Korea misses opportunity against 10 man Iran in WCQ

Quick recap as Korea played Iran to a nearly full house at Seoul World Cup Stadium, a crucial penultimate 3rd round World Cup Qualifier that Korea needed to win and Uzbekistan to lose against China to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Korea had been under a hoodoo against Iran, failing to win against the Persians since 2011.  Could they break that to gain entry to the World Cup finals for the 9th consecutive time, the opportunity right for the taking with Iran down to 10 men for nearly 30 minutes AND China scoring late to take a 1-0 lead against Uzbekistan?

On paper, Shin Tae-Yong lined Korea to be offensively set up with a 4-2-3-1

The surprise: Kim Min-Jae getting the start – one of the few bold moves from Shin Tae-Yong. Korea’s attacking set up on paper looked like it could make impact – and early on, it nearly did. Korea came out aggressive, took some chances, and shots almost on target. Kim Jin-Su had a shot go wide, and Korea’s best chance on goal in the half came when Jang Hyun-soo headed down a corner, only to watch it go wide by inches.

However, Korea’s attack fizzled out – and Iran countered several times to make their presence known. There was some defensive stumbles as well, Kim Jin-Su’s poor clearance led to Iranian chances and Kim Seung-Gyu looked shaky in the box, including a bobbled save late in the game that came out of his hands.  He also failed to clear well, the optics not looking quite so well. That translated to a clearly cut up pitch at Seoul’s stadium – a sign that all is not well with the K-League; one can guess that finances are tight enough that the pitch was visibly in poor condition – possibly a reason CB Kim Young-Gwon whiffed at a clearance (in replays, you could argue the pitch was to blame – he later went back to the tufts of grass that Kim patted back in place).  Either way, much as Korea tried to play a passing game to work their way to the final third, that last threaded pass just couldn’t make it’s way to any of the acting forwards.  Son, Lee Jae-Sung, Kwon Chang-Hoon, all had mini- moments of brilliance, but as a whole, they couldn’t break down the Iranian defense. Hwang did his best to hustle his way around the field but to no avail.  The set peices were Korea’s best chances to score, Son’s deflected FK nearly caused an Iranian heart attack, Kwon later hitting a curling free kick that just went over the net.  No breakthrough by HT though Korea looked like they were the likeliest to break the deadlock.  Early in the 2nd half, that chance looked golden when this happened:

Electric atmosphere as the red card sendoff for stamping Kim Min-Jae’s head gave Korea a man advantage with roughly 30 minutes to go.  But Korea’s attack just couldn’t get it going.  It was as if Korea seemed more panicked to move the ball forward, but wound up giving the ball away more often than not. Korea trying to play passing game in final third – which supporters could applaud the idea -however the execution was less than graceful (where have we heard this one before?).  With time starting to run out, Shin Tae-Yong appeared to go conservative with sub changes, knowing full well the bench options present a well of concerns just as it presented possibilities.  With a free kick opportunity roughly 15 minutes left, Shin made his first move – subbing off Lee Jae-Sung for Kim Shin-Wook. Therein the strategy slowly but surely shifted to long ball tactics, with hopes the tall Jeonbuk forward could knock one down to either Son or Hwang. Instead, just as it did with Uli Stielike, and just as it did with Choi Kang-Hee before him, the rudimentary strategy of the long ball to the Wookie was akin to a hail mary pass, rarely ending in anything but futility.

The next sub was an interesting move: Kim Min-Jae finished his first cap as CB and replaced with a like for like defender in Kim Ju-Young.  Korea’s attack labored to get any kind of offense going, but barely bothered Iran’s keeper.  The long ball strategy was simply too easy to read for Iran’s increasingly compacted defense.

Shin Tae-Yong was even more animated on the sidelines when word trickled to him that China jumped ahead of Uzbekistan.


That was relayed quickly on the field, but Korea still struggled to break the impasse. Time ticking – 5 minutes to go, Shin, with reticence, took out the ever hard working Hwang Chan-Hee and replaced with the aging 38 year old Lee Dong-Gook. Lee had been talking to the press prior to the game, implying that Korea’s younger players didn’t give enough and that he was ready to jump in and show what they’ve been missing.

He got his chance in stoppage time when he chested down a long pass 25 yards from goal, he did well to move into position at the top of the area, but with 2 Koreans in front of him as options (Wookie and Kwon I believe) and a defender pressing him from the right, he opted to go hero mode and take an audacious shot. It was closer to hitting the upper deck than the goal post. In hindsight, perhaps he could’ve faked the shot and passed to better options up front, as he tried to explain to his teammates post match. Didn’t change the facts on the ground as Korea frustratingly drew nil-nil to 10 man Iran and a opportunity to qualify with Uzbekistan’s late game loss to China.  It was disappointing on a number of levels, but Korea can still claim a spot in World Cup 2018 with a win or draw next Wednesday in Uzbekistan – if Korea can regroup in time to salvage what’s left of their campaign to get their first away win in the final game in this 3rd round of qualifying.


The take away: Korea still far too tentative, the lack of polish to execute a quick passing game to finally make Iran concede a goal.  Before getting too far into negative territory, the debut of Kim Min-Jae at CB partnering with Kim Young-Gwon was decent enough, the Jeonbuk man proved his worth and sacrificed his face in the red card incident. Kim Seung-Gyu mixed performance, routine saves with some poor clearances and shakiness on set pieces. But in the end a clean sheet at the back.

Not a pretty game from either side, with heavy touches and awkward non-football on display, it wasn’t easy on the eyes and that partially could be blamed on the poor conditions on the pitch -another condemnation of the abysmal state of affairs of Korean football in general. But poor pitch aside, while Korea were unlucky with not getting their chances converted, the real damning indictment on this KNT squad was their haplessness when Iran were down a man.  To not take that advantage, this isn’t just a draw, everyone watching in Seoul and on television will be right in calling this effectively more as a loss, as in lost opportunity. For 30 minutes. Not Son, not Kwon, not Lee Jae-Sung, not Koo, not Jang Hyun-Soo, not Kim Jin-Su, as a team, despite decent club pedigrees, were unable to take advantage and coordinate offensively with purpose. It was haphazard as a whole and a consequence of changing course with managers this late in the qualifying game.  Individual players can take some of the blame of course, but the largess of onus is on the KFA. Shin can and should take blame, especially for his 2nd half game management, and yet take some slight cover since this is his first game in charge.  Korea will overall rue missed opportunities. There is only 6 days to right the course to avoid a 4th round of qualification. While Japan cruises into qualifying in their Group B, Korea must fight on another day, and Taeguk Warrior watchers look on in agony and teeth clenched next Wednesday with a mixture of uncertainty and lingering hope. Despite what netizens might say, Korea still has enough – on paper – to qualify if they bring their A game to the show.

This just in: Syria level on points with Uzbekistan, and 2 goal difference ahead to take 3rd place  just behind Korea. Syria plays at Tehran next Wednesday. There is a slight possibility that Syria could leapfrog into 2nd place, but that would happen only if Korea Uzbekistan ends in a scoreless draw and Syria were to somehow get a win at Tehran. 

Video highlights


Son in post match interview:


Next up: the final 3rd round WCQ with Korea visiting Uzbekistan September 5 at 11 AM US EST / Sept 6 in Korea at midnight.

About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner


  1. “Korea can still claim a spot in World Cup 2018 with a win or draw next Wednesday in Uzbekistan”

    Hate to be a naysayer (this is what this team does to me), but a draw against Uzbekistan doesn’t actually guarantee anything.
    If Korea draws and Syria beats Iran (even 1-0), Syria will qualify and Korea gets 3rd place (they’ll be tied at 15 and Syria would get the edge on goal difference). I know that is probably unlikely considering how tough Iran are at home, but Korea can’t take any chances.
    With Syria suddenly at play, there’s even a chance that Korea could end up in 4th place if they totally screw themselves against Uzbekistan.
    They really need those 3 points this Tuesday…

    • On the other hand, the Uzbeks are at home and are under pressure to win. I think it would be a better strategy, if Korea played safe and counter attack their over aggressiveness.

    • You’re right, going over the scenarios in Group A, there is a chance Syria could leapfrog into 2nd place. Korea will avoid a 4th round WCQ quagmire by getting all 3 points next Wednesday.

  2. I expected a draw, but I was hoping for a better performance. It was really disappointing to see STY have Korea use over the top balls and long balls. I think Korea is more than capable of playing a more short passing/technical game, which probably suits the players better. Another problem I saw with Korea is lack of mental toughness. The players seem to crack under pressure that leads to unusual decisions and mistakes. Maybe, the team is too young and inexperienced. STY might want to consider including more veteran players in the lineup. Hopefully, Uzbekistan will be worse than Korea next week. 🙁

    • yes, short passing/technical game would work, if only they knew how to pass… hate to be negative but korea is just simply not good enough. yes STY could have made better decision with the subs and overall strategy, but the underlying problem has always been quality.. which korean players lack..

      • I don’t think Korea lacks quality compared to other Asian countries. They have the potential to be so much better. Their players have better technical skill than Iran’s, but the reason why Iran is better is because they have found a way to maximize their potential. Under Quieroz, Iran has become a very well drilled and disciplined defensive team. They don’t have the quality to have good possession and break teams down in open play, but they know how to get the job done.

        • Korea as they are now, are not even the top 3 team in Asia. Japan, Australia, and Iran are more superior. I think the sooner we realize this the sooner we can start fixing the issue from the bottom up. If korea goes to the WC as they are now, they are just going to embarrass themselves even more. Korean players do not have better technical skill than Iran. dribbling? passing? shooting? off the ball movement? Against a 10 man iran team, I saw nothing better from the korean team than Iran. I just dont understand when people say korean players have better technical skill…

          • Yes against Iran, Korea looked horrible. Korea was horrible in many ways. Does Iran have players with better technical skill than Ki, Son, Koo, Ji Dong Won, Lee Chung Yong, or even Lee Jae Sung? I don’t think so. Maybe, some of Iran’s players that are playing in the Russian league can compete with them.

    • Korea does not have the players to play a short passing game in the middle/opposition third. Ki SY and Lee JS (to an extent) are the only players who can play one-twos well with others. I understand the balls over the top idea tbh. Both Hwang HC and Son HM are players with pace and can (in theory) get behind the Iran defense before they have a chance to get organized and deep, but the execution was beyond poor.

      • I was just hoping Korea would put together some simple passes that could have led to something and do something that isn’t constant long balls into the penalty box. The super direct approach seemed to be somewhat effective at the beginning of the game. Didn’t Iran high press a little and play very attacking to start the game? As the game went on, Iran kept dropping their defensive line until they parked the bus. Korea should have at least tried a different approach. Over the top ball passes aren’t as effective when there’s very little room in behind. Also, I thought STY should have made earlier substitutions. Because Korea stuck with their gameplan, Kim Shin Wook could have been more effective if he came on earlier. Also, STY could have tried playing Yeom Ki Hun and have him cross the ball.

  3. we didn’t lose for the fifth time to look at it somewhat optimistically..
    BUT it was disappointing how we couldn’t win and it gives me concerns about the team.
    I have a feeling we will beat Uzbekistan and barely reach the World Cup. (that sounds familiar…)
    and I hope Korea doesn’t end up in the Group of Death or something. Gosh that would be painful to watch.

  4. Players: Pretty sure Korea would’ve failed to score if Iran were down to 9 men… It’s astonishing just how poorly the KNT players perform as a unit (compared to their individual club performances). Hwang HC was really the only bright spot. There’s absolutely no cohesion. They can’t seem to string more than a few consecutive passes together. You can tell that the midfield really missed Ki today.

    Coaching: What took Shin so long with the subs? I understand you would want to hold off on subs and preserve your starting XI if they were knocking on Iran’s doorstep, on the precipice of scoring. But, outside of Jang’s header and Kwon’s free kick shot, the opportunities on goal were few and far between. I realize we can Monday morning quarterback this until Tuesday, but I couldn’t help but scratch my head with Shin’s choices while watching.

    Miscellaneous: A couple of perhaps more minor points here. The pitch was in horrible condition. It looked like players had issues all game in navigating the field and completing passes. Can one argue that this disadvantaged Korea more because they required greater accuracy and precision in their passes to establish an offensive rhythm, as opposed to Iran, which relied mostly on quick counterattacks in which they had more space to operate? Also, with captain Kim Young-gwon’s comments after the match on the crowd noise, you have to wonder why he was donning the captain’s armband? Why not give it back to Koo, who is a KNT vet and plays with the most passion on the team? Or Son?

    • Koo captained the team during the 2014 World Cup. Not saying their performance was entirely his fault, but that alone would make me want to give armband to someone else. He kinda had his shot already and it didn’t work- just my opinion, and maybe not STY’s reasoning.
      Also, Ki usually wears it but wasn’t able to play. STY said ki might wear it anyway, but… I guess that didn’t happen. Would be kinda odd.
      I think Kim may have worn it before. I don’t think it’s a bad idea for a defender to be the captain, especially given how bad the defense on this team has been. But I agree… not sure Kim will even be called up in the future over those comments, much less be named captain.
      TBH I kinda feel sorry for him. I doubt he meant to blame the fans. Some people just don’t know how to speak (especially athletes..). Basically he just revealed himself to be a dumbass in my book. But I know he’s never gonna live it down.

    • I feel you on the scoring frustration – but to hit on your point about the pitch – both Iran and Korea didn’t play to their best and it would be hard to argue against the idea that the pitch wasn’t a factor in all that. Not to sound like an apologist -I saw Korea attempt a passing game initially, but with the pitch cut up so badly so quickly, you could actually witness the ball skip and hop as if playing on an unmaintained patchy rec football pitch as my 8 year old son plays in – a part of the US where baseball is king and many in the area thinks soccer is a sport for communists / anarchists & globalists. That pitch has so many patches, a simple pass can make the ball do unnatural things. That’s not to excuse Korea’s poor performance, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Korea was losing confidence in their ability to pass the ball around, thus the 2nd guessing and tentativeness set in. There’s some collective culpability in Korea’s loss and as much as the public is glaring at Kim Young-Gwon’s silly and ridiculous statement, the K-League as well as the Korean public should be staring themselves in the face for neglecting Korean domestic football – the pitch is a metaphor for the lack of public interest in keeping up the infrastructure for a stable and sustainably functioning K-League.

Join in the Tavern's conversations -Leave a comment...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.