Korea finally won a match for Hong Myeong-Bo. It took five tries, but they finally did it, and with a nice ending scoreline. However, as is sometimes the case, the final line is a bit deceiving. Korea, while clearly the better team, still struggled at times to create clear chances and to convert said chances. Two goals came from the spot, and Haiti played most of the second half down to 10 men. But, still I’ll offer a note of cautious optimism for next Tuesday.
Starting XI and Tactics
Hong used his usual 4-2-3-1. A couple surprises in the XI. Lee Chung-Yong started on the bench with Go YoHan starting on the right. Ji Dong-Won was included as the center forward. Kim Seung-Gyu got his second consecutive start ahead of Jung Sung-Ryong in goal. Lee Keun-Ho was handed the central attacking spot ahead of Koo Ja-Cheol and Kim Bo-Kyung.
I’m not sure what exactly was behind Hong’s thinking, in terms of starting Go Yo-Han and Lee Keun-Ho. Possibly he wanted to try some things out. Possibly he wanted to keep the other players fresher for Croatia. Possibly he just wanted to make sure everyone knew he was serious when he said that all positions were up for grabs. Either way.
Tactically Korea didn’t change much of anything from previous matches. Ji Dong-Won was back up top, but played the same role that, as of late, Kim Dong-Seob had been doing. Mainly a build up player. Ji wasn’t terrible, but he certainly showed some rust. Initially Korea looked to be trying to play a bit shorter, but as the half stretched on became more direct. Defensively, they remained the same. Pressing hard when the ball was around the halfway line, but conceding when the ball was deeper in the opposition half.
First Half Recap and Thoughts
The first half was a bit scrappy and start/stop. There clearly seemed to be some rust and chemistry issues. Lee Myeong-Joo had some poor passes, and Park Joo-Ho’s touch was quite heavy. Ji Dong-Won looked a bit uncomfortable back in the one-top role. Go Yo-Han seemed a bit off the pace. Everything, in short, looked a bit like a puzzle just kind of thrown together.
Korea was still able to control the game early, with Haiti willing to sit deeper and defend. Son Heung-Min, starting out on the left, looked decent, but struggled with the more intense Haitian pressure. The result was Go Yo-Han, out on the right, having a fair bit of time and space on the ball. Unfortunately the Seoul man didn’t produce much. When Son finally did find some space he did what he’s done for club, score. A cut inside and a shot from outside the area opened the scoring, and you could feel a collective sigh of relief come from Korean fans everywhere.
After that, Haiti upped their attacking intent. Sending men forward, and they gradually started to take control of the tempo, with the game becoming more frantic and direct. Korea struggled to match the intensity of the visitors and looked increasingly sloppy. A defensive error from the center backs allowed Haiti to equalize just before the half.
Second Half Recap and Thoughts
Hong made three changes to start the second half. Koo Ja-Cheol, Lee Chung-Yong, and Lee Yong all came on for Ji Dong-Won, Go Yo-Han, and Kim Chang-Soo respectively. In terms of positioning it was like for like, with the exception of Koo, who took up his usual (for country) central attacking position with Lee Keun-Ho going up top.
However, it was Lee Chung-Yong that made the difference. Just 5 minutes in and he drew a penalty. Haitian players and fans will say the call was harsh, with some reason. Lee dribbled into the area by knocking the ball around the defender, who then blocked him off. The block off was a foul, but Lee had hit the ball pretty hard, and there was no way he would have gotten to it before the keeper. Many a referee would probably have waved it off, but a foul did technically occur, and this one pointed to the spot. Koo Ja-Cheol stepped up to the spot and easily converted it.
Things went from bad to worse for Haiti when they were reduced to 10 men. Lee Myeong-Joo robbed Yves Desmarets of the ball. Desmarets grabbed Lee’s shirt (clearly) for which the ref called a foul. Desmarets, in disbelief, kicked the ball out of touch in frustration (an act of dissent) which earned him his second yellow.
A few minutes later and things went from worse to worser for Haiti as Lee Chung-Yong earned Korea another penalty, this one clearly legit. Lee dribbled around three defenders before being tripped by the fourth. This time it was Lee Keun-Ho who opted to take it. A stutter step faked the keeper completely who went to ground, helpless to stop Lee from blasting high into the net.
Korea’s fourth came courtesy of Son Heung-Min. Lee Keun-Ho flicked on a pass to Son, with the Haiti defense standing still, who went around the keeper and scored easily.
Hong made two final changes with Han Kook-Young coming on for Ha Dae-Sung, and Kim Bo-Kyung coming on for Lee Keun-Ho. It took a few minutes, but finally the football started flowing in the final third as the four creative midfielders moved and attacked wonderfully. The negative being that poor finishing reared it’s ugly head as Lee Chung-Yong, Kim Bo-Kyung, and Son Heung-Min all failed to find the net.
Kim Young-Gyu 6.5 – Made a couple nice saves in the first half. Couldn’t do much about the goal. The 22 year old Ulsan shot stopper seems to be the closest we’ve seen lately to a legit challenger to Jung Sung-Ryong.
Kim Chang-Soo 6.0 – Average game for the Reysol player. Left some space behind him defensively, and didn’t contribute much offensively.
–> Lee Yong 6.5 – Better defensively, and seems a more natural fit with Lee Chung-Yong.
Hong Jeong-Ho 6.0 – Looked a bit vulnerable today. Went to sleep on Haiti’s goal, and looked uncomfortable with the pacier players.
Kim Young-Gwon 6.5 – Not as troubled as his defensive partner, but also wasn’t targeted as much. More subdued offensive role as well.
Park Joo-Ho 6.0 – Big things were expected of the recently moved Bundesliga man, but Park had an iffy night. Had one nice through ball to Son late on, but his touch seemed quite heavy, particularly in the first half.
Lee Myeong-Joo 6.0 – A subpar showing for Lee. His passing seemed a bit errant, and he didn’t seem as calm as usual.
Ha Dae-Sung 6.0 – A subpar showing for Ha as well, at least compared to his last few matches. Tonight’s match seemed more like what we saw from him under a certain Choi manager.
–> Han Kook-Young 6.5 – The best senior team match for Han. Worked hard, put in the tackles, did what he’s supposed to do. Haiti got little going offensively once Han came in (although that could be because they were down to 10).
Go Yo-Han 5.5 – Poor showing, and a slight wonder why he started. Saw plenty of the ball early, but didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
–> Lee Chung-Yong 7.5 – Wonderful half of work by Lee, unfortunately not rewarded with a goal as his one effort hit the post. Earned two penalties and showed plenty of skill and technique.
Lee Keun-Ho 7.0 – A bit of a surprise starter given the presence of his two more illustrious juniors. Yet, Lee had a good night, and managed to get his name on the scoresheet via the spot. His versatility in attack is a plus.
–> Kim Bo-Kyung 6.5 – Started slow, but made his presence felt the last few minutes. His run for his goal opportunity was beautiful.
Son Heung-Min 8.0 – Two goals for Son who seems willing and able to assume the mantle and responsibility of being Korea’s chief scorer. His first was a typical Son goal, his second a nice bit of cool headedness in front of goal. Disappeared a bit in the second half, and needs more work on dealing with pressure and man marking, but a good sign.
Ji Dong-Won 6.0 – Looked rusty playing the lone striker, but if Hong is committed to using a true foward, Ji may still be the best option.
–> Koo Ja-Cheol 7.0 – Also looked a bit rusty playing a more advanced role, having switched to a deeper role with Wolfsburg. Still had his moments. His penalty was well taken, and he played some nice passes.
Hong Myeong-Bo 6.5 – It is a friendly, which is when you should experiment, but his starting XI was clearly off. However, all of his subs worked wonderfully. Still some defensive issues (focus) to work on.
Cautious optimism is the word(s) for now. The win definitely feels good given how dour things have been of late. I won’t say that things are peachy-keen, but they’re brighter than they have been. Hopefully we put on a good showing against Croatia next week. For the final 15-20 minutes or so, we finally got to see the false 9 formation that I’ve wanted to see for quite a while now. Koo went up top with Son, Kimbo, and Lee behind him. I don’t know if it’ll last with Koo playing so much deeper at the club level. Yet, I feel that it worked well enough that it’s not something that Hong should throw away.
Croatia, regardless of whether they play their strongest XI or not (and I don’t believe they will) will offer a much stiffer test of how good or bad we are. That game is next Tuesday at Seoul WC Stadium. See you then!