Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium / Al Ain
On paper it should have been a rout. The reality was Korea weren’t able to convert multiple chances to take the game out of reach and were nearly punished for it by 91st FIFA ranked Kyrgyzstan. A lone goal by Kim Min-Jae however was enough to earn Korea victory, 3 points and passage into the 2019 Asian Cup knockout rounds. The good/bad/ugly of the game can be summed up:
good: 2 wins in a row, 2 clean sheets in a row
bad: sloppiness in passing and heavy touches gave Kyrgyzstan opportunities to catch Korea on the counter
ugly: inability to convert what looked like 5 golden chances to score and put the game to bed. Roster injuries and players still not looking game fit still a concern. Defense nearly let them down -disguising issues despite the cleansheets.
Let’s get to how Korea lined up today and then briefly do some deconstruction.
Bento lined up 4-2-3-1 again, this time inserting Hong Chul in LB (Kim Jin-Su rotated out) and Hwang Im-beom once again stepping in for Ki Sung-Yeung – out for a week to recover from hamstring injury incurred during the Philippines match. Lee Jae-Sung also out injured with Lee Chung-yong taking his place – swapping over on the left with Hwang Hee-Chan going over on the right. Bento wanted more fluidity, which happened in spurts and waves – when Korea wasn’t busy shooting themselves in the foot with sloppy passes by Hong Chul, Koo Ja-Cheol and Jung Woo-Young. While Koo improved and proved to be impactful today and Hong Chul delivered the decisive corner kick leading to Kim’s goal, Jung Woo-Young kept derailing promising Korean buildups by giving the ball away with frustrating frequency.
A few golden chances come and go, including shots by Hwang Im-beom, Lee Yong, and Hwang Ui-jo – this catastrophe nearly happens:
One of Korea’s best chances to score in the first half agonizingly missed the target. The passage of play was somewhat identical to the setup for Korea’s goal against the Philippines, with Koo (playing the role Hwang Hee-Chan had last Monday) laying out a pass that initially missed Ui-jo. The ball also went by a couple defenders. Lee lurking nearby, got onto the ball as it flashed across goal but missed the sitter in spectacular fashion. The Blue Dragon of course will continue to get stick for that one, but to be fair, with a defender occupying the near post, he may have been going for the open far post but couldn’t redirect it – instead the ball just flew high over the crossbar.
Korea had overwhelming 70% ball possession, just as in the 1st match with the Philippines. And mirroring that match, Korea was accumulating chance after chance – without success. The only difference was Korea managed to find one in the back of the net – in the first half with 4 minutes remaining:
Kim Min-jae did everything right here, moving quickly to get past his marker and around 2 other defenders who were unsure whether to follow him in towards the goal line or not. Kim tracked down Hong Chul’s corner, rose high and from a difficult angle redirected it quickly. It was knocked towards goal so fast, on replays you can see that it bounces in front of Kadyrbekov (who did better in front of goal than the error prone Matiash who had a horrific day in between the sticks against China) and through his legs the ball goes right on in.
Korea 1:0 Kyrgyzstan
For the remaining few minutes, Korea went right back on the front burner, spritely and looking likely to score another in quick succession. Korea was connecting well, fluid on the attack, finding channels to run into. They did everything but score:
Alas Halftime arrived in untimely fashion. Korea started the 2nd in decent fashion:
Beyond this point -simply said the 2nd half was punctuated by frustrating shot after frustrating shot that could’ve (or arguably should’ve) gone in but didn’t, followed by mostly functional defensive work to clean up haphazard Kyrgyzstan counter attacks. This was an important talking point as Kyrgyzstan sensed the opportunity to take advantage of Korea’s inability to be ruthless in front of goal. Staying on the defensive end of thing for Korea, there were some cringe-worthy defensive lapse moments, one from Hong Chul slipping and then later not clearing properly. However in Kim Seung-gyu, the Vissel Kobe keeper had enough confidence to block 3 point blank shots. A better team might have been able to punish some of those mistakes, but fortunately for Korea, that didn’t happen. For his part, Kim did well between the sticks – though arguably he might have done better smothering one particular ball that had other plans and bounced off his knee and back out into danger in front of goal -but perhaps that would’ve been too nitpicky to hang onto Kim.
Both Ui-jo and Hee-chan hit the crossbar several times – just mere centimeters from taking a more fortuitous bounce into the net. This wry observation came in from Plan A’s Oxford Kondō:
Korea eventually decided to forgo the effort to get the insurance goal and hunkered down – with Kyrgyzstan narrowly missing the frame into the dying embers of stoppage time.
- To be fair, Korea did improve on some aspects of the game in comparison to their first match, and on another day, 2 of Ui-jo’s and 1 of Hee-chan’s shots would’ve crossed the goal line. But the brutal truth is despite all the various chances today, Korea wasn’t ruthless enough (yet again).
- There is disappointment, some amount of frustration, but no need to press the panic button on the Asian Cup campaign. Narrow win yes, but 3 points again nonetheless. Lee Seung-woo, Ji Dong-won and Jung Seung-Hyun haven’t really featured yet (Ji subbed on today but for last 9 minutes). Son Heung-min will join up after Spurs take on Manchester United on Sunday. The mantra that there is a long game approach to this tournament holds true if Korea can continue tuning up the weak links – patching up injured players (Ki, Lee Jae-Sung, etc) – and integrate Son and Lee Seung-woo into the tactical setup going forward. We haven’t seen the best of Korea and what they’re capable of yet.
- There is a friendly debate amongst Tavern writers re: Jung Woo-Young. I’m not convinced of his qualities, particularly when he’s losing the ball often in critical areas of the pitch, but others will rightly point out his incisive passes going forward. Who’s right?
- Trying to balance out the dour with a few more positives: Hwang Im-beom continues to impress, captain Kim Young-gwon a rock steady force at the back, Kim Min-jae with a better performance -and as it would turn out – at both ends of the field, fullbacks marginally better at cross deliveries…
- If Bento is playing his cards right in terms of slow/steady progress without Son Heung-min in the group stage against beatable opposition, then what happens in the next game is critical to how Korea will be able to get the best from Son. 2 group games, 2 group victories, 6 points so far -again we mention in narrow fashion. Son flies in to join the team in time -hypothetically -to be included gameday against China to determine who tops the group (China defeated Philippines 3:0 today – tied on points but ahead by goals aggregate). If Bento is panicking due to paucity of goals, he may be tempted to play Son -which would risk not only injury due to long flight/exhaustion from all the game minutes packed in with Tottenham during and after the festive season, Korea risks burning out optimal beast-mode Son for the knock out stages. The sense is Bento will attempt to limit Son’s time next Wednesday -but that requires Korea to be ahead comfortably against China. That’s the concern and something to look out for in the final group stage showdown with China.
Korea v China January 16 – 8:30am kickoff US EST/ January 17 – 12:30am Korea time