Goal scorers grab all the headlines don’t they, but a more contextual headline would include the entire team effort that concluded a wild and entertaining “friendly” with 12th ranked Colombia at a sold out Seoul World Cup stadium. 64,388 to be precise lit up the Sangam to witness a rollicking affair, complete with plenty of drama as the South Americans mounted a blistering 2nd half comeback effort, which saw them equalize in stoppage time – only for the goal to be disallowed. All this followed brilliant save after brilliant save from World Cup hero Cho Hyun-woo.
Let’s break down the game and figure out what we learned from the friendly, starting with the starting XI:
Bento trots out a 4-1-3-2 for the 2nd straight match, pairing Son up top with Hwang Ui-jo, who replaced Ji Dong-won (flying back to Augsburg after suffering a knee injury in the Bolivia match). Attacking mid setup: Hwang In-beom remained in the hole with Lee Chung-yong on his left and Lee Jae-sung playing for the first time this international break on Hwang’s right. Jung Woo-young stepped in for Ju Se-jeong as the lone holding mid and behind him, Hong Chul and Kim Moon-hwan stayed put at fullback positions, Kim Min-jae remained at centerback but this time paired with Kim Young-gwon returning to the starting lineup. With Kim Seung-gyu out sick, Bento deputized the Daegu netminder Cho Hyun-woo for his turn on the pitch.
Carlos Queiroz, in charge for Colombia, opted to go with a more experimental offensive setup, benching James Rodriguez and Falcao for the younger Morelos and Zapata. In front of Son was his Spurs’ teammate Davidson Sanchez and Everton’s Yerry Mina -the Evertonian promised yesterday in a press conference that he knew how to shut Son down.
Korea started brightly and asked all the questions, with Colombia mostly overrun by the fast paced and quicker transitioning Korean offense that pressed right away to get the ball back. It led to this in the 16th minute: Lee Jae-sung pressure led to a turnover. Hwang In-beom deftly finds Hwang Ui-jo. His slip turn to face goal side allowed him to see Son making a run to his right. The pass split the defense and found Son with a little bit of space away from Sanchez desperately trying to close his Spurs teammate down. Son struck a hard shot above Ivan Arboleda, he couldn’t bring his hands quick enough and the ball rifled through his hands and on into the net.
Korea 1:0 Colombia
About a minute later, Korea nearly doubled the score. Lee Jae-sung found Son in the area; Son carved out a sliver of space to slip in a shot that got past the keeper – but it rang off the far post! Hong Chul was waiting for the rebound but his shot went over the crossbar.
Colombia rallied for the equalizer and wrested control of the midfield, forcing a quality save from Cho Hyun-woo later in the half. Halftime arrived and while Korea looked comfortable thus far, it wasn’t over yet.
Steve Han made this observation:
Queiroz made immediate changes to start the 2nd half, inserting James Rodriguez. That set the tempo as Colombia roared back to equalize, with Kim Moon-hwan getting beat by a fine display by Luiz Díaz, allowing him to tie up the score just 3 minutes into the half.
Korea 1:1 Colombia
Ruing the missed chances to run up the scoreline in the 1st half, Korea pushed forward and struck gold: Kim Min-jae fed a wide open Lee Jae-sung to his right. The Holstein Kiel and ex-Jeonbuk star drifted inside while Kim Moon-hwan made a run that pulled away one defender and distracted Borja when Kim continued his run to the right corner, that allowed space for Lee to take a shot from 19 yards out. It wasn’t as powerful a shot as Son’s, but it was well placed, forcing Arboleda to dive to his right to deal with the incoming ball. He got a hand on it, but took a fortuitous bounce and it slipped right on into the net.
Korea 2:1 Colombia
The quick transition game was key to this goal; Colombia’s back 3 was under duress, a 4:3 ratio overload and Son lurking with space to Lee’s left allowed for a number of options. In the end, Lee chose wisely and assessing the situation at hand, his taking a chance on the shot paid off dividends.
Colombia threw Falcao into the fray and Colombia were able to get into another gear, forcing Korea into a defensive shell. James Rodriguez went into a tear at this point, making one death defying drive after another, weaving in and between the Korean lines of defense. The Bayern Munich man nearly took the game into his own hands and did everything BUT score, forcing Cho Hyun-woo into some equally death defying saves of his own. Cho reflexes, a bit rusty in the first half, was up to his World Cup heroics in the 2nd half but nearly blinked on one occasion; a shot directed straight at his hands bounced awkwardly to his right, and Korea scrambled to snuff out the danger. Apologetically he put up his hands to his backline, but Korea wasn’t out of the woods yet. Bento, wanting to see off a winning scoreline, threw in CB Kwon Kyung-won for Hwang Ui-jo in the 83rd minute (earlier Bento subbed in Kwon Chang-hoon for Lee Jae-sung and Na Sang-ho for Lee Chung-yong – but both Kwon and Na would find themselves playing in defensive role more often than not). The La Liga youngsters in Lee Kang-in and Paik Seung-ho would not see any minutes in their first call up to national duty during this international break.
A game with South Americans wouldn’t be complete unless there was drama. An angry Jung Woo-young was about to take out James Rodriguez for an aggressive foul towards the back. Son looked to be in a daze following a corner kick collision. Hong Chul injured in the 89th minute during a Colombian corner kick brought out the medical staff. A visibly frustrated Falcao did something you don’t see every day: he yanked the medical cooler from the staff attending Hong Chul and launched it several yards away in an effort to get the game restarted quickly. The ref wasn’t having any of that and pulled out a yellow.
The final minutes saw a dazzling flurry of Colombian attacks, with Korea hanging on and trying to stay ultra compact. Cho warded off one shot after another in a wave of stoppage time shots. Agonizingly, a fine clearance by Kim Moon-hwan after taking the ball away from Falcao instead bounced off the field referee and returned the ball back to the dangerous Monaco striker! With seconds remaining, Colombia finally knocked in the equalizer -it appeared to be a deflating let down moment for Korea’s defense. However the Colombians instantly ran towards the line judge and began vociferously arguing: the point of contention for the Colombians was that his flag pointed down and annulled the goal, declaring James offsides (video replays showed that to be the correct call). The FT whistle blew and the Korean players collapsed – 90 minutes going toe to toe with Colombia left them depleted but also overcome with pride and joy.
Here’s a composite video of Cho with his outstanding reflex saves (including the Colombian goal ruled offsides):
Notes from the game:
- Korea finally gets one over on Carlos Queiroz. Managing Iran, Korea had been defeated 4 times with Queiroz at the helm. He just took over the reins at Colombia. Post match he had positive things to say about Cho Hyun-woo.
- Captain Son ended his scoring drought for the national side, not having scored in 8 KNT matches. The last time he scored was in the victory over Germany last summer in the World Cup, nabbing the final goal in a 2:0 win.
- Davidson Sanchez, Son’s teammate in London said after the game that “It’s always tough” to play again Son. They both said afterwards that they’re still good friends but must remain competitive in their respective roles for their national sides. So, no hard feelings…though it must be said that Son has Davidson’s number – Son scored a brace in the time their sides met, one of those goals resulted from a nutmeg against his Spur’s partner.
- Bento post match press conference hailed the team for the victory and in adjusting to his new tactics that shifted between a 4-1-3-2 formation and a 4-4-2. He did observe that the team needs to be better in defense: “…Our players should be more aggressive and physical,” the coach said. “In one-on-one situations in particular, we need to be tougher.” Kim Moon-hyun losing Diaz allowed him room to shoot for Colombia’s goal. Korea will look back on the video replays and know that they were lucky not to concede more goals. Earlier in the 1st half was one very dangerous moment where Kim Min-jae loses sight of Morales; he timed a run into the box with golden plated service in front of goal, but somehow wasn’t able to connect on the cross. That wasn’t the only opportunity missed by Colombia.
- In not starting James and Falcao, give credit to Queiroz in his ability to see the game for what it is: a chance to test out player options knowing already what he has in his top players. For Bento, there’s the pressure to get the result at home in Korea’s capital, but arguably there is real value in giving 18 year old Lee Kang-in and 22 year old Paik Seung-ho a chance to get their first cap. The pair plies the trade for Valencia and Girona respectively, and are considered, along with 20 year old Hellas Verona attacker Lee Seung-woo to be the future of the KNT setup. For now, Bento did get to see them in training and on experimental squads integrated in training sessions. Time is still on the youngsters’ side – they will get more chances in the future. In the meantime, they’ve missed out in trying to get into their 1st team club squads while on the bench for international duty. Also on a slightly negative note, consecutive 90 minutes for Son Heung-min. What exactly can Bento learn from running Son to the ground for 2 meaningless friendlies?
- Korea generally fares poorly against elite South American sides, but against Colombia, Korea has recorded back to back victories. They met last in November of 2017 at Suwon World Cup stadium, duplicating the scoreline of 2:1. From that squad, Lee Jae-sung, Son Heung-min, Kwon Chang-hoon and Kwon Kyung-won returned today to face Colombia again.
- Cho Hyun-woo deserved his accolades today for his brilliant saves. It’s just his distribution that is wanting for improvement. Perhaps also his distribution explained why Korea was pinned down in their own half for a good spell towards the end. It would appear Bento doesn’t rate him as he does Kim Seung-gyu. In the PR scheme of things, questions from the public will be asked if Bento starts anyone other than Cho during the next international break.
- Hwang In-beom, newly transferred to Vancouver Whitecaps, got the call to duty, and as far as we can tell, is the first Korean player based in MLS to represent team Korea. It wasn’t unnoticed (over the 2 games this period) that Hwang improved from Friday’s match in the role as a #10 today, recording a vital assist for the first goal. Italian managers in Conte and Giampeiro Ventura barred ex-Juventus player Giovinco (who played for Toronto until a few months ago) from getting called up due to the perceived level of competition in the league. Ventura’s exact quote in 2016 was that the MLS “doesn’t matter much.” Korean players going abroad have mostly avoided the MLS, though Lee Young-pyo did move to Vancouver in 2012 (however, that was a year after he retired from international duty). Things are changing however. Before signing in February, Hwang In-beom reportedly went to Bento directly to ask him a question. The then Daejeon star player contemplated a move to either Germany or Vancouver and he wanted a direct assurance that joining an MLS team would not preclude him from getting considered for international duty. Bento gave him that re-assurance. Now that leads to another interesting possibility: would Bento consider calling up Kim Ki-hee, who’s been reliably solid for the Seattle Sounders?
- Decent team effort. The tactical setup allowed for solid chances on goal – though to be fair, there were far fewer shots registered on frame than in the Bolivia match. However, they were more efficient, Korea converting all shots directed on target – in stark contrast to the solitary goal against Bolivia. Goals wins matches and Korea’s 2 were just enough to see them through. What might get lost in all the fanfare of the result is a several examples of fine technical footwork by Korea’s players, especially in the first half (with some delicious burn and turns). Colombia took their turn showing off their technical wizardry later, but Korea got to get their swagger on first.
We’ll return shortly but first, the Korean olympic team got a 2:2 result today in their last group match with Australia in the AFC U23 Championship. They move onto the knockout rounds; this tournament acts as the decisive Olympic qualifier for Tokyo 2020.
Japan, who had lost to Colombia last Friday 0:1, defeated Bolivia 1:0 thanks to Nakajima goal in the 76th minute.