Korea 2:2 Panama / Momentum Stalled

Park Joo-Ho scores against Panama. Photo/Yonhap

Cheonan Baeksoek Stadium: Korea looked bright at first, scoring early and looking like they were going to run all over Panama to end the October international break, but Panama clawed back and Korea had difficulty getting back onto the front foot. We’ll do a quick recap, but a couple of interesting talking points as Korea’s momentum after winning their first game ever against Uruguay stalls with a disappointing 2:2 draw.


5 changes from the squad that Bento put out against Uruguay, including Hwang In-beom’s first start for the senior side:


The 4-1-4-1 formation did well initially to quickly break through Panama’s defense with quick passes, moving the ball around in a frenetic pace. It only took 5 minutes before Korea found the back of the net, Hwang Hee-Chan’s drive into the area attracted a swarm of Panamanian defenders, but after losing the ball, quickly regained it and diverted the ball out to Park Joo-ho lurking near the top of the area. He ran towards the pass,  and from 12 yards out delivered it past the outreached hands of Mejia and on into the back of the net!

Korea 1:0 Panama

Team Korea replicated that sequence in similar fashion, in the 33rd minute Son Heung-min with the ball at his feet on the right edge of the area and in heavy traffic with 4 defenders around him, did well to turn, fake kick, then picked out Hwang In-Beom – who was perched just outside the top of the area. The Daejeon Citizen midfielder expertly one timed it into the net! Hwang Hee-chan shot hit the post only a minute later.

Korea 2:0 Panama

For Park Joo-Ho, it was a long recovery from his injury during the Korea Sweden World Cup match to get back into the KNT fold. His goal along with Hwang’s first senior goal seemed all part of the script of Bento’s new look offensive squad. Then the plot was lost as Korea conceded on a set piece, goal to Arroyo right before HT.

Korea 2:1 Panama

After halftime, Bento took off Lee Yong and installed Kim Moon-Hwan. The plot continued to unravel for Korea, 4 minutes from the restart Nam Tae-Hee with a ill advised backpass, Panama was able to exploit, goal to Rolando Blackburn

Korea 2:2 Panama

Bento’s next move was to do a raft of substitutions, first bringing on Hwang Ui-Jo and Jung Woo-Young, and taking off Suk Hyun-Jun and Hwang In-Beom. Not much change happened on the field as Korea struggled to find their way through the final third. Hong Chul and Moon Seon-min came in for Park Joo-Ho and Hwang Hee-Chan, with Lee Seung-Woo left on the bench. Moon was his energetic self but unable to instill any influence on the game. Korea had a few more chances; perhaps the best one was Ki Sung-Yeung’s laser sharp vision finding Nam Tae-Hee’s run in behind the Panamanian defense. Nam’s header just went wide of the near post by inches.  But Korea could not find that go ahead goal and they while they frustratingly draw 2-2 against a side that was handily beat by Japan 3-0 a few days ago. Korea nearly lost it at the end with horrendous defending that exposed Korea on the right side, Kim Moon-Hwan out of position and leaving the backdoor wide open – only a poor touch by Panama saved Korea’s bacon just as the game was wrapping up. Japan by the way would get a 4-3 victory against Uruguay.

Talking Points:

  • While Paulo Bento’s record in charge is still unbeaten, this is a result that will feel like a loss, as Panama on paper with their poor run of form looked certainly beatable. Despite being up 2:0, Korea’s sloppiness allowed a weak CONCACAF team back into the game. Korea will regret not being more ruthless and efficient up front, and will continue to ponder their defensive frailties, particularly on set pieces.
  • Nam Tae-Hee is running hot and cold. One moment he looks stellar. Another he has these headscratching blunders that are costly. Staying in the middle east leagues may prove to be Nam’s achilles heel.
  • Ki Sung-Yeung may not be playing much for Newcastle at the moment, but other than a few rusty touches, his vision is still laser sharp. THAT pass to Nam Tae-Hee should have been the game winner.
  • Son Heung-min: another mixed performance, with the sublime along side the cringeworthy. Captain Sonny did well to dribble in the area under extreme traffic (that was 4 players marking him to prevent his scoring a goalzo) when he was able to find an unmarked Hwang In-Beom for Korea’s 2nd goal. His corner kicks weren’t as dangerous this time (unlike the vicious whipped in corners against Uruguay that enabled Korea to beat Uruguay). However, he lost the ball far too often, that’s his achilles heel. The pressures of being Captain sometimes marks his performances where it seems like he’s taking on too much burden of carrying the ball far too often. That would be the apologist take on the matter – the other POV is that when Son isn’t feeling confident, his footwork fails him, stalling what would be promising attacks. The other narrative: Son simply needs rest. This is his last international game of 2018 (as agreed upon by Spurs and the KFA for his participation in the Asian Games) – quite the year including a goal against Germany in the World Cup and winning the Asian Games Gold to extend his career in Europe and unshackling the careers of a number of promising youngsters including goalscorer Hwang In-Beom today.
  • Lee Seung-Woo: the sticking point many will raise with Bento is over this – when Nam Tae-Hee wasn’t on the front foot with his miserable backpass, why did he not sub him out for Lee Seung-Woo? Instead it was Moon Seon-Min who got the nod. Moon has great energy and workrate but his touches leave much to be desired. Lee appears to be underutilized by Bento. Perhaps he’ll get his chance when Son will rest up rather than get called up for the November friendly. The Asian Cup is only 2 months away and it’s a head scratcher why Bento didn’t opt in Lee Seung-Woo at all during this international break.
  • The ever creative Lee Jae-Sung was injured during training with the KNT and had to return to Germany; that must have been frustrating for both Lee and Bento. Despite his absence, Korea surprised many by beating Uruguay.  With the 2-2 draw today, his absence was definitely acutely felt today.


Park Joo-Ho scores against Panama. Photo/Yonhap






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  1. I believe Bento is just experimenting the squad and formation this past two months in the four friendlies. Theres dont need to panic just yet and i believe they will slowly gel and be ready for the Asian Cup. As you know, South Korea always shows up in vital games and im sure Bento will sort it up before the Asian Cup.

  2. I thought Bento should have taken Son out around the 60 or 70th minute. He looked really tired later in the game. Maybe, Bento wanted to see Son as much as possible before the Asian Cup? The entire team didn’t seem have the energy that they had against Uruguay.

    It was interesting to see Bento use a very attacking 433 with Ki in a regista-like role and without another defensive midfielder. I’m not sure if Nam Tae-hee is a good fit in a midfield three, which requires him to sometimes drop deeper and be involved in the early build-up play. His poor pass in a deeper position is what led to the Panama equalizer. I prefer him as a number 10 with two holding midfielders behind him.

    There’s no reason to be too disappointed by the result. I thought Panama high pressed well and defended better at times than Uruguay, at team that is a mess defensively right now. They conceded 4 goals against Japan! Are the next games against Australia and Uzbekistan?

    • Yup, Aus/Uzbek in Nov., and no Son (also for first 2 group matches in Asian Cup). Waiting to see how Bento shifts things then, cuz like you said he’s been paying Son into the ground.

  3. Yeah, LSW was my head-scratcher. Humorous pet theory: We know Lee can have an attitude, and his Spanish is perfect, and Bento speaks Spanish, and… 🙂 Seriously tho, whether behavior or training, you’d think Lee would do everything to get on Bento’s good side, cuz its not he’s getting much play time at Verona.

    I wanna look on the bright side, see this as the character-building “loss” that I thought Uruguay might be. What can be tightened up, what isn’t working? I think back to the Asian Games, when SK wrecked Bahrain 6-0, became cocky. Then they lost to Malaysia, a necessary correction imo: Take nothing for granted.

    I’ll be honest, I’m more optimistic than I have been in a while about this team. Cautious but genuinely hopeful, that Bento can lay a good foundation, see things through, and that the players have enough quality to execute, as long as they can keep their heads on straight. Korea Fighting!

    P.S. Japan is looking like the real deal, good & scary. Maybe not individually better, but as a unit very impressive

    • It’s weird… Lee seems to be adjusting well… He gets along with his teammates including the senior players and he has yet to make a serious media blunder that would suggest an attitude. But I wonder if there’s something we just don’t know about him… he’s not getting much play time at Verona or the KNT and he actually didn’t get much play time in the Asian Games too – he doesn’t seem to be anyone’s favorite.

      Anyways, a little let down today but nevertheless excited for the November friendlies. Excited to see how the team plays without Son. The team is too reliant on him to open up the field. Also, it seems like Hwan Hee Chan’s play is starting to mirror Son’s – forcing a lot of passes when he should really just go for it… I’m not sure how I feel about that.

      • In 4 games under Bento, Son has yet to score. I think w/ Asian Games, PL/CL, and Intl. combined, that may be over 10 games since he’s scored (?), and this is concerning. Is Bento instructing Son to be almost more of an attacking MF/field general, or is this Son’s call? Or am I completely offbase?

        Either way, Son is no Modric; he has less vision & can’t retain possession as well. Son scores, at times brilliantly, so lets hope he can get his old groove back at Tottenham. Let the midfielders play midfield, force them to step up.

        • It does appear Son has been given a free role(like Ronaldo for Portugal) by Bento. During the game, Son sometimes switched places with Nam Tae-hee and played more like a central midfielder. He doesn’t seem comfortable in this role yet. I think he needs to let the game come to him and play within the system. In the last two games, we’ve seen some of the old Son, who tries to do too much again.

          • Yeah, he’s definitely in a bit of a scoring rut. Although he has gotten quite a few assists at the Asian Games so that’s a sign he’s still influencing the match and will find his scoring boots soon!

      • I don’t know really how to sum up what’s going on with Lee SW. I think Bento and his staff might be taking it easy with him because of his lack of playing time at the club level. Because really, it’s hard for Lee to just jump into a friendly match as a sub if he almost never gets in the match at club level. It would be the same with starting him tbh. That being said, I think Bento will continue to call him up so he can train with the senior players on a regular basis and then integrate him into the lineup when he finds playing time at Hellas or away from there. Remember, he’s a much hotter transfer prospect now that prospective clubs know he doesn’t have to go back for military duty. Hellas could loan him somewhere this winter just as many clubs do with their younger players.

  4. Tbh, Bento isn’t experimenting at all with Asian Cup just around the corner. He & the staff is trying to instill his philosophy/idea to the team as much as possible. Based on starting XI & subs… it is more or less predictable atm. The spine is Son HM, Ki SY & Kim YG. Jang HS, Jung WY, and Nam TH seems to have key role w/ the spine while Hwang HC will feature on the wing for his athleticism (the same is true for Moon SM.. as he typically subs in for him.. like for like switch).

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