good job? I’d like to see the team move on, but at least when Lee Dong-Gook is on they seem to have some idea of a tactic (even if it is a outdated one).

    4) I actually think the problem is more that there is no tactical variety within the game. Long balls obviously wouldn’t work well in the first half, especially against two big, physical Croatian centerbacks in Corluka and Siminc, but in the second half when it was clear the short passing game wasn’t quite clicking, something needs to change.

    5) This is one thing I will credit Cho Kwang-Rae with. While he certainly wasn’t perfect, he had a clear vision of what this team would play like, and he selected players who could execute it (and got the players to buy into it). Choi Kang-Hee seems to have no idea what he wants the team to do.

    6) Agreed.

    7) Yes, he should go, maybe now maybe in the summer. But the KFA needs to be smarter than they were when they got rid of (prematurely I believe) Cho Kwang-Rae. It can’t be a fire first, look for someone better later. If the KFA believes they can bring someone in to right the ship, then do it. But, if they’re just hoping and praying they can get someone. That scares me more.

    And, sorry, shameless plug here. I write my own blog on South Korean football/soccer. www[dot]southkoreasoccer[dot]blogspot[dot]com check it out!

    • Right on!
      1. you may be right, but i must admit to you and everyone else, my knowledge base for available Korean defenders in Korea, Japan and elsewhere in Asia is very limited. That said, I’m consulting with our ‘Tavern overseas scout’ to list other potential candidates to join future call ups (he’s working pro bono- thank god). Not ruling out (remote) possibility that any one of these players from wed’s match improve their game either…
      2. Word. that’s the thing, managerial direction and lack of it
      3. We’ll agree to disagree on that -which is fine – this is a pluralistic Tavern and I’m good with that
      4.good point – tactical variety – reading your blog, you make an excellent case for that -which def is missing from CKH’s toolbox
      5. Word.
      6. Double word.
      7. yes, a smart deliberately researched hiring for a new coach this time is absolutely critical.

      -and no -not shameless plug- great blog you have – putting that up as a link right now…thanks for yr comments

      • Thanks for linking, I’m honored. If you don’t mind, I’ll link your blog on mine as well.

        I’ll admit as well, my knowledge of Korean defenders anywhere is limited too. I think it may be sign as to the state of our defense.

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