It’s been awhile, welcome back to the Tavern and no better way to start your week than some positive news from the youth. Korea’s U16 rampaged through the AFC U16 Championship group stage, first dispatching Australia 3:0, followed by a lopsided 7:0 victory over Afghanistan, topped by a 2:0 win over defending U16 champion Iraq -who won the 2016 edition of the tournament. Of course it’s a different squad entirely from 2 years ago which saw Korea shockingly miss out on advancing to the knockout stage – losing to eventual tournament winners Iraq 2:1 in the group stage. Two years later, Korea enacted revenge.
No goals conceded, 12 goals scored meant that not only did Korea top Group D, they boasted overwhelming stats that bested all the other Asian teams thus far in the tournament. In contrast, Japan and Australia overcame group stage difficulties to advance (Japan surprisingly held 0:0 with Tajikistan and Australia looked frustrated with a 3:0 opening game with Korea). North Korea also struggled, drawing meekly with Jordan with a 2:2 result before advancing with better results against Oman, though they nervously edged Yemen 0:1. Before the South Korea v India clash, North Korea found themselves knocked out in the quarterfinals by Tajikistan, another surprise upset in the tournament and the 2014 title winners are headed home.
With Australia, Japan and Tajikistan taking 3 of 4 qualifying spots for the U17 World Cup next year, it would come down to this quarterfinal between India and Korea to determine the last ticket. India surprised many, conceding a surprising zero goals to make it to the knockout stage, including grinding out some 0:0 draws with Iran and hosts Indonesia. The only question for team India would be where the goals would come from, having scored only 1 goal (against Vietnam).
Fast forward to the game: true to their über defensive form, India stymied Korea in the first half with keeper Niraj Kumar making key saves. Korea patiently kept probing. By the 2nd half Korea turned up the pressure on India with #9 Choi Seo-min firing shots on target, only to see Kumar denying access to the back of the net with some spectacular saves. The deadlock was broken in the 68th minute after a nice buildup, Choi fired another shot – this time Kumar couldn’t handle it and the rebound spilled out to substitute Jeong Sang-bin. He swept it in and instant relief and pandemonium erupted along the Korean bench.
KOREA 1:0 INDIA
Korea would see the game out, though they initially tried to go for the insurance goal. By the 80th minute, manager Kim Jung-soo appeared to indicate to his players to run out the clock instead. It was conservative game management, but it worked.
Next up: Korea v Tajikistan Oct 4 at 8:45 am US EST/ 9:45pm Korea time in the semifinals. Having already secured passage to the U17 World Cup, this tie could be seen as anti-climatic. But this isn’t a time to stop paying attention to the tournament. If there are narrative forces at work and the universe is functioning in normal fashion, Japan should be able to defeat Australia in the other semifinal. So right around the corner, should Korea make it past Tajikistan in the semis, the final could wind up as another (wait for it) HANILJEON! Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun!!!!
- Players of note: Choi Min-seo – as a #9 did was he was supposed to do, strike the ball on frame and strike often. His shot led to the rebounded goal to Jeong Sang-bin. #10 Hong Yun-sang was vital to being the creative outlet, technically adept at carving out space and finding ways to move the ball forward. #1 Shin Song-hoon did his best Cho Hyun-woo impression, with death defying saves to keep India out of Korea’s net. He was also carried himself as confident and credible as a strong communicative keeper – perhaps someone to keep on the KNT radar for the near future.
- Credit to India – this was not your grandfather’s India. This squad looked hungry to compete. Better competition can only be good for Korea and for Asian football as a whole.
- Manager Kim Jung-soo seems to be Korea’s answer to Jurgen Klopp, looking very much the football hipster. More importantly, his team looks solid and plays solid football -from the back to the front. The gestalt of this team is impressive given the stats at this point : 13 goals scored – still no goals conceded. That doesn’t tell even half the story – this is a fast, technical and tactically savvy set of players – they’re fast and they’re battlers. He is a manager that has gotten our attention, and deservedly so.
Wednesday sees 2 mouth watering clashes, 6am US EST/7pm Korea time Kashima Antlers v Suwon Bluewings in the Asian Champions League semifinals leg 1 – then Barcelona visits Wembley Stadium to face off against Tottenham and Son Heung-min in the Champions League. Also Paulo Bento announced his callups to the KNT for the October friendlies, some familiar faces and 2 newbies, we’ll examine his call ups very very soon – like in a few hours soon.