Rashid Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai / United Arab Emirates
In their bid to erase a 60 year hex, Korea started on their Asian Cup journey, gathering 3 points in less than satisfactory fashion and avoiding the shocking upset narrative running throughout the opening matches of the tournament (who could’ve forecasted Australia to lose to Jordan or India dispatching Thailand, resulting in Milovan Rejavac getting sacked immediately afterward). A 67th minute Hwang Ui-jo strike along with some heart-attack inducing saves from Kim Seung-gyu was enough to hold off dark horse Asian Cup debutants Philippines, led by decorated manager Sven-Göran Eriksson. A concern post-match is Ki Sung-Yeung- the Newcastle holding midfielder left the game with a hamstring injury and was seen limping to the locker room. Let’s get to the plot of the match before making some assessments of this first game.
아시아정상을 위한 도전✨
“필리핀전 승리의 기운, Do you feel it?”
2019 AFC 아시안컵 조별리그 1차전 필리핀전!
🇰🇷축구 국가대표팀의 선발라인업을 공개합니다!
🇰🇷v🇵🇭#필리핀 1.7(월) 22:30
📺 JTBC, NAVER ⏰ 한국시간 기준
.#축구대표팀 #아시안컵 #AsianCup2019 pic.twitter.com/6b2ln9D3IA
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) January 7, 2019
Bento sends out a standard 4-2-3-1, having seen his 3 man backline experiment sputter to a scoreless draw in the January 1st friendly with Saudi Arabia. Kim Seung-Gyu with the nod at GK despite Cho Hyun-Woo’s heroics for the KNT since the World Cup. With Hong Chul still in injury-recovery mode, Kim Jin-Su (who recovered recently from a long term knee injury) slotted in at leftback. Of course, no Son Heung-Min until possibly the last group stage match with China – as per the deal negotiated with the KFA and Tottenham for his participation in the Asian Games last summer (if you’ve been living in a cave and just emerged, Korea won the Gold medal and with it – a dramatic last ditch military exemption for him and his teammates).
Korea started the match with the lion’s share of possession, but was too slow and/or lacked passing precision to cause too much problems for Philippine’s keeper Michael Falkesgaard. Philippines for their part played ultra defensive 5-4-1, but as Korea created more headaches for themselves with sloppy play from heavy touches and misplaced passes, the ‘Street Hounds’ sensed counter attacking opportunities. Indeed, those chances came and Korea scrambled to contain a rampaging Shröck down the left flank (who artfully weaved past Kim Jin-Su) and Buriram United’s Javier Patiño. Fortunately for Korea, the appearance of calm confidence from Kim Seung-gyu was backed up by several brilliant saves, 2 from point blank range.
Korea kept on the attack, finding Hwang Ui-jo several times, but Hwang was unable to find the back of the net. To be fair, Ui-jo was unlucky with 2 of his strikes – both bobbled past Falkesgaard, but one slightly deflected away from goal and out of bound – the other cleared by Woodland.
The first half ended and one could feel the frustration building somewhat in Korea’s camp, as the ponderous start to their campaigned similarly mirrored events from the Saudi Arabia tune up match a few days ago. Some of the few positives included an overwhelming 70% ball possession enjoyed by Korea; however the team seemed out of sorts compared to the fluid ‘Bento ball’ style that had impressed the critics since the Portuguese manager assumed control last summer. Several players didn’t look match fit, including Kim Jin-Su and Lee Jae-sung. Lee Yong, while he had some effective crosses, had his share of eye rolling moments (dribbled the ball out of bounds while under no pressure). Jung Woo-Young and Koo Ja-Cheol gave away the ball far too often. Lee Jae-Sung and Ki started to become invisible as the half wore on.
The ponderousness continued on into the 2nd half with Hwang Hee-Chan and Hwang Ui-jo missing chances created. Cue the Philippines to take advantage of Korea’s disconnect, which this Tavern live tweet illustrates:
Hwang Hee-Chan can’t get to an overweighted pass, Philippines nearly catches Korea on counter, forcing Kim Seung-gyu to make diving save. Hwang Ui-Jo on the other side nearly break deadlock
— Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) January 7, 2019
Not long after Philippines comes back at Korea after enduring waves of fruitless Korean attacks, Kim Min-Jae and Jung Woo-Young beated with clever footwork by Patiño, only for Kim Jin-Su sliding in to tackle the ball away momentarily – ball makes a fortuitous hop back to Patiño – he shoots point blank and Kim Seung-gyu comes up huge to making another death defying save.
Ki had to come out in the 58th minute with a hamstring injury (currently at a hospital awaiting an MRI). Bento hit the reset button, starting with Hwang Im-Beom for Ki and 5 minutes later with Lee Chung-Yong in for Koo Ja-Cheol. Bento also moved Hwang Hee-chan more centrally; he had been playing on the wings, but appeared to link up with Ui-jo more efficiently. It paid off dividends as the attack, which constantly sputtered with each misplaced pass by a number of their attackers, started to look far more composed and precise.
Suddenly in the 67th minute, a promising Korean buildup finally had a pay out: Lee Yong carves out space with a fake kick, gets it to Lee Chung-Yong. The Blue Dragon frees up Hwang Hee-Chan – he drives towards the goal under pressure but turns his body and quickly chops the ball back toward Hwang Ui-jo lurking nearby. He takes a touch – with defenders closing down on him on all sides, takes a shot while falling backwards and violà: GOAL. Not an easy strike to pull off at all – it’s a fantastic goal to conclude a well executed and exciting buildup.
KOREA 1:0 PHILIPPINES
Korea would stay on the attack, all the Hwangs (Im-beom, Hee-chan) connected to get the ball to Ui-jo who found himself one on one with the keeper – only to shoot straight at Falkesgaard and preventing a doubling of the scoreline. Several more mouthwatering Korean chances go by the wayside before the Philippines tried to claw back an equalizer. Korea would wind up hanging on to the 1:0 until the full time whistle.
- Not Korea’s finest match, but 3 points is in the bag. It is said that some tournament winning teams start slowly with the objective of improving chemistry and efficiency for the long game. Korea has high expectations to go far in the tournament and perhaps that long game general idea is also in Bento’s war plans.
- The lack of goals and ruthlessness against Asian Cup debutants was alarming. Hwang Ui-jo cuts an interesting figure, at times a punching bag when he’s not clinical or when he’s unable to link well with teammates / other times hero for scoring pivotal goals for club and country. Somehow in one match both sides of Ui-jo were on display.
- What will the effect of Ki Sung-yeung out injured mean for team Korea? When Lee Chung-yong left the 2015 edition of the Asian Cup injured – the loss of an effective attacking midfielder might have made the difference as Korea defeated Australia in the group stage – only to lose to the very same team in extra time later on in the title match. Still it might be too early to tell what’s going to happen – Ki might return if injuries aren’t too serious. Korea can still take stock in the fact that Hwang Im-beom, deputized in for Ki in the 2nd half, did very well in the holding mid role.
- While Kim Jin-Su had a slightly better 2nd half, his first half can be singled out for criticism. Did Bento err in not selecting Park Joo-Ho now that Hong Chul is injured and Kim Jin-Su is still trying to regain his pre-knee-injury form?
- Hwang Hee-Chan casts a similar conundrum with Hwang Ui-jo in which he seemingly has as many positives as deficits he brings to this tournament. He’s hard working, fast, has some tricky footwork in his locker, (occasionally) clinical and dangerous on the counter – but also displays some cringe worthy moments with misplaced passes or heavy touches. Nevertheless, like Ui-jo, he was a difference maker today with the incisive cut-to-the-inside pass to Ui-jo that delivered the game winner.
- We mention Lee Chung-Yong yet again as his introduction in the 2nd half, replacing a sloppy version of Koo today, was a positive Bento move that saved the day for Korea. Lee was magnificent and the veteran showed why he’s still so valuable despite being 30 years of age. Moving the ball adroitly, he injected not only precision -but as odd as it is to say it- a sense of joy to a team laboring under the weight of its own mistakes. In the build up to the goal, Lee’s sense of when to release Hwang Hee-Chan was spot on. When Korea had the goal advantage and played keep away for a spell with Philippines, Lee’s sparkled with some swaggering footwork. For a team that doesn’t usually display champaign football – Lee seemed to be willing it closer to that mark.
Steve Han made this observation (with passing map) on twitter re: Bento moving Hwang Hee-Chan from left wing to a more centrally positioned role in the 2nd half:
Hwang Hee-chan completed five passes to Hwang Ui-jo v the Philippines. We know what Ui-jo can do when he's on the ball in front of, or inside, the box. The three passes that Ui-jo received in the middle of the box were all in the second half when Hee-chan began playing centrally. pic.twitter.com/5aaaoopPns
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@realstevescores) January 7, 2019
Still to make an entrance in the tournament: Lee Seung-woo, who joined the team after several injuries, notably Na Sang-ho, left Bento with mere hours to secure the services Hellas Verona player (on holiday in Korea).
Next up: on Friday January 11th at 11am US EST / Saturday January 12th at 3am Korea Time.
Extra Time: in the other group match, Kyrgyzstan looked en route to upsetting China and ahead by a lone goal. The cinderella storyline came to a crashing halt as Kyrgyzstan conceded 2 goals in shocking fashion and eventually lost 2:1. The first goal conceded was a howler own goal, netminder Matiash failing to tip the ball over the net – instead tipping it right into his own net. The 2nd, Matiash came off his line too quickly, allowing substitute Yu Dabao to round him and score easily.
Extra Extra Time: been meaning to update on events in Europe for awhile now – but you may have missed Kwon Chang-Hoon‘s return to Dijon. About time: he scored in Dijon’s 1:3 win at Schiltigheim in the 3rd round of the French Cup. A welcome return to action for the former Suwon Bluewing’s midfielder -who missed out the World Cup for Korea agonizing fashion having a terrible knee injury in the last match of the season for Dijon (a breakout season in which he recorded double digits for his Ligue 1 club).