It was supposed to be a test of Korea’s domestic talent and an evaluation of where the KNT is at 6 months after their Asian Cup honeymoon. And indeed, on a warm early summer’s day in Kuala Lumpur, the South Korea men’s national team secured a comfortable, composed 3-0 win against a sloppy United Arab Emirates.
(insert lineup here)
The game started brightly, with Korea controlling the tempo of the game. The KNT looked sharp, making accurate runs, and the passes were crisp both from deep and between the fluid front 4. Case in point – Lee Yongjae was one man away from a clear shot on goal in the 6th minute, and an accurate touch or two would have seen Son Heungmin have the chance of taking a shot. The most on-form player in the K League, Yeom Kihun, skied a shot himself in the 23rd minute, when he was clear on goal, a finish that left very much to be desired.
While Korea had settled in and gracefully passed across the pitch without too much pressure, the midfielders and Lee Yongjae combining well while Jung Wooyoung in particular stood out in defensive midfield with strong challenges and at times Ki Sungyueng-esque passing, the UAE were poor and rather sloppy. Later, we’d find out it isn’t just because they came out slowly out of the gate, but were simply poor throughout the match. Perhaps it was due to a lack of concentration? The UAE keeper certainly demonstrated this, literally dropping the ball in the 27th minute and needing his centreback to save his blushes as Lee Jaesung tried to tap into an empty net.
The Emirati keeper did make amends, however, in the 38th minute, when Lee Yongjae was stopped point-blank after a cross from Jeong Dongho on the right. The V-Varen Nagasaki forward was having a pretty good game, surpassing my expectations.
The 44th minute saw Korea score their first. Yeom Kihun curled in a free kick over the head of a ducking Kwak Taehwi. Something from the training pitch and Yeom was very pleased in scoring one of his specialty free kicks.
Halftime came, and although that goal should have put all of us in a cheery mood, a breaking news story caught us off guard and stunned many. Mixed-heritage forward (African-American) Kang Sooil, called up to the KNT for the first time, had been told he’d be going home? Why? For trying to grow a mustache.
On more serious terms, Kang had been taking a hair-growth tonic that contained methyltestosterone, a banned substance. The Jeju United forward now faces a 15 game suspension for his silly error, and may not get to realize his dream of playing in a KNT shirt…[update on moustache-gate]
Feeling somewhat gloomy at that news (I wanted to see him play!!), the second half began. Three changes were made, as Son Heungmin, step-in captain Kwak Taehwi as well as goalscorer Yeom Kihun came off for Nam Taehe, Hong Jeongho and Lee Chungyong.
Kim Seunggyu was tested for the first and last time in the 51st minute, making a relatively comfortable save off of a volley from a bad angle. Korea moved forward again with relative ease, and it was only in moments of indecision or an inefficient throughball that the UAE regained possession.
The Emirati lack of concentration reared his head again in the 60th minute, when a long throw from Kim Jinsu caught a centreback off guard, and Lee Yongjae controlled nicely and slotted home 1v1 with the keeper. The man we (almost) all love to hate got to prove us wrong today, with a cool finish. The score was 2-0.
The end of the game was rather uneventful. For the next 30 minutes, we saw subs (LYJ off, LJH on, and KJS off, LJY on, as well as LJS off, JSJ on) (I’m in a rush, I can’t type those names out for you right now), we heard Stielike yell at the ref angrily on a challenge he didn’t think was a foul, we saw that Japan was leading Iraq 3-0 in Yokohama. Oh, the game? Same old narrative. Sluggish UAE. Average Korea. Average Korea do better with ball.
The South Koreans did get to put an exclamation point on the final score however with some nice passing on the top of the box, penetration by way of a pass to (someone, I will add when I see the highlights) who passed accurately across to an unmarked Lee Jeonghyub. The Emirati keeper thought he could intercept the pass, but it was poor judgment as the Sangju Sangmu striker received the pass instead and tapped home.
The whistle blew. The 2,000 odd Korean fans in Malaysia cheered. Stielike looked a satisfied man. 3-0 to the good guys. Korea had passed the test.
Next up? Myanmar. The Road to Russia (or wherever the heck the World Cup will be) begins. And if today is any indicator, the South Koreans should leave the south east part of Asia with two comfortable wins and a good goal differential to boot in the Second Round of Asian qualifying.
Jalgayo from the TSQ…