It wasn’t, of course, all flowers and sunshine, but Korea did manage to avert a national panic by doing the job against Uzbekistan. With the win Korea takes a massive step towards automatic qualification for Brazil.
The starting XI was much as expected. Jung Sung-Ryong was in goal. Kim Chang-Soo came in at right back, Kwak Tae-Hwi was partnered by Kim Young-Kwon in central defense, and Kim Chi-Woo kept his left back spot. Lee Chung-Yong and Lee Keun-Ho were once again on the wings. There was a completely new central midfield pairing of Park Jong-Woo and Lee Myeong-Joo. Up top was Kim Shin-Wook and Son Heung-Min. Officially the formation was labeled a 4-2-3-1, and looked like this:
The team seemed more balanced this time out. With most players playing in their best position. You can argue where Son Heung-Min is best (wide or more central) and whether Kim Chi-Woo or Park Joo-Ho should have started, but there seemed to be a decent chemistry in each area.
The first half followed a fairly predictable pattern. Uzbekistan came out content with a draw, while Korea needed a win. Korea controlled the possession, but rarely threatened. Uzbekistan was more than willing to pack their half with 9-10 men when Korea had the ball. Korea found space down the right side (Uzbekistan’s left) with Lee Chung-Yong and Kim Chang-Soo having the best opportunities to create something. Uzbekistan would try their luck on the counter and seemed to have permission to shoot on sight as most of their efforts were long-range ones in the 25-30 yard area.
Once the goal came that, predictably, changed the flow. Uzbekistan, now needing a goal, pressed more, and started to threaten a bit. Things got a bit hectic at times in the second half with both sides looking to break quickly, and with more space available, things became end-to-end. Despite the space, neither team really created many chances. Kwak Tae-Hwi’s header from a corner being the best chance either team had.
Korea with the ball
When Korea had the ball they generally looked to be more direct at first. Long passes towards Kim Shin-Wook were the general theme. It’s a pretty basic idea, but it was fairly effective as Kim Shin-Wook won most of his aerial battles, and was good at directing it towards his supporting attackers. But after that initial ball there were more problems. A lack of clear attacking ideas in the final third resulted in not many chances being created. There were a some moments of nice interplay, but they were few and far between. Most often Korea seemed to be relying on individual brilliance, particularly from Son Heung-Min, to break through the defense.
Korea without the ball
Here I will actually give Choi Kang-Hee a small nod of appreciation in that I thought he got his defensive tactics right for the most part. When Uzbekistan went forward (normally, not on a counter), he had two banks of four, and Kim Shin-Wook dropped deep, leaving Son Heung-Min up top. A smart move. The two banks of four are obvious, but the decision to drop Kim deep instead of Son was a good one. When Korea won the ball back, they would look to counter attack, and Son is a much better option than Kim. Son’s pace and ball skills were certainly a greater threat than Kim’s height and aerial ability. If they needed Kim to serve as a target man, should the counter break down or not be available, they could simply recycle the ball through the defense to give him time to get back to his position.
Jung Sung-Ryong 6.5 – A solid game for Jung and a clean sheet to boot. A rare sighting this past year. Didn’t really have too much to deal with, but Uzbekistan got a couple good long-rangers in.
Kim Chang-Soo 6.5 – Did fine. Looked more assured than Shin Kwang-Hoon, but was wasteful with the ball at times. Seemed to try to do too much, and ended up losing possession. Linked up well with Lee Chung-Yong.
Kwak Tae-Hwi 6.5 – Had one nervous moment where it looked like he would get beat, but made a good sliding tackle to recover. Was strangely untroubled most of the match. For the second straight match could have been on the score sheet.
Kim Young-Kwon 7.0 – Looked very assured in the center of defense, and had the cross that led to the only goal. Hopefully he retains his spot in the future.
Kim Chi-Woo 6.0 – Much quieter this game. Nothing really to note from his performance.
Park Jong-Woo 6.5 – Did well after serving his suspension. Doesn’t look ready for a regular spot, but is valuable in that he is our only real box-to-box type player. Brought energy to the team, and can help serve as a link between the deeper players and more advanced players. Decent set piece delivery too.
Lee Myeong-Joo 7.5 – Honestly there were stretches where I forgot he was playing, but this was in a good way. He was calm and played well. Nothing fancy, but kept the ball moving and distributed well. Also provided some defensive grit in midfield.
Lee Chung-Yong 6.5 – Not as influential this game. But still put in a good shift. Controlled the right side with Kim Chang-Soo.
Son Heung-Min 6.5 – Finally got a full 90 minutes. Showed his skill a couple times, but never really threatened the goal. Still trying to figure out how to get the best out of him. His partnership with Kim Shin-Wook seemed more effective than with Lee Dong-Gook.
Lee Keun-Ho 5.5 – Each match he plays with the NT since moving to Sangju Sangmu has been a step back. Against Qatar, he still looked bright. Against Lebanon, he looked a little rusty. Against Uzbekistan, he looked a shadow of his former self. Might be time to look for a better left wing option.
Kim Shin-Wook 6.5 – Honestly I’m not really sure what rating to give him. He didn’t really create any chances or threaten scoring, but he did his job well. Won his aerial battles. Knocked the ball down to others. Didn’t make any real mistakes. Well done I suppose.
Lee Dong-Gook 5.0 – Came on as a sub for Lee Keun-Ho, and did nothing really. Had a half chance to score and didn’t. Didn’t add anything to the attack either.
Kim Ki-Hee S.V. – A surprise late sub for Kwak Tae-Hwi. Didn’t really have much impact on the game.
Ji Dong-Won S.V. – A time wasting sub deep into stoppage time.
Choi Kang-Hee 6.5 – Overall a good game. The initial setup was solid, if unspectacular, and the tactical instructions were decent. His substitutions were a bit odd, namely the Lee Dong-Gook one. Why not a more natural wide player like Ji Dong-Won or Kim Bo-Kyung?
Thoughts and Analysis
For once, it seems like Choi Kang-Hee actually got most of his initial decisions right. Park Jong-Woo and Lee Myeong-Joo worked well together with both capable of spreading the play around from central midfield. A stark contrast from last week’s destroyer duo of Kim Nam-Il and Han Kook-Young. The wide players were quieter with both Lee Keun-Ho and Lee Chung-Yong having smaller impacts on the play. This was a bit odd to me as with Kim Shin-Wook in the side one would have imagined that crosses would have been a key tool for attacks. Defensively Korea was okay. Uzbekistan only created a few decent chances, but Jung Sung-Ryong rarely looked threatened. Kim Young-Kwon was excellent, and Kwak Tae-Hwi was acceptable. I still feel his time is up following the Iran match, but there weren’t too many faults in his game last night. Kim Chang-Soo seemed an upgrade over Shin Kwang-Hoon, but his offensive input was minimal. Kim Chi-Woo had little impact as well with Park Jong-Woo taking over left sided corners and some free kick duties.
Kim Shin-Wook or Lee Dong-Gook? Certainly it seems that Kim Shin-Wook is a better partner for Son Heung-Min, but I still have doubts as to how much of an impact Kim Shin-Wook will have as a center forward. Lee Dong-Gook didn’t do much to convince he deserves another start (ever) in his substitute appearance either. Son Heung-Mon was fairly good. Certainly better than his recent outings. The move more central seems to have helped quite a bit as he was more involved in the play. This performance is making me wonder whether he’s better as a 9 or a 10. His flicks and ball control seem to suggest 10 if a proper forward can be found.
The final scoreline, 1-0, strikes me as being both very honest and slightly deceiving. Honest in that Korea really didn’t create too many good chances, but deceiving in that the result never really felt threatened. It was a surprisingly tame encounter. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was nice to see something that resembled a team and not 11 players thrown together. Perhaps all Choi needed to do was KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).
Next Tuesday is the final match of Round 4. Korea will face Iran in Ulsan for the final match. Iran beat up on Lebanon 4-0 yesterday, so the automatic spot isn’t quite in hand (but we have 4 fingers on it). The table as of now:
|Team||MP||W||D||L||F||A||D||P||Last 5 matches|
Automatic qualification isn’t quite wrapped up as we could end up level on points with Uzbekistan, but our vastly superior goal difference should be enough to see us through. That being said, it will be interesting to see how Choi Kang-Hee approaches the Iran match. More cautiously, using a similar starting XI to the Uzbekistan one, or if he tries some new combinations. I suspect it will be the former rather than the latter, but we’ll see.