Super short recap -Asian Games Round of 16, Korea was able to put together enough offensive firepower to muscle past Iran and book their ticket to the Quarterfinals against Uzbekistan – which beat Hong Kong 3:0. It was a nervy affair, sloppy at times from both sides, but Korea had a bit more poise and initiative, scoring a goal in each half. Defensively, Korea looked shaky without Kim Min-jae, who had to sit out due to yellow card suspension. However, with the steady hands of Cho Hyun-woo and the crossbar in one dangerous sequence to keep Iran out of the net, Korea’s defense came into their own and grew in confidence – particularly LB Kim Jin-Ya, who was effective on both sides of the pitch (save for one glaring error late in the 2nd half). Both Iran and Korea had been plagued with unconvincing group stage results; Iran lost their last group match to Myanmar, while Korea advanced despite only scoring 2 goals in the last 2 matches with an embarrassing loss to Myanmar to accentuate that. With military exemption on the line (for both squads as it would turn out), part of the unknown going into the match with so much at stake was – who was going to blink first?
Captain Son Heung-min said this in the dressing room pre-game (from twitter via Steve Han):
“I told my teammates that we’re not playing in a football match – that we’re going onto the pitch to fight a war. We’re here to represent our country.”
Here’s the XI, Kim Hak-bum finally brought out Lee Seung-woo to start:
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) August 23, 2018
The 4-3-3 formation perhaps implemented to utilize Lee Seung-woo into a triangular possession oriented attack. Hwang In-Beom, who had gotten some stick for his flat performances against Malaysia and Kyrgyzstan, really had to step up today to work the ball to the front three of Son, Lee Seung-woo and Hwang Ui-jo. Hwang In-beom did better, wasn’t convincing at times, but effective when he needed to be, evidenced early with a shot that rang off Iran’s goalpost. However, both teams struggled with some overt sloppiness that brought the game to something akin to a tennis match -each losing the ball and sending it back to the other side with equally frustrating frequency. Lee Seung-Mo, among others in the Korean midfield, looked nervous with a number of unforced errors and head scratching errant passes, allowing Iran to take advantage with some pernicious counterattacks. In the 18th minute, Korea was nearly undone with a Younes Delfi shot that rang off the crossbar. It continued to be an open game, perhaps less by design but more from the lack of precision by both sides.
Korea settled down, found a groove, and managed a way through Iran’s stalwart defense in the 40th minute, with Kim Jin-Ya finding Hwang In-Beom in the area – turning quickly, he deftly centered the ball to an unmarked Hwang Ui-jo camped out right in front of the keeper. He did not miss.
KOREA 1:0 Iran
It took 10 minutes into the 2nd half for Korea to double their lead, Lee Seung-woo taking advantage of a momentary lapse from Iran’s RB to take the ball and dribble past several defenders:
— Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors (@taeguk_warrior) August 23, 2018
It was a reminder of his Barcelona academy days, the swagger, the footwork in tight spaces, the decisive clinical shot blasting past the keeper after somehow carving out a bit of space.
Korea 2:0 Iran
Korea would hold on to the lead, though they were unable to extend it despite a few more looks at Iran’s net. Some worrisome developments included Cho Hyun-woo having to exit due to a possibly twisted ankle with Song Bum-keun coming in to replace him. The play in which he might’ve gotten injured was one of the highlights of the game, coming off his line to powerfully fist the ball away from a crowded box. We’ll update his situation when we can. Son also went down for a minute for a problem with his knee -he continued on but was instructed not to run, instead acting more or less as a behind the scenes conductor. Lee Seung-woo subbed out after what looked like a minor calf pull. Hwang Hyun-soo was kneed in the back, he was stretchered off late in the game.
One quick takeaway from the match: Korea eventually strung together some impressive offensive football; their buildup play and chances created looked very encouraging, an improvement from how ineffective they looked during the last 2 group stage matches. We haven’t talked more than a line about him, but credit Kim Jin-Ya for his impact in the game. However, Korea needs players like Lee Seung-mo to have more poise and confidence in making better decisions, not give the ball away so easily and pass more accurately.
Lee Seung-woo on facing Uzbekistan: "If there's a stronger team, it's us. There's no team in Asia that we can't beat. I've learned from a young age that Korean football is all about running more than the opposition with a stronger spirit. When we play like that, we fear no one."
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) August 23, 2018
NEXT UP: Korea v Uzbekistan in the Asian Games Quarterfinals, Monday August 27 at 5am US EST / 6pm Korea Time.
We’ll be back soon – interesting developments in Korea as Paulo Bento, newly appointed Korea manager took in a K-League game yesterday. He had some things to say, including this:
Bento on his observations after watching Seoul-Pohang last night: “One game is not enough to draw conclusions. Considering the intensity and competitiveness of the game I saw, I think there’s more room for improvement in Korean football.”
— Steve Han • 한만성 (@RealSteveScores) August 23, 2018