On March 5th South Korea will play it’s last official friendly before the World Cup (yes, there are additional practice matches before the World Cup, but they are not on FIFA’s official calendar). Korea will head to Europe to take on Greece. Korea has played Greece three times historically, and the Greeks have yet to get the better of us. Korea has won twice, and drawn once, with the last meeting at the 2010 World Cup (Korea won 2-0).
Much has been said about Korea’s failings on their US tour, although it seems that people have equally said that it doesn’t matter, but the Greece game should provide a better measurement of how far Hong’s team has come (or how far they have to go).
The run-up to this match has been marred by continual injury news. Three defenders have had to drop out of the match due to injuries picked up in the week before the game. Cha Du-Ri of FC Seoul and Kwak Tae-Hwi of Al-Ahli, both suffered injuries and dropped out. Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Hwang Seok-Ho also will miss out due to injury with Seongnam’s Park Jin-Po will replace him. Hong will be hoping and praying that the team isn’t bitten by the injury bug or FIFA virus or whatever you want to call it this week. The small plus about those injuries is that, ideally, none would actually play in Hong’s strongest starting XI. And with this being the last real test the team will face before Hong must make his cuts, I would expect Hong to really go for it this game.
Other than the injuries, the main headline has been the return of Park Chu-Young. Park, with his January loan move to Championship side Watford, has started to see a bit of time on the pitch, and that’s apparently enough for Hong.
- Goalkeeper – Jung or Kim? Jung Sung-Ryong once again seems poised to keep hold of the starting spot over a previously surging Kim Seung-Gyu due to Kim’s shaky display versus Mexico. The argument essentially comes down to experience vs raw ability. Jung has already felt the pressure of a World Cup tournament and has been through it at one of Korea’s biggest clubs (Suwon). Kim certainly appears to have a higher ceiling than Jung, but just donned the gloves for Ulsan last year. I think Hong will give Kim one last chance to impress against the Greeks, but shaky show could open the door for Jung.
- Attacking mid – Kimbo or Koo? It looked like Kim Bo-Kyung had forced his way into Hong’s starting XI due to his solid showings at Cardiff, but he’s dropped off recently under Solskajaer, and Koo has been re-vitalized since his move to Mainz. The two, while playing in the same position, offer very different options. Koo is the bigger offensive threat, while Kim offers a more solid all-round game. Koo will get the nod due to his better club form though.
- Park Chu-Young returns, but should he start? Should he, no. But will he? Probably yes. Argue about talent and history all you want, but Park shouldn’t be anywhere near the starting XI given he’s only played about 70 minutes all season, and how Hong has pushed this ‘meritocracy’ idea of his all year. However, the poor returns and showings from the likes of Kim Shin-Wook and Lee Keun-Ho haven’t left him with many options.
When you talk about Greece, one thing comes to mind. Defense. Defensive football. Shutting down the opposition. Grinding out a result. Greece, since their 2004 European championship triumph, has certainly embraced that philosophy of play. A glance at Greece’s World Cup qualifying campaign shows that in 10 matches, they scored just 12 goals, but only conceded 4. Of course, one significant asterisk must be put on that record, and that would be that Greece’s qualifying group included Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Lichtenstein. Bosnia-Herzegovina won the group (on goal difference), but the presence of one more decent team might have seen Greece fail to qualify. Read off Greece’s results and that defensive image comes to the fore once more.
Home: 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 2-0, 1-0
Away: 1-3, 2-1, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0
The man responsible for this is the former Greek boss, the German Otto Rehhagel. Rehhagel took the Greek job in 2001 and stayed until the 2010 World Cup. In some ways, Rehhagel is viewed in Greece the same way that Guus Hiddink is in Korea. A man who put their team and country on the international football map. While many deride Greece for the way they play, it must be said that it does produce results. Prior to Rehhagel’s 2001 appointment, Greece had only once qualified for the World Cup and once for the European championship. Since his appointment, Greece has qualified for back-to-back World Cup (2010 and 2014) and all three European championships (famously winning the 2004 edition). Since Rehhagel stepped down, it is the Portuguese Fernando Santos who has been guiding the Greek ship. Santos, who spent seven seasons coaching in the Greek league (with AEK Athens, Panathinaikos, and PAOK), has been the Greek coach since Rehhagel stepped down. Santos also was honored by the Greek football league as being the best coach in the decade in 2010.
GK: Alexandros Tzorvas, Panagiotis Glykos
DF: Vasilis Torosidis, Loukas Vyntra, Avraam Papadopoulos, Giannis Maniatis, Jose Cholevas, Giorgos Tzavellas, Kostas Manolas
MF: Giorgos Karagounis, Kostas Katsouranis, Alexandros Tziolis, Giannis Fetfatzidis, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, Panagiotis Kone, Andreas Samaris
FW: Dimitris Salpingidis, Giorgos Samaras, Kostas Mitroglou, Dimitris Papadopoulos
While Greece is viewed as a defense-first team, they do have a couple quality attackers. The most famous, at least as of late, is Fulham striker Kostas Mitroglou. Before his January move, Mitroglou was playing for Olympiacos, and in the span of about six weeks – from September through mid-October – Mitroglou scored hat tricks in four games (against Levadiakos, Skoda Xanthi, Anderlecht, and Veria). Mitroglou made his senior Greece bow back in 2009, but it wasn’t until more recently (2012) that he has become a key feature for the side. Mitroglou scored three of Greece’s four goals in their World Cup playoff tie against Romania.
A more established dangerman is Celtic striker (and Ki Sung-Yueng’s former teammate) Georgios Samaras. Big, strong, good in the air, and with his feet. While Mitroglou may be getting the goal scoring headlines, it’s Samaras who usually starts things off for Greek attacks. His size, and ground game (take note Kim Shin-Wook), allows him to receive the ball, hold up play, and then bring the others in.
Greek Tactics (*note based on Greece’s two-legged playoff against Romania)
Greece played a fairly standard 4-3-3. If attacking on the counter, Greece played a fairly rigid shape, with Samaras staying on the left and Salpingidis staying on the right. If allowed more time and possession, the two fullbacks, Torosidis and Cholevas will push higher, allowing the wide forwards to tuck in. Greek attacks generally take two shapes. One involves directional passes to Samaras (seemingly the preferred method), who holds up play to bring others in. The other involves playing passes into space for Salpingidis to run onto. I would say that generally, Salpingidis is the better counterattacking option, while Samaras is better for a more gradual buildup.
Defensively, Greece plays in what I consider three phases. If the ball is won back quickly, the shape stays a 4-3-3. If it isn’t won quickly, but the opposition isn’t pushing forward, one of Samaras or Salpingidis will drop deeper to make a 4-4-2. If the opposition has lots of possession in the Greek half both Samaras and Salpingidis will drop deeper to make a 4-5-1.
- Giorgos Samaras vs Lee Yong – Hong had said he had planned on using Hwang Seok-Ho at right back, a logical move not only to test the depth there, but also to get a bigger, more physical player there against Samaras. With Hwang out though, that will job will fall to usual right back Lee Yong. Lee isn’t small, but he’ll give up some height and weight to Samaras. Expect Han Kook-Young to be required to assist at times.
- Kim Young-Gwon/Hong Jeong-Ho vs Kostas Mitroglou – From what I’ve seen, Mitroglou isn’t particularly fast or skillful. But what he has in abundance in finishing ability and that natural predatory instinct. Mitoglou will hang onto the shoulder of the center backs and look to pounce on any opportunity he has to score. Kim and Hong will need to cut the lapses in concentration that occasionally plague the two.
- Koo Ja-Cheol vs Giorgios Karagounis – The Greek midfield three tend to play close together and as a three. Koo will need to drop deeper to pick the extra man or Korea’s duo may get overrun (particularly as Han isn’t the most technically gifted player). This game would seem more suited to Kim Bo-Kyung’s style, but with Koo almost assured to start, he’ll need to be disciplined in his positioning defensively.
Three Things to Watch For
- Park Chu-Young – All eyes will be on the Watford striker, both for good and bad. Score a goal, and all his fans will jump on the internet boards and social media sites saying, “I told you f*** y’all! Park is the answer!” Have a bad match, and all his critics will jump on the internet boards and social media sites saying, “I told you f*** y’all! Park is crap now!” As for me, I will simply hope for a sold outing. Good signs will be that Park links up with the attacking trio well, shows good movement off the ball, and makes some of those trademark runs into space behind the defense.
- Left back – With Yoon Suk-Young once again descending into the darkness at QPR (although he’s reappeared on the bench the last couple weeks), Park Joo-Ho finds himself back in the picture. Park should get a chance to show what he’s got against Greece, but he’ll need to do plenty to convince Hong that he should overtake Kim Jin-Su.
- Son Heung-Min – Korea’s most explosive player has looked a little short on fuel lately. Son hasn’t scored in almost a month, and although he came close last weekend against Mainz, he hasn’t looked great at times. It will also be interesting to see how Son and Park CY play with each other. Honestly I can’t remember when, or if, they played together for the national team. The last time they were called together was the 4-0 loss to Croatia, but Park subbed on when Son was subbed off.
TV and Stuff
US Date/Time: Wednesday, March 5 @12PM
US TV: ?
Korea Date/Time: Thursday, March 6 @2AM
Korea TV: MBC (Korean residents can also stream the game live on iMBC)