Iran 1 – 0 Korea: Analysis

Jeremy is still working on the match report, so I thought I’d just stick this up there while people are waiting. Don’t forget to check out Jinseok’s player ratings too.

A disappointing result, but some promising moments particularly in the first half. And for the first time, it felt like we saw a few changes, albeit small ones, in how Stielike wants the team to play. Like the Jordan game, this analysis will mainly be limited to the first half as I feel that half was really what Stielike has been working with the team on.

Korea’s Set-Up

For this one, Stielike changed almost every player from the Jordan friendly on Friday. Only Park Joo-ho (and he changed positions) started both matches.
football formations
On paper, it was Korea’s normal 4-2-3-1 with Lee Keun-ho leading the attack, a trident of attackers in Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol, and Lee Chung-yong operating just behind, Park Joo-ho and Ki Sung-yueng in midfield, and a back four of Yoon Suk-young, Jang Hyun-soo, Kwak Tae-hwi, and Kim Chang-soo. Kim Jin-hyeon got the (slightly) surprise start in goal.

Korea Attacks

If it was 4-2-3-1 on paper, it was rarely that on the field. Korea was clearly looking for midfield superiority in numbers when they had the ball. Son Heung-min and Lee Chung-yong were notably pinching in towards the middle to make a five-man central midfield structure with Yoon Suk-young and Kim Chang-soo pushing up to give the team width. Son and Koo also took turns pushing higher to help support Lee Keun-ho.

kor tight midfield

This change in positioning also affected the way Korea attacked. Traditionally, or at least over the last couple years, Korea has been very wing-oriented in their attacks. Using the wide midfielders and fullbacks to combine and move the ball up the field. Against Iran, Korea seemed to be much more focused on attacking through the center of the pitch with balls into the feet of the attacking three.

kor att 1
Yay! Triangles!

Unfortunately for Korea, Iran (as most teams do) set up to deny this attacking strategy. They dropped into a rough 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation with their midfield four forming a very horizontally compact unit to deny the passes into the Korean attackers. Korea’s better moves generally came from when (primarily) Lee Chung-yong went slightly wider to avoid the Iran midfield, and then combined with the fullback (usually Yoon Suk-young) to beat the isolated Iranian fullback.

iran deny space

Korea Defends

Like the Jordan game, Iran was content to sit deeper, soak up the Korea pressure, and then counter. A traditionally winning formula against Korea, so perfectly understandable. But, it’s frustrating from an analytic perspective because it feels like we’re yet to see the defensive system Stielike wants to use.

Press? Trap? Drop deep? Who knows?
Press? Trap? Drop deep? Who knows?

I still feel like Korea’s defensive system is not entirely clear, both to observers and the players. When do they press, when do they stand off? Who sets the height of the line? How do they cover for each other when someone does go to challenge the attacker? Things like that. I did however, notice one defensive strategy that Korea employed. That was to shield the Iranian midfield and cut off the easy passes into feet from the Iranian backline. The tactic is obviously designed to force Iran into playing long down the field, and it was largely successful.

kor defending 2
No press on centerbacks. Midfield moves to collect ball deeper.
kor defending 3
Korea launches aggressive press when ball comes into midfield to deny time to turn and pass.

Iran’s Goal

Controversial? A bit. But some of the reaction (both on the pitch and on the internet) seemed a bit over the top. To be honest my initial reaction was that it’s the kind of incident that the referee usually blows the whistle for, but then fans complain how all the contact/physicality is being taken out of the game. Or to paraphrase Ernesto Valverde (Athletic Club Bilbao manager), ‘if it’s against my team it’s a foul, if it’s against their team it’s not a foul’.

I suspect that many are dead certain it’s a foul because of an often said ‘rule’ of the game. That being that any contact with the goalkeeper inside the goal box is a foul. Perhaps I missed it, but having spent a good 30 odd minutes perusing the official FIFA Laws of the Game manual this morning, and I failed to find this rule in it.So, if you accept the idea that contact with the keeper can happen, the challenge becomes a 50-50 one in the eyes of the ref.

That being said, let’s take a look at it in images.

kor-iran goal 1It’s clear from the above image that the referee does not have a clear view of the incident, but the linesman does. I imagine the ref is going purely on what his linesman is telling him.

kor-iran goal 2

Using slow-motion replays and screenshots, we can easily see that Kim Jin-hyeon got to the ball fractionally before Azmoun did. In hindsight, we can definitively say it was a foul (update: 3 Korean international qualified officials commented that the call was correct because Kim JH did not have full control of the ball when the contact occurred), but in the moment it’s not so easy, and as is often said when these types of incidents occur, the officials don’t have the benefit of technology. But, perhaps the debate on this incident is a bit moot because in the build up just before the free kick, this happened . . .

Handball anyone?
Handball anyone? I know two bad calls don’t make one good one, but . . .

Individual Notes

  • Lee Keun-ho: Was given a starting nod ahead of Park Chu-young and largely failed to capitalize on his chance. Although I feel that the type of game didn’t really fit his playing profile. Lee is adequate in terms of his technical ability, but if we’re honest it’s his workrate that gets him time on the pitch. Lee KH can be a useful player, but only if used in a specific set of circumstances. To me, Lee KH is someone who can be used wide when you need someone who can help attack and defend or as a center forward when Korea will be playing more on the break. Lee KH is decent at shielding the ball and holding up play, and his workrate allows him to run the channels and stretch defenses.
  • Koo Ja-cheol: Returned to the starting XI and delivered a mixed performance. In some ways it was similar to Park Chu-young’s performance against Jordan. He had his moments where he did some nice combos, worked hard, but ultimately was disappointing. His attempted outside of the boot pass to Son Heung-min on the break was particularly poor.
  • Ki Sung-yueng: Put in his usual shift. My lingering ‘dislike’ if you will, with Ki is that he tends to operate on one speed. Which broadly speaking is slower, more patient, and safe. Granted this was a friendly and it’s probably not wise to go ‘balls to the wall’ when your team is shaky defensively, but when Korea went down a goal late, there really wasn’t any reaction other than to get squabbly with the Iranians. Because Ki is the hub which everything runs through, I feel that he’s the one that needs to up the tempo and get the team moving at a faster click.
  • Kwak Tae-hwi: Speaking of getting squabbly with the Iranians. Kwak was decent although he didn’t have to deal with much. If he can keep healthy he’s probably a useful player to have around to help the younger center backs and provide that ‘veteran’ presence in the squad. I didn’t really have any issues with his squabble, but will agree it was probably over the top. Korea fully expected Iran to waste time (Koo JC mentioned it very specifically in an interview he gave before the match), and so when it happened they probably had an ‘again?’ feeling of annoyance (plus they were suddenly losing). It’s a rivalry, what’d you expect?
  • Jang Hyun-soo: Finally! Jang has returned to center back! And the youngster (is he still considered a youngster?) did fairly well. At least there wasn’t a brain fart moment like Kim Young-gwon or a ball-watching moment like Hong Jeong-ho. This game probably gave him a one-up on his 선배’s, but one game does not make a career. Hopefully Jang will continue to get chances to show his worth and hopefully he continues to take them.
  • Yoon Suk-young: A mixed outing for the QPR man. Flashed some nice attacking skill, but was then generally wasteful with the ball after that. Misplaced a couple simple passes as well that went unpunished (thankfully). Still feels like ‘one for the future’.
  • Park Joo-ho: Did okay in center midfield, and while this comparison may not actually hold up, he strikes me as a slightly upgraded version of Lee Yong-rae.

Final Notes

The “Azadi Jinx” continues. I believe there will be a Hangout later this week with some Tavern folks (not me) to talk about the games against Jordan and Iran, so make sure to look for that. I’ll be posting my own thoughts about the immediate future (Asian Cup) in the coming weeks.

About Jae Chee 339 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


  1. If you could only combine LKH’s heart with the rest of PCY. Appreciate the writeup and agree with the main points.

    Am glad you commented on Ki. Thats my gripe with him as well. He’s pretty vanilla with a great toolbox. More importantly, he’d rather keep the ball than test himself.

    • I don’t consider PJY to be a great finisher by any means, but if LKH had even just a pinch of PJY’s nose for the goal, we’d all be fairly happy with him as the undisputed starter. lol.

      I liked Jae’s comment on Ki as well.

      I also did notice that PJH became much more reckless as Takeuchi basically said (in response to my criticism of HKY) is likely to happen to anyone partnered with Ki. That said, I think I’d still prefer an experimental PJH over HKY. However, my question is to Takeuchi or whomever, why is that the case that Ki’s partner ends up more all over the place and a bit reckless? I assume there is some tactical reason, which I can intuit, but would like to hear from more knowledgeable people.

      • btw, I also agree on the 50/50. in fact, that’s probably why i kept asking, since my gut said it’s a foul, but i didn’t feel any conviction about it. and i definitely did not catch the handball. bootleg feeds aren’t conducive to catching all the details on screen. lol

      • Well, this is my take..

        1. Tactic.. as you pointed out. Too many holes/space for DM or double-six players to cover with idiosyncratic pressing.

        2. Ki’s a bit like Pirlo. Slow, doesn’t cover a lot of ground (positional defender), and requires work-horse type of players next to them to flourish.

        Pirlo had Gattuso + Ambrosini at AC Milan, Pogba + Vidal at Juventus

        Btw, I really like PJH but I don’t like him in double-six role with Ki in KNT. He’s good in shielding the ball but that partnership is just too soft. I like HKY because of the system/style I want KNT to play. Which is compact, pressing, and quick counters… which he is excellent at as he can break-up plays and immediately lay it off to attacking players. It becomes an issue when the build-up is slow and etc with him…..

        • thanks, that makes sense. still, it’s hard for me to look past just how often he seemed to leave korea exposed in so many ways even if it’s not totally his fault. i guess if he is used very specifically and the game goes according to plan, he can be useful. however it seems like korea’s game gets disrupted easily by quality (and sometimes lesser) opponents.

      • I think it’s primarily tactics or a lack thereof (or a lack of understanding). The team does not have a clear system of how they cover the spaces and it largely just falls to the DM (Ki’s partner) to cover a lot of it. Ki has also been given more license to push forward as well under Stielike (thus leaving more space to cover).

        I may be stepping into it here (talking with two Liverpool fans), but I’ve always seen Ki as a more Xabi Alonso-like than Pirlo-like. Ki’s not the most athletic guy, but I’d say he’s a step above Pirlo in terms of mobility and workrate. Pirlo needs those “water carriers” next to him, Ki benefits from them but doesn’t need.

        • my first instinct is to say i wish he was more like either of them! lol. that said, i think i agree slightly more with jae in the xabi comparison as opposed to pirlo. aside from that, it seems to me that if my amateur eyes can pick up on that vulnerability, why is that coaches don’t better plan for that?

        • I think much more accurate comparison is Michael Carrick (including overall physical build). Xabi Alonso had much more bite & nastiness to his game (sigh, I miss Alonso + Mascherano).

          Anyways, ever since his transfer to Swansea…. overall possession is his defense. I have yet to see Ki do really well without a “water carrier” next to him (even at Sunderland, most of his good games came from Lee Cattermole fulfilling the role).

          • Yeah I suppose Carrick is probably closer. Alonso certainly has a ‘street-wise’ aspect to his game that Ki has never shown.

            My point about the water carriers was that while Ki is better playing with one, he doesn’t need it like Pirlo does.

      • I don’t know about finishing levels (goals per shots taken), but purely in terms of goals/game the two aren’t that far off from each other (although PCY is better). Officially PCY has scored 24 in 66 appearances (0.36). LKH 19 in 69 (0.28). Lee’s return isn’t terrible considering he’s been used all over the midfield while Park has pretty much always been a forward. LKH’s return is also higher than SHM’s currently (7 in 32, 0.22)

        • But, Jae. Come on. First, you have to look goals per shot taken as you mentioned, but heck, even shots on goal from within the penalty box would probably show a huge disparity. I would be surprised if LKH is better than either SHM or PJY in any of those. Second, based on what we see with our eyes, LKH clearly does makes getting a shot attempt look TERRIBLE. Third, I know you’re just relaying those stats as information, but I thought I’d bite. lol

          • The point wasn’t that LKH is as good or better than PCY, but more that it feels like people largely think that PCY is this super-accurate, goalscoring machine for Korea while LKH is this bumbling, attacker who sometimes gets lucky. Based on our eyes? Just using recent history I recall LKH scored (luckily) at the World Cup while PCY did not. Both took a shot in the recent friendlies, LKH got his on target and forced a decent save, PCY missed. The point is that some people seem to have very rose-tinted memories of PCY which I don’t think holds up to scrutiny.

          • I was actually pretty explicit and always have been that PJY is NOT that accurate. My point was that that’s how SUPER inaccurate LKH is.

          • I wouldn’t say you were ‘explicit’ at all, but that’s beside the point. I think we both can agree that Korea doesn’t have a clinical striker which is the end point.

  2. Also, I must post that I noticed and appreciated Stielike’s fire on the touchline during the 1st half and then saw him on the sideline when the fracas broke out.

    He wasn’t faking the funk out there. With the improvement I saw in the 1st half, he definitely gets at least B marks from me in most regards.

    This is getting interesting.

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