On 6/20 the senior team played a frustrating 1-1 draw against El Salvador. On 6/19 the U24 side lost to China in the second leg of the series of two friendlies against China. These are some truly embarrassing results, and unsurprisingly it’s drawing vitriol from fans. The reaction towards the two head coaches Jurgen Klinsmann and Hwang Sun Hong have been particularly negative. Read on for a recap of both games followed by a discussion on Klinsmann and Hwang Sun Hong.
El Salvador Recap
With all due respect to El Salvador, we can’t be losing to these guys at home. Especially considering that we overperform big time at home and consistently look weaker abroad. This was a team that had 0 chances from open play, but props to them for pulling off the draw and exploiting our greatest weakness (set piece defending).
I don’t know if everyone shares my experience, but in the first half, I was frustrated out of my mind. It was our typical “good buildup, zero end product” kind of game. Our most frequently attempted attacking play was “cross the ball to Cho Gue Sung” yet his headers were ALL off target despite being taller than anyone on the El Salvadorean team. I want to highlight that play in the 12th minute – Lee Kang In played a fantastic outside the foot through pass that should have found CGS 1 v 1 with the keeper, but he took an awkward touch and proceeded to sky the shot. Speaking of Lee Kang In, a great individual performance as always, but you could tell that he was REALLY feeling the pressure to score and gift Klinsmann the elusive first win – he took several speculative shots on his own, none of which were on target. I think our only shot on target in the first half came from Hwang In Beom at the very end.
One major bright side was Seol Young Woo. We’ve been calling for SYW to start as our RB or LB (he plays either) for a very long time now, and this game really cemented that he’s our only competent FB. He actually contributed to the attack! And actually tracked back to defend. He drifted centrally as he often does for Ulsan, contributing to buildup too. Notice that I’m this happy about … things any decent FB should be doing. Seol Young Woo has excellent playmaking ability and technique, but he is error prone too – a missed pass in the first half game El Salvador a free shot from the edge of the penalty box – but the shot went completely off target. Kim Jin Su, on the other hand, had a couple of decent crosses but got burned by the opposition winger a bit too frequently for comfort. He seems quite out of form these days.
In the second half, Hwang Ui Jo would come on and quickly score his first NT goal in over a year – thank god ONE person had their finishing boots on today. Cho GS kept finding cross after cross connecting with his head, only to have the header go off target. Oh Hyeon Gyu, who came on late in the second half for Cho GS, likewise couldn’t find any success. And perhaps the most egregious of missed chances fell to Hwang Hee Chan – COMPLETELY unmarked in the box in the 68th minute with Salvadorean defenders frozen in place to his side, he just needed to place his header on target – but even that went over the bar. For all our profligacy, El Salvador took theirs – a diving header from a free kick sealed their 1-1 draw. Yet another goal conceded from a set piece.
Hong Hyeon Seok and Park Gyu Hyeon were subbed just before the hour mark for Park Yong Woo and an injured Kim Jin Su. Hong Hyeon Seok has quite the revelation these two friendlies, and if we were in the middle of a tournament right now, HHS should be our CM of choice over HIB. He never put in a wrong foot and his range of passing and work rate is outstanding. Park Gyu Hyeon in my eyes, wasn’t any better than Kim Jin Su and justified our fears that a third division Bundesliga player probably shouldn’t be on the KNT – yet – he will certainly improve over time.
Another bright side was that our CB pairing was solid, and didn’t allow any solid chances for El Salvador from open play all game. I think Park Ji Soo will actually give Kim Young Kwon a run for his money as the best CB partner to KMJ. The media are calling him the “find of June” – PJS is definitely in that discussion, though I really think Hong Hyun Seok should be included in that title as well.
On Jurgen Klinsmann
I think calls to sack Klinsmann are premature. It’s only been four games and better get exposed now rather than later when the results actually matter. That being said there is little to be optimistic about right now and I’m not sure if he’s going to make any meaningful improvements. I understand the sentiment that we should just save ourselves from inevitable Asian Cup shame, but the sad reality is that there is also no good alternative right now.
Klinsmann has recently made some baffling comments in the media after the match:
We could have scored 4 goals today, which is disappointing.
I’m thinking about a two top system in the Asian Cup and giving Son Heung-min a ‘no.8’ role, as most of the teams will come out with defensive tactics against us.”Jurgen Klinsmann after the 1-1 draw vs El Salvador
Now… does this make sense? At all? Son Heung Min in a #8 role?? Is Klinsmann trying to play FIFA? I understand that most teams will come out defensively, and MAYBE, just MAYBE this might work against Asian minnows, but this doesn’t seem like the best use of Son’s talents. And there’s no way this will work against real AFC Teams. Also it’s not like we have any on form forwards anyway. If anyone should be given the “free role” that’s being discussed so much in the media right now, it should be Lee Kang In, with Son and maybe a target man (e.g. Oh Hyeon Gyu, Cho Gue Sung) up top. Son as a #8…. man. We’re gonna see two of Oh HG, Cho GS, and Hwang UJ up top aren’t we? Surely Klinsmann realizes that our strength is in our attacking midfielders and wingers not up top.
There’s also a major talking point regarding Japan. They beat El Salvador 6-0 before going onto defeat Peru as well 4-1 – pretty depressing for us isn’t it? The head coach of Peru, Juan Reynoso, had this to say according to Korean media:
“한국은 보다 종적인 플레이를 중심으로 경기를 풀어나간다. 우리는 한국 축구의 그런 방식에 잘 대처할 수 있었다”면서 “반면 일본은 높은 볼 점유율을 바탕으로 유동적으로 선수들이 위치를 자주 변경하며 공간을 찾아내는 팀이라 생각한다”
My rough translation: “Compared to Japan, Korea focuses on playing vertically. We can respond to this sort of play very well. On the other hand, Japan’s play is based on high possession, getting into good positions, and creating space.”
I think this is a somewhat damning statement against Klinsmann’s style – if he has one. I quoted the following from Phillip Lahm in my prior post when Klinsmann was first announced:
We practically only practiced fitness under Klinsmann. There was very little technical instruction and the players had to get together independently before the game to discuss how we wanted to play. All the players knew after about eight weeks that it was not going to work out with Klinsmann. The remainder of that campaign was nothing but limiting the damage.Phillip Lahm
I think we are starting to see a bit of this already. If Bento had a philosophy of possession based play, I’m still not sure what Klinsmann’s is. We have great individual players. We have the best FW in Asian in Son, one of the best defenders in the world and by far the best in Asia in Kim Min Jae, and perhaps the most talented young attacking mid in Asia in Lee Kang In. Yet we have some clear weaknesses (DM, FBs), and the collective team performance is really lacking. Klinsmann needs to find a solution to these issues fast. We have a friendly against Wales in Cardiff in September, a second one we’re discussing in September, and then the November friendlies – after that it’s the Asian Cup in January when the results really matter. Sadly, it doesn’t look like we’re going to break our trophy drought this time around.
Klinsmann and the coaching staff will hold a press conference at 6/22/2023 14:00 KST to discuss his vision and direction for the KNT. He’s a great orator and motivational speaker I’ll give him that, but we’ll see if anything of substance comes up.
China Round 2: More Injuries, Dire Situation
To me, I’m more distressed about our performance over on the U24 side. First, because there’s a LOT at stake with military exemption on the line. Second, because Hwang Sun Hong has proven time and time again, for years now, that he has zero tactical acumen. And finally, because these friendlies were utterly useless – it should have been very obvious from the start that TWO friendlies with China had little to no value outside of getting our players injured. They seriously injure our players pretty much every time we play them.
First, here are the highlights. I didn’t watch the game. But beware: it’s just a bunch of extremely reckless 살인태클 (literally, “assassination tackles”) that will get your blood boiling. Never in my life have I ever heard Korean commentators get so riled up and actually use the term “정말 열받네요.” But we should’ve seen this coming, especially with China very desperate for Asian Games Gold on home turf (they’ve been bringing their wild cards to all their friendlies).
If Um Won Sang’s MCL injury from a reckless challenge wasn’t enough, they clattered down Cho Young Wook (he is fine) and also literally stepped on / sat on Go Young Joon’s knee resulting in yet another ligamentous injury. Both UWS and GYJ – extremely valuable players who were locks for the tournament – are gonna be out for 1.5-2 months. Oh and the Asian Games are in September… these guys need to find fitness after a lengthy injury.
On Hwang Sun Hong:
Words couldn’t express how humiliating this would be if this happened in the actual tournament. A lot of the media blame is pointed at Hwang Sun Hong, particularly for several comments that he made and the revelation that he REQUESTED 2 friendlies against the team that tries to injure us every time.
중국이 거칠게 나올지 몰랐다
Seriously..? They injure us every game and you didn’t see this coming? It appears Hwang forgot about the injury that put him very off form in the 1998 World Cup? That was a horror tackle at the feet of a Chinese player too…
The one thing that has some logic to it is statements from Hwang and Freiburg Jeong Woo Young that we need to learn how to play against reckless physicality. But this close to the Asian Games, this was not the best idea. And I’m not sure how this is something that you have to EXPERIENCE to know. Maybe there was some value in these friendlies in this light, but it was absolutely not worth losing Um Won Sang and Go Young Joon.
Hwang Sun Hong had a good stint as Pohang manager when he had Lee Myung Joo and Kim Seung Dae (that was a deadly duo in the K League), but he has been very underwhelming as a U23 manager. That ill fated AFC U22 championship is still forever burned in my mind. Using Lee Kang In as a false 9, getting absolutely outclassed by Japan and losing 3-0 despite having Lee Kang In and Hong Hyun Seok on the side… he is just like Stielike and 2014 Hong Myung Bo – they literally just let the players do their thing with zero tactical instruction. The team falls flat as a result.
In fact the situation is to the point that apparently the KFA has voiced their serious concern about the readiness of the team to win Asian Games Gold, and will meet with Hwang later.
I am actually kind of in favor of replacing HSH with someone else, even Kim Hak Bum or Kim Eun Jung (the latter deserves a rest though) because it’s been many years, and we have so much talent on this squad we can’t afford to squander a chance at exemption. That being said, Hwang has been at the helm of this team for many years, and given how much time and effort has been invested into this Asian Games cycle, I highly doubt any managerial change will be made.