Korea 1:1 Serbia – Honest draw on the East Coast by a rejuvenated Korea

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, and it took a while for the team to get going, but Korea showed that they were alive and kicking after all with an honest 1-1 draw against the visiting Serbs in Ulsan.

Starting Lineup

Shin Taeyong did not drastically alter the side’s tactics or player formation, sticking with the largely positive 4-4-2/4-2-4 formation. He did make a few modifications, however, in player personnel: Kim Younggwon returned to centreback, while Koo Jacheol officially lined up as a striker alongside Son Heungmin. Jung Wooyoung replaced Ko Yohan in midfield, while Kim Minwoo got a run out at left back.

Son Heungmin – Koo Jacheol

Lee Jaesung – Ki Sungyueng – Jung Wooyoung – Kwon Changhoon

Kim Minwoo – Kim Younggwon – Jang Hyunsoo – Choi Chulsoon

Cho Hyunwoo

First Half

Though not much happened in the first quarter of an hour, it was immediately evident that Korea was going to defend in a compact 4-4-2 as against Colombia, but going forward the addition of Koo Jacheol and Jung Wooyoung changed the side’s complexity. Jung is more of a passing figure, and wouldn’t make the lungbusting run that Ko Yohan could do. Koo is most known in the KNT for his work as the de facto #10, and he would drop down to receive passes, add physical presence up front and assist Son.

I think it’s fair to say that Korea didn’t immediately click in the first 30 minutes. Serbia might have watched some video and decided the best tactic was just to skip Korea’s midfield block and bombard the centrebacks with aerial duels. It didn’t always work, but more often than not, Jang Hyunsoo would put in a weak header, and Serbia would get a flurry of sustained pressure. That’s exactly what happened in the 26th minute, when after three punts downfield, eventually Serbia drew a foul on top the box. With all 10 men in the wall, Torino’s Adem Ljajic smacked a vicious strike from the free kick, and it was up top Daegu FC keeper Cho Hyunwoo – making his A-match debut – to make a camera-worthy save.

This gave a confidence boost to the Koreans as the fluid passing, quick interchangeable passing play of Kwon Changhoon and Lee Jaesung opened up a chance for Son Heungmin in the 30th minute from a tight angle, and Partizan’s Stojkovic made the save with his ankles. Sustained phases of pressure will all go Korea’s way, save for the finish, for the remainder of the half. Koo sent in Son, but his cross was headed away before it found Lee Jaesung – later, Choi Chulsoon had a long range effort that was caught after a great phase that included a Son burst of pace, Lee Jaesung and Koo Jacheol playing a one-two and Ki Sungyueng starting the play.

Son had another chance in the 42nd minute, when he tried to deflect Kim Minwoo’s cross with the side of his foot. The flick wasn’t enough to built a surprised, but well positioned, Serbian netminder, as the half finished 0-0 with the Serbians fading and the Koreans settling in leading up to the half-time whistle.

Second Half

As in the Colombia encounter, Korea was anonymous going forward for the first few minutes of the second half, as they were cautious to set up defensively. The first two major opportunities of the half followed a similar pattern – a CM hitting a long pass, a wide midfielder using mobility and passing skill to find an assist chance, and the finish proving disappointing. Jung Wooyoung sought out Kwon, who played some quick passing with Koo before the Dijon man found himself in space, but his shot went wide – later Ki Sungyueng somehow found Choi Chulsoon in what must have been a 50m+ pass, and Choi exchanged with Lee Jaesung before the latter’s cross was hit in a sliding volley by Koo, but only right at the goalkeeper.

In the 58th minute, however, Korea’s system broke down. Ki Sungyeung found himself surging forward after an interception, but he didn’t spot the two dangerous runs by Kwon and Koo in front of him, instead trying a lateral ball to Son that was picked off. The Serbians broke in numbers, with lots of space, but as he so often does, Choi Chulsoon was over aggressive and tried to confront the passer instead of covering his man who was making a run into open space. The fullback’s misjudgement allowed a simple diagonal throughpass and finesse shot from Ljajic – 1:0 Serbia. The Serbians hadn’t had a major opportunity in over half an hour, but Korea’s traditionally counter-attack failure was their undoing.

5 minutes later, in the 61st minute, Korea had a very fortunate penalty. The Serbian centreback not named Ivanovic (too lazy to see who it was) slightly tugged on Koo Jacheol’s shirt, and the Augsburg man stumbled and went to ground (in the opposite direction of the tug?). Obviously Koo had failed to sell the call, but Chinese ref Ma Ning gave it anyways. Perhaps the weakest penalty call since Northern Ireland-Switzerland. In any case, Koo sent the Serbian keeper the wrong way and scored his first national team goal in 364 days.

The rest of the match was the Son Heungmin show. 73rd minute – he breaks on the right side, burst of pace and his low shot is tipped for a corner. Several ruthless dribbles, but no dice. Accurate throughballs to find dangerous teammates in difficult positions, but to no avail. 81st minute – Son shot from 25 yards, tipped. 82nd, Son tries everything, dives in the box after two Serbian legs give the appearance of clipping Son, Ulsan crowd roars – ref makes the right call. 89th miute, Lee Keunho finds Son who is in all alone on the Serbian centrebacks. Because of Son’s two-footedness, defenders don’t know where to go – allow Son a left footed shot, but Marko Dmitrovic, who came on at halftime and was also making his national team debut, palmed away the stinging blast. At the death, Lee Keunho’s cross from a recycled corner finds Son’s boot, but a sublimely struck volley is promptly repelled by Dmitrovic again.

Every Son shot was met with a look of disbelief, an angry shot or a kick of the turf. I was a Suarez-like level of self-torture from a player often compared to Ronaldo, who, on this night, was just Benzema and couldn’t score.

Player Ratings

Cho Hyunwoo – 7 – Great save has people raving – but in truth he only had that one show-stopping block to his credit, with the Serbians not offering much else on target. I’d think he’s got a shot at Russia, but I wonder if he will really challenge Kim Seunggyu for the top job.

Choi Chulsoon – 7 – Disappointed in his over aggression on the counter attack, but he was screwed either way you would think. Fits the system.

Kim Minwoo – 7 – Though I think Kim Jinsu is a better match for these tactics, he deputized ably today.

Kim Younggwon – 7.5 – Stepped up again. Only good things to say about Kim, who I suspect will start in Russia on this form.

Jang Hyunsoo – 6.5 – Jang, unfortunately, stuck more out like a sore thumb. Though he had a couple good moments making passes from deep, I just can’t get it out of my mind that he can’t head the ball further than 20 years. Feels like a very Hong Jeongho-esque achilles heel. I still have trauma from the Algeria game – this guy is a weak link. I think Kim Younggwon-Kim Minjae is the way to go.

Kwon Changhoon – 8.5 – Incroyable Kwon! He makes the system work. Does his time tracking back, but a force to reckon with when he gets into those central positions and links up with others around him. He’s going to Russia.

Ki Sungyueng – 8.5 – Another great game from the captain. Calm, composed, and some sumptuous passes.

Jung Wooyoung – 7 – Overshadowed by Ki, and if at times out of his depth, at others quietly good. I suspect it will be Ki’s partner by committee in Russia, in truth, because Ko is the engine-type whereas Jung may be useful if a second passing force is needed. Replaceable, but okay on the night is what I’m getting at.

Lee Jaesung – 8 – Another great game. His hard work allows Ki to move forward and control the match, but he also showed that dynamic passing we love about him tonight.

Koo Jacheol – 7.5 – Played out of position, but was fairly good. Not his most effective role, of course, but he’s never really found that role in the KNT.

Son Heungmin – 8.5 – Say what you want, but he had passion tonight. What a story it would have been if he had got the winner. On this form, Korea’s got a shot in Russia. He’s the heartbeat of the attack. (Please don’t get injured.)

Subs: Lee Keunho – 8 – Honestly I liked how our attack looked much more with LKH on.

Yeom Kihun – NA – Put in a nice cross though. Really useful squad player.

Lee Myeongjoo – NA – Why play him out wide? Interesting how Shin is just playing everyone out of position lol.

Kim Jinsu – NA – Garbage time.

Notes, Quotes and Antidotes

More tomorrow, but:

East Asian Cup

Quotes at the end of the year

Is the team too reliant now on Son?


The word on the block is confidence. Shin Taeyong spoke about it at his press conference. Son Heungmin spoke about it. Lee Jaesung spoke about it, Koo Jacheol spoke about it. Though far from perfect encounters, and far from perfect tactics, the most important thing with several months to go is that the players feel as though this is their team again. There is a general gameplan, that players can adhere to, and we are at last talking about individual errors than wholesale ones. Kwon is flourishing and growing into a staple of this side, Lee Jaesung is showing the same 2015 form we had been raving about. Koo got a goal, Ki led by example once again. Son showed us some of his best in a KNT shirt in years. There’s good things to say about every player.

I said in my Colombia quasi-preview that I just wanted this team to give us a reason to believe. Don’t get me wrong – we can’t get ahead of ourselves. But that belief, that faith, that trust that was so abruptly severed in last month’s debacle is slowly returning. As we head into the new year, I still believe that we’re one of the weakest teams in the World Cup, but am cautiously hopeful also that the underdog title may well be one that could suit this rejuvenated senior side.

About Tim Lee 321 Articles
The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?


  1. There were definitely some positives from this match, KNT looked more fluid in attack and had their fair share of chances. This was nothing like the last few matches under Uli StieIike. I cant’ wait to see how Hwang Hee Chan will perform at striker alongside Son with this formation.

    As for the negatives, fullback Choi Chulsoon had to have known he was the 4th man in the 4-4-2. By over committing to the ball, did he not know there wasn’t going to be a 5th defender there against the open Serbian midfielder who eventually scored? It was a huge mistake. Secondly, Son needs to stop going into a hissy fit every time the ball doesn’t go in. We all know he wants to score badly but it’s not a good look for himself or for the team. He should be thanking his teammates for the good passes he’s been receiving instead. Other than, Korea fighting as they say.

    • EXACTLY! Passion is one thing- nobody disagrees that athlete need passion. But, keep your damn composure man!! I mean it’s no wonder he didn’t score. He kept whining and acting like a bitch. If he stays composed and cool maybe he can score.
      I don’t see him do that at Tottenham so I really don’t understand. Damn I swear if he does that at World Cup I’m gonna be embarrassed as a Korean. Sadly my only memories of Son in the KNT shirt are of his crying…

      • I am also a member of the “stop whining and applaud your teammates” camp. He doesn’t need to be so hard on himself. The fact that he is in a friendly makes me feel that mentally he might just dissolve in a high pressure World Cup match. You’re right… we’ll see.

        He takes things too hardly on himself. I don’t like that. I hope Korea has a sports psychologist around (I suspect they already do..?) and try to crank him down. Surely he’s a better player when cool and collected.

  2. Gotta be honest, I didn’t watch the game, but saw the highlights. Not a BAD performance- not great either.
    Ki seems to be in really good form, and I gotta say that Kwon Changhoon looks pretty good.
    I’m still a Lee Keunho fan… his work rate will distract the shit out of defenses.
    Not so convinced on Son though TBH. He could be a rockstar or have a disastrous World Cup. He’s gotta be mentally tough cuz EVERY team will be looking at him.
    For confidence sake, I’d say both the game against Colombia and against Serbia were a step in the right direction. Having said that, it’s just a step.
    We gotta remember that we played these teams at home and we usually play “fine” at home. Our away form has been the most abysmal part of our recent results and playing well at home now could backfire. We really need to play away games to prepare for the World Cup. This “confidence” could just be a false sense of confidence. Japan may have lost to Belgium and Brazil this past week, but those are top 10 teams and they played them in Europe.
    I guess I’d rather see us play well against hot teams then against Serbia (let’s be honest, they’re going to be in Pot 4 along with us and there’s no way we’re playing them) and a Colombian side that is in terrible form and doesn’t even field their best players. Confidence is good, but we need a bigger challenge since we could end up in a group of death with Brazil & Spain or Germany & Mexico. We had one of the weakest groups in 2014 and barely got a point.

    Also, congrats to Australia. Good for AFC, and I’m really not sure any other AFC team would have made it through the inter-continental playoffs.

    • Let me correct myself when I say “not convinced on Son”- OBVIOUSLY he’s gotta be a starter in Russia. Obviously he’s the most talented player we have. Just saying I’m not sure I’m convinced how potent he will be at Russia. For the amount of attention he gets, I’m really not sure he can do what his teammate Christian Eriksen did for Denmark a couple of days ago (ie when they really needed it, back against the wall at an away venue, score a freakin’ hat trick). I really hope Son skyrockets to greatness… we’ll see..

      • Son needs to be on Sonaldo form. I don’t see him carrying the side on his shoulders, but that is what this formation really makes us do. It’s a little iffy. I like the shape, but the goal scorer of this squad is going to have to be Son and nobody else.

    • As for the friendlies, I think this was a good stepping stone. But in March we do need to go away to a big European or South American opponent, and I suspect that after the draw we will get some invitations from sides who will be playing a Japan or a Saudi Arabia or an Australia.

  3. Hey guys, was wondering if you guys can do a post once the New Zealand/Peru winner is set about which teams we would not wanna see and teams we prefer for the world cup draw. Cheers!

    • You ask, we deliver!

      We might also do something with 31 other countries in the coming days, getting different bloggers and building connections.. we will see if it comes to fruition!

  4. Finally got a chance to watch highlights from the Serbia match. It looks like Son had a couple really good chances, so I guess it all evened out from his fortunate goals against Colombia. Also impressed by Lee Jae-sung and Kwon. I think they’ll both be really critical players in Russia, along with Ki and Son.

    Anyone want to speculate way in advance what our best starting XI could look like? First matches in Russia fewer than 7 months away! Looks like in the months leading up to the 2014 World Cup, KNT played in two November friendlies (2-1 win over Switzerland at home, 1-2 loss to Russia in Dubai), and then those 3 matches hosted in the US in Jan/Feb against CONCACAF teams without any overseas players. The real tuneup matches occurred in March (against Greece, 2-0 win in Athens, including that Park Chu Young goal that got us thinking that he was back!) and then two last friendlies in late May, early June: 0-1 loss to Tunisia in Seoul and a 0-4 drubbing to Ghana in Miami. Not exactly confidence boosting and probably a harbinger of what we could’ve expected in Brazil.

    That said, KNT probably has ~3 more opportunities to implement Shin’s system and tactics, discover the right lineup, and develop some chemistry. Also, fingers crossed that these players can stay healthy! It seems like a disproportionately high number of our players get hurt…

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

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