So there’s no Son Heung-min, no Lee Jae-Sung nor Ki Sung-Yeung, core Korean players usually called up for international duty. For Son – a much needed break from his frenetic World Cup summer and Asian Games Gold winning schedule), for Ki a chance to further gel into the groove for Newcastle (Ki recently winning the confidence of Rafael Benítez. Curiously, Bento didn’t opt for Lee Seung-woo, perhaps so he can also get back in gear for Hellas Verona?). Also: Jang Hyun-Su will never get called up ever again*. So… how did this Lee/Son/Ki-less Korea fare?
The last international break of 2018 gave KNT manager Paulo Bento a chance to test out some new faces and pair them with some re-introduced familiar figureheads. Test session #1 against Australia last Saturday was a mixed bag, with Korea scoring against the run of form but hunkering down defensively, only to concede on a slightly controversial VAR decision in stoppage time. Overall, Korea struggled to move the ball effectively, losing the possession battle while keeping to an uninspiring draw (see Michael Welch’s post game/player rating recap at the Tavern here).
Test #2 saw Korea stay put in Brisbane with sparse crowd on hand but clearly in favor of the South Koreans. Bento lined up a younger XI than the one he fielded against Australia in a 4-2-3-1, playing Hwang In-Beom deeper in the ‘Ki Sung-yeung role’ (for lack of a better term), and giving his first KNT start to Gwangu’s young attacker, Na Sang-ho (he replaces Moon Seon-min on the right wing). Bento also gave a 1st start for Kashima Antler’s 24 year old center back, Jung Seung-hyun. Hwang Ui-jo stays the target center forward, Lee Chung-yong and Nam Tae-hee returning to their roles on the left and in the hole respectively. Park Joo-ho replaces Hong Chul at LB. World Cup folk hero Cho Hyun-woo’s turn between the sticks came today, replacing Kim Seung-Gyu at keeper.
Right from the start, Korea was in attack mode, gliding through the Uzbek midfield with the illusion of effortlessness. In stark contrast to last Saturday, Korea was enjoying the lion’s share of possession and unlike the Korean teams of the past several cycles, maximizing efficiency and impact in the final third with said possession.
Quick in transition, reading the game well, nearly every starter got into the act with accurate passing, well executed overlaps, swashbuckling runs and successful take ons. They even got to show off some of their footwork flair as the game wore on. Given orders to shed some of their risk averseness, Korea simply overwhelmed the Uzbeks who went into hunkering down mode, struggling to deal with Korea coming at them from all sides.
Hwang In-beom was the lynchpin of the midfield and one of the main engines driving Korea. He played in more of a deeper role than in the Australia match -however he was devastatingly effective. Ki-like in his distributions, Modric-like in his playmaking abilities, he weaved back and forth and side to side, weaving his way through the middle probing for weakness and setting the Bento-offensive machine in motion. In-beom’s first kill of the day: in the 9th minute, from the middle of the field, Hwang finds Lee Yong on the run to his right. The perfectly weighted through ball split between the Uzbek left back and the CB, Lee Yong had time and space to whip in his (unusually accurate) cross over the entire defense and on to Nam Tae-hee waiting on the far left. Nam one times a volley right into the back of the net with the right back Shorakhmedov who visibly is struggling to turn around to apply pressure on Nam.
Korea 1:0 Uzbekistan
Korea stay on the attack, Lee Chung-yong feeding Hwang Ui-jo, the Gamba Osaka forward gives the return to back to an onrushing Lee Chung-yong, just as he enters the area, drills a shot on frame that stings the palms of Nesterov. Next to step up: Park Joo-ho. His runs sets up the next fast and furious sequence all in the 22nd minute:
-Park Joo-ho’s mazy swashbuckling run through 3 Uzbek players, winds his way forward and passes to Nam Tae-Hee. He shoots, Nesterov collects.
– Immediately after Nesterov rolls the ball to Shukurov, Nam puts him under pressure. Shukurov passes to his #7 Khamrobekov. Hwang In-beom is there to pickpocket Khamrobekov and carries it to the edge of the area. He finds Nam who fires another shot, deflected…Nesterov in a bit of a miscommunicative mishap with his CB, punches the ball out to get it away from Hwang Ui-jo lurking nearby – but it floats high in the air.
-Hwang Ui-jo tracks that ball down. With his back to goal and 2 defenders closing him down, the ball comes out of the air…before it can land, Hwang deftly chops it between the surprised defenders, carves out a bit of space to shoot for the far post! It’s deflected just wide.
The resulting corner kick from Ju Se-jong, Jung Seung-hyun gets a head on it, the ball squirts out to Lee Yong. He shoots, hits the keeper point blank with a power shot, the rebound goes past Na Sang-ho who can’t get his foot on it. Hwang Ui-jo is just behind him and takes a crack at goal from a tight angle. He nails it top bins for his 2nd KNT goal in 2 matches. That’s his 9th goal for club and country since September 15th, a torrid pace of consistent goals – the only game he hasn’t scored in that stretch was in the 2-2 draw with Panama (he’s got 3 goals in his last 4 KNT matches).
The sequence you’re seeing is from the KNT youtube of the entire game’s highlights – I’ve bookmarked it beginning at 1:18 – watch this until 2:53 for all the action of the 22nd minute.
Korea 2:0 Uzbekistan
Hwang Ui-jo would get a few more chances to score in the 1st half but perhaps a bit wasteful. On the other side, Korea was hardly troubled, but towards the latter side of the half, Uzbekistan gave the defense something to think about, with Turgunbayev getting 2 shots on goal. Ju Se-Jong made life a little more difficult with some misplaced passes that gave Uzbeks a little more life in Korea’s end. Cho managed to snuff out all the threats with some easy saves (side note: Hwang In-beom timely tackle at the back also did his part to keep Uzbekistan’s offense at bay).
In the 2nd half, much the same, with Korea just dominating and keeping Uzbekistan pinned into their own half. Bad news early in the half however:
Ju crosses after short corner, Hwang Ui-jo nearly gets his head on it. Nam Tae-hee goes down in pain, may have twisted ankles? Moon Seon-Min about to come in. Lots of concerned looks with Korean players gathered around Nam. stretcher is out
— Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) November 20, 2018
Moon Seon-min came in the 52nd minute, Bento’s first substitution as Nam was stretchered off. Hwang In-beom tried to get on the scoresheet, troubled Nesterov as he couldn’t handle the shot well enough, the rebound nearly spilling out to Hwang Ui-jo. Minutes later, In-beom would get another chance as Lee Chung-yong laid it out for the Daejeon Citizen youngster to deliver a 25 yard shot – again the keeper bobbled the ball, but no cigar. Hwang Ui-jo and Kim Young-gwon went out for Suk Hyun-jun and Kwon Kyung-won respectively. In the 70th minute, a Ju Se-jong corner nearly found the head of Suk – but a deflection came out to Moon Seon-min -who had taken a bit of time to get into the rhythm of the game. He saw a small opening and delivered a stunning swerving goal. This was a beauty to behold, take a look:
Moon may not be Korea’s best player on the pitch, but sometimes he’s at the right place at the right time.
Korea 3:0 Uzbekistan
By now, Bento’s tinkering sees Park Joo-Ho and Lee Chung-yong out for Hong Chul and Lee Jin-hyun respectively. It’s the youngsters and substitutes who nearly steal the show with this next goal:
Suk Hyun-Jun: GOOOOOAAAAALLL! Neat interchange between Na Sang-ho and Suk Hyun-jun, Na drives to goal line, backheels for Lee Jin-Hyun lurking behind, he quickly finds Suk in front of goal, he taps it into back of the net for Korea’s 4th ⚽️, Korea 4:0 Uzbekistan in 83rd min
— Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) November 20, 2018
Korea 4:0 Uzbekistan
On replay, I didn’t even notice that Lee Jin-hyun nutmegs a defender in order to get the ball to Suk, who’s positioned well to score.
…And Korea wasn’t even done yet.
How did that not go in?!!? Na drives into the area, cheeky pass to Hwang In-beom, he opts for Suk Hyun-jun who gets feet tangled with keeper… almost a 5th Korean goal
— Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) November 20, 2018
You’ll get to see that in the KFA video highlight reel. Bento, by the way, is such a competitor … stay with the video after the chance goes begging, most managers would be happy with that scoreline and react perhaps differently but Bento looks incredibly furious.
One last chance to run up the score: Hong Chul goes out wide on the left, acres of space at the edge of the area – with Na Sang-ho yelling for the ball to his right – Hong opts for Suk and slides his pass through a sliver for the Troyes man. Suk’s back to goal, he kicks it out to Moon who can’t replicate his wonder goal earlier, meekly pokes it out to Nesterov.
FT and Korea ends a tumultuous 2018 with an impressive 4:0 result over an adversary who usually provides a fair bit of trouble in the past.
Korea started 2018 with Shin Tae-yong with lingering doubts about their World Cup fortunes. Midway through the end of the Shin Tae-Yong era came about with an early World Cup exit, yet manages a historic knock out blow to defending World Cup champs Germany 2:0 – revenge for the semifinals in World Cup 2002 and the first ever victory over Germany. Shin Tae-Yong resigns / sacked and in comes Portugal’s Bento. His era has been relatively upbeat: unbeaten in 6 consecutive games, 3 victories – against Costa Rica, Uzbekistan and Uruguay (1st victory over their South American opponents). 3 draws – scoreless with Chile, 2:2 draw with Panama and 1:1 with Australia. With some hiccups, these results overall signal an upward trend heading into the Asian Cup in January. The style of play witnessed today is an encouraging sign that Korea under Bento is maximizing the players he has at his disposal (getting results without Captain Son and Ki), the ability of those players to execute an organized cohesive vision, and more importantly, carving out an identity that is effective given the circumstances (military conscription, Chinese based players getting less time and opportunities, and more).
2018 is notable for another matter: the U23 hybrid team including Son, Cho Hyun-woo and Hwang Ui-jo earned military exemption with an absolutely vital Asian Games gold medal victory over Japan. September 1 will go down in Korean football memory as a day that unlocked the careers of a number of players – including some who made this November squad and made impact. Hwang In-beom has a very bright future ahead. We can’t wait to see the likes of Kim Jung-min, and sooner or later, we’ll see ex-Barca academy player Lee Seung-woo back in the senior squad.
Running out of time and space, let’s quickly get to player rankings. We’ll be back at the Tavern soon enough- I’ve been meaning to get this piece on the effects of frequent long distance traveling as the root of why Tottenham wanted to keep Son back in London – not to mention the regular club season resumes again.
Manager Paulo Bento-8: Players executed his gameplan and delivered – stifle Uzbekistan and win the midfield – quick transitioning and move the ball around effectively. 4 goals for a KNT match? This was no Asian minnow, Korea was more effective in the final third than long time Korea watchers are used to.
Cho Hyun-woo-7. Perhaps it wasn’t his busiest day, and while he didn’t make those headline grabbing spectacular saves like we saw this summer, he was tidy with what looked like 4 routine saves (are any saves routine?) and distributed without too much trouble.
Kim Young-gwon-8. Solid. Nothing much to report other than the few times he was called into action, he worked the ball out from the back while under pressure and oozed with confidence in his feints to keep the ball away from Uzbek attackers. Korea was in good hands with Captain Kim.
Jung Seung-hyun-7.5. I hesitate to give him this high of a score when Uzbekistan only occasionally went on the hunt for goals, but he was calm in the back, stayed organized with Kim Young-Gwon, distributed with confidence, and looked like he’s been a CB partner for years even though this was his first start for the KNT.
Lee Yong-7. Much better performance going forward, he was instrumental in Korea’s first two goals.
Park Joo-ho-7. Park Joo-ho at LB is back in fashion and it was good to see the ex Mainz/BVB and current Ulsan LB in the KNT fold. He’s part of the reason Korea enjoyed such a high ball possession rate. His mazy dribble started sequence that led to 2nd goal.
Ju Se-jong-6.7. Mixed performance, mis-passed far too often. On the other hand, for the 2nd game in a row, his freekick was spot on – almost resulting in Korea’s first goal of the day (and would’ve been the game winner against Australia on Saturday had it not been for an equally spectacular save from Brighton’s Matt Ryan). His corner kicks whipped also proved to be too dangerous, 2 goals from set pieces today. If not for his passes, he’s not a bad double pivot partner to Hwang In-beom.
Hwang In-beom-9. I can’t say more about this youngster – if he had a good game against Australia, he had a even better and more impressive man of the match performance against Uzbekistan. At the back or going forward, Hwang was everywhere – devastatingly effective in the deep lying mid role and creating havoc for Uzbekistan in his wake. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of him replacing Ki one day, but this role for Hwang could prove to be an effective template going forward in the the Asian Cup at the very least. Partnering with Ki during the tournament when Ki joins up in January? Mouthwatering possibilities..
Lee Chung-yong-7.5. Class and experience showing on the pitch today, his move to Germany has given Chungy a bit of a renaissance in his pro career. He offered a nice balance to Korea’s attack, positioned wider but drifting centrally when needed to keep Korea’s forward momentum humming.
Nam Tae-hee-8. Playing in the hole of Bento’s 4-2-3-1, Nam provided another attacking outlet that kept Uzbekistan’s defenses in tatters. Not sure how bad his injury is (right foot), we’ll try to find out and update.
Na Sang-ho-7.9. Took awhile for the Gwangju youngster to get into the game, but when he did, he provided some cheeky backheels that scrambled the Uzbeks and circulated the ball – enough for Lee Jin-hyun to find his forward option in Suk, who nailed in Korea’s 4th goal. Na grew in confidence and it showed with the penetrating runs and involvement in the fast transitions that made Korea particularly dangerous today.
Hwang Ui-jo-8. Still in excellent scoring form, the only nitpicky complaint we could possibly make is that he was wasteful with his many other chances. Otherwise, there’s no way around it, Hwang is on a hot streak for club and country. While his other deficits we normally see in his game was on display (occasionally sloppy on link up play), his instincts and nose for goal scoring is only getting better.
Moon Seon-min-7.8. Moon cuts this erratic figure in the KNT lineup. He’s good enough for Bento (and Shin Tae-yong before him) to take a look at, but other than that workrate, his suspect first touch lets him down a bit too often. So instead of testing his first touch, perhaps the master narrative in the sky wondered: why not see what he can do given a chance to deliver a one timer at goal? With time and space, that wonder goal today shows why the KNT can’t seem to quit him despite his flaws (what a swerve he put on that ball!). What’s his KNT future? Who knows, but for now, we can enjoy re-watching that goal.
Suk Hyun-jun-7.7. While he didn’t make the most of his opportunity in his first sub role against Australia, he was far more ruthless when he came on for Hwang Ui-jo today, the interchange and overlap with Na and Lee was his opportunity to get back on the scoresheet – which he did emphatically. However, the same comment we made with Ui-jo today can also be applied to the Troyes forward, wasteful with a golden opportunity that came his way to score late in the game.
Lee Jin-hyun- N/A
Kwon Kyung-won – N/A
Hong Chul – N/A
Park Ji-Soo – N/A
Here’s the entire KNT highlight reel. Let us know what you thought of the game. Next up: a warm up friendly with Saudi Arabia on Jan 1 in the new year, then Korea’s first group stage game in the Asian Cup against Philippines on January 7th. Dae Han Min Guk ya’ll.