KNT Crisis Continues While Our Archenemy Soars: Wales and Saudi Arabia Recap

Another international break, another round of disappointment. Korea drew 0-0 against a uninspired and lethargic Wales side in a game so frustrating it reminded me of the worst of the Stielike and Hong Myung Bo days. It might have been the hardest game to watch so far during Klinsmann’s tenure. The game against Saudi Arabia was better as you would expect, but a 1-0 win against a struggling team undergoing manager transition and conceding some really silly chances to the other team isn’t a great look either.

The match against Wales found a 4-1-4-1 with Cho Gue Sung up top as expected, Hong Hyeon Seok and Lee Jae Sung out wide, Son Heung Min and Hwang In Beom in the middle, Park Yong Woo returning to his role as the DM of choice, and the expected back four. No use in dwelling on this game too much. It was dour, bereft of chances, and we were bailed out by Kim Seung Gyu (or really bad finishing) multiple times. Hard to tell who was the better side but I would lean Wales as they did penetrate our defense through the middle on multiple occasions. Meanwhile as usual, most of our chances came from crosses out wide. The less we dwell on this game the better.

What really surprised me about this match was how even the commentators were openly at war with Klinsmann. Park Moon Sung repeatedly commented on why Son was being played centrally with Hong Hyeon Seok playing wide. All the commentators lamented how Klinsmann doesn’t seem to have any sort of footballing philosophy or how he envisions this team playing their football. The media, the commentators, the public – everyone has been openly anti-Klinsmann this past week. What a mess we’ve put ourselves into.

The Saudi friendly was admittedly better. Some really good passing sequences with Son doing what he does best (running behind the defense). But we scored through sheer luck, we made a ton of uncharacteristic passing mistakes, and we conceded a lot of chances – if we played against a better team they would’ve easily scored. Sure we had a blatant penalty ruled out but I’ve accepted that this kind of thing just … happens to us now.

On the bright side though Kim Min Jae was a monster as always

Takeaways + Klinsmann controversies

Klinsmann gets his win, but I honestly think literally anyone could’ve coached this team and still would’ve won. There are serious issues at the KFA right now – they took a big step backwards with the Klinsmann appointment, literally everyone in Korea is convinced he is not the right man for the job, he’s probably the most hated KNT manager I’ve seen in the last decade, and there seem to be major communication issues between the FA and Klinsmann himself, who claimed that he was not informed that he should reside in Korea (and even claimed he was not aware of the military exemption significance of the Asian Games). What a clusterf***. The KFA … always a clusterf*** no matter what. I know how this is going to go – Klinsmann will defend himself, the KFA will defend themselves to save face and deny that they failed to properly communicate with our manager. Ultimately this only ends in disappointing results for our team in one way or another.

It is said that Klinsmann will change plans – he was going to stay in Europe after these friendlies but reportedly decided to go to Korea to spend more time observing the K League. Presumably due to public pressure? Pressure from the KFA? Who knows.

I don’t think Klinsmann has much of a tactical brain but he keeps stating that the Asian Cup is the goal. I will reserve my final judgment until that tournament arrives. But unless he’s trying out stupid stuff before trying his real strategies in earnest (even more mind game-y than Shin Tae Yong)… there’s no way we’re winning it.

Why the heck were Seol Young Woo and Hong Hyeon Seok called up? The first game of the Asian Games in China is on 9/19. Hong HS played against Wales then linked up with the team in China, but SYW had it worse, playing 180 minutes, both friendlies, with a week left prior to the Asian Games. Terrible management right there. Though I think for the time being SYW should be our starting RB (despite a less than ideal showing vs Wales).

We need to test new defensive midfielders. Whether that’s Lee Soon Min who only got sub minutes, Jung Ho Yeon, Kim Bong Soo, or Kwon Hyuk Kyu … big nose Jung and Park Yong Woo are not really cutting it. I am in favor of just playing Kwon Hyuk Kyu now and get him accustomed to playing aside our players.

Against Asian teams I feel like we can get away with not using a #6 destroyer/enforcer. We can totally get away with guys like Paik Seung Ho or Hwang In Beom as deep lying playmakers. I will be happy as long as we don’t see Park Yong Woo starting every game in the Asian Cup.

A free role for Son is OK. I had a lot of doubts about it but if he can do what he did against Saudi Arabia vs the remainder of the Asian teams I think it’ll be okay.

It really pains me to see Paulo Bento’s UAE defeating Costa Rica 4-1. I pray that our domestic coaches can really step up at some point.

Anyone wanna debate whether Uli Stielike or Jurgen Klinsmann is the better manager in the comments?

About Japan

I wonder if we’re collectively extra anxious about our NT because of the recent emergence of Japan, who have been on an incredible run of form scoring 18 goals in 4 games and conceding just 4 against some strong teams. Hell their B TEAM can beat Turkey 4-2. We would probably lose against the. Japan is getting a lot of international recognition for their feats as well. I despise the fact that this is the truth, but Japan is the strongest team in Asia right now (gosh that was painful). It’ll take some weird luck for them to not win the upcoming Asian Cup.

Their team is in a good run of form but so are the individual players at club level like Mitoma and Kubo. If you want a hefty dose of the good ol’ FML, just take a look at their callups – their entire squad is comprised of players in Europe. They may never boast a Son Heung Min, a Kim Min Jae, or any truly world class player but my god do they have a balanced and well-organized squad used to playing in the same system pretty much their whole lives. What I’m most jealous about is that we have no DMs and fullbacks – meanwhile they have Wataru Endo, who many in Japan consider their best player, and defensive midfielders in reserve who are above Kwon Hyuk Kyu in the Celtic pecking order.

Also the JFA is truly a model for other countries to learn from with incredible systematic reform at the grassroots level. So what if they were losing to us every game maybe 20 years ago? They were building up to a day like this and eventually to even greater heights. The JFA probably has been laughing at the KFA’s incompetence for some time by now. Can we literally just copy what they do?

Kim Min Jae after the Qatar World Cup lamented how Japan is a better place for footballers to develop. I think our players need to start voicing this opinion more often. Someone’s gotta enact some kind of change. We’ve been saying this for decades now.

And to be completely honest it’s surprising to me that a country with ~1/3 the population, a significantly smaller professional league, and much much less youngsters playing competitive football (I’m talking about our country if you haven’t noticed yet) can produce the caliber of players that it has.

There is hope for us. We have made significant reforms to the K League in recent years. Attendance is up, the pitches look better, and the youth teams continue to impress (Ulsan U18 recently defeated several high profile European academy teams in a recent tournament). Korea continues to outshine all other Asian countries at the U17, U20 level with semifinal appearances at the last two U20 FIFA World Cups. Multiple players from the most recent U20 generation have already transferred to Europe: Kim Ji Soo, Bae Jun Ho, and Hwang In Taek, with more surely to follow. We also had one of our best transfer windows in recent memory this past summer with Cho Gue Sung, Lee Han Beom, Yang Hyun Jun, and Kwon Hyuk Kyu (a DM!) joining the U20 guys above in making the leap to Europe. And of course we are in a bit of a golden generation for our standards with two ballon d’or nominees in the last two years in Kim Min Jae and Son Heung Min, with Lee Kang In surely on the way as well. If we had a proper FA and a proper manager we would definitely be the strongest team in Asia.

But the fact of the matter is that our national team as well as our U-23 is led two managers who make us look like hot garbage. We may have great players but no manager to translate good personnel into good performances. We can’t waste away this golden generation and it is really sad to think that Son Heung Min may retire without having won anything, club or international. Hwang Sun Hong especially time and time again has shown us that he is not a good manager with some really disappointing results and play. Of course, all that matters is the Asian Games and the Asian Cup – but things do not bode well as things stand. Neither manager will be sacked before those competitions though, so all we can do is root for the team and hope that HSH and Klinsmann can prove us wrong.

Random thoughts about what I would do differently

I am no tactician. Many people smarter than me have tried and failed to take the incredible talent that we have and turn it into a cohesive team. Would I do anything different? In terms of player selection, not too much. I definitely would’ve called up Joo Min Kyu and Lee Seung Woo though (and probably also Na Sang Ho). But in terms of play style, definitely. We’ve been saying this for years – what kind of team is Korea? Will we stick to what Bento started and play short pass based possession football? Or will we play counterattacking football designed to unleash our best players in Son and HHC? It seems like the former is more likely.

Ahn Jung Hwan on why Joo Min Kyu needs to be called up

You guys know me as someone who is always into developing the next generation. Once Lee Han Beom integrates himself into the Midtjylland squad, in the CB department I would just straight up call up Kim Min Jae, Lee Han Beom, Kim Ju Sung, and Kim Ji Soo. Though Lee KJ and Seol YW seem to be our best FBs for now, I would trial Seol Yong Woo as the LB and Hwang Jae Won as RB at the senior level (or SYW as RB and test out Lee Tae Seok). I would make Kwon Hyuk Kyu or Paik Seung Ho the holding midfielder with Hwang In Beom next to him as the #8 and Lee Kang In as a true #10. If not that he can play as a #8 alongside HIB as the most advanced midfielder.

In attack I think there’s a lot of room for tinkering, from SHM-CGS-HHC To HHC-SHM-YHJ (I’m a proponent of playing SHM up top) or keeping Son in a free role like Klinsmann prefers. But what do I know about tactics? All I know is that none of our DMs look fit for the role, none of our fullbacks outside of Seol Young Woo look fit for the role, and that we have yet to figure out how to best utilize Son, Lee KI, Hwang IB, Hwang HC all at the same time. We have players incredible at running behind the defensive lines in Son and Hwang. We have an incredibly creative attacking midfielder in Lee Kang In. We have to make use of this.

I’ve also been thinking that Hwang Hee Chan is actually best utilized off the bench around the 60′ mark. So maybe we should be looking into:

4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3: CGS – SHM LKI LJS/YHJ – HIB KHK – LKJ KMJ KYK SYW – KSG/CHW with Hwang Hee Chan as the obligatory sub.

Or maybe a 4-4-2 diamond like Real Madrid plays with CGS SHM up top, LKI in the #10, HIB and either HHS or LJS as the CMs, Kwon Hyuk Kyu as DM. Then we substitute Hwang Hee Chan for CGS in the second half. This would require the fullbacks to provide good width however.

In all of these situations i am open to SHM up top as well: SHM HHC – LKI – HIB HHS/LJS – KHK – backline, or HHC SHM RW – HIB DM LKI – backline.

So many possibilities, so little time to test them out. I am no tactician, but I know that we need to try new things to find what sticks.

About Jinseok 259 Articles
Diehard Korean football fan.


  1. The problem with Korea is the lack of quality midfielders i.e. defensive and box-to-box mids. Fullbacks are lacking as well.

    Klinsmann should consider utilizing several systems where these areas are limited like overloading the midfield by putting an extra man in the midfield.

    BTW I liked how Morocco played in the recent WC using the 4141 formation. Maybe KNT should idealise that?

    • I don’t know about quality midfielders in general given we have Lee Kangin, Hwang Inbeom but I do agree we do not have any good defensive mids. I think Hong Hyeonseok can become our box to box. Have high hopes for him. A 4-1-4-1 worked well for us when Ki was around but right now we have no one decent to fill the DM spot.

  2. On one hand, it’s good to see Asian football developing and becoming more dominant on the international side.

    But of course, if that is happening, we want Korea to be a part of that trend as well. 2022 was magical as most Asian teams playing in the tournament got at least one win. 3 Asian teams made it the Round of 16 and honestly that gives me hope for Asia as a whole.

    I think looking at Japan’s success in their recent years in men’s football should be analyzed by the KFA. Seeing this success should trigger them to make a change and try to be the most dominant side in Asia again. Japan’s success is no mistake or luck at this point. After all, they are Korea’s archenemy as Jinseok said.

    Japan won an Asian Cup in 2011 and when was the last time we won it? oh yeah, we weren’t even around to witness it.
    So, I guess we have to see the Asian Cup out with Klinsmann and if it looks awful, then sack him and bring on someone who cares about the job and knows how to manage a team. There is so much talent and potential in Korea and what Bento started should not go in vain.

Join in the Tavern's conversations -Leave a comment...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.