Korea narrowly edge second-string Aussie side in closely fought encounter

BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 07: Son Heungmin of South Korea and Aziz Behich of Australia lead the teams entering the pitch prior to the international friendly match between South Korea and Australia at Busan Asiad Main Stadium on June 7, 2019 in Busan, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

On Friday night, the Koreans welcomed a heavily experimental Australian squad to a packed Busan Asiad Stadium, where 52,213 fans experienced an U20 World Cup dejavu of sorts, as Korea grabbed an unconvincing victory. Graham Arnold set out to ‘test the depth’ of Australian football and will be happy with his inexperienced side, as they frustrated a close to full-strength Korean side for the better half of the game. Paulo Bento, however, should look to test other options to rectify growing concerns since the Asian Cup debacle.

The Lineups

Photo Credit: @theKFA twitter

Korea lined up in a 5-3-2 of sorts, similar to how the U20 Korean squad lined up against Japan. In Bento-like fashion, he started a beleaguered front-line of Son Heung-Min and Hwan Hee-Chan and gave Ju Se-Jong the reins in the midfield.

Korea’s back 3, who were all stellar throughout the match for Korea, were the only real bright spots until the introduction of Hwang Ui-Jo at the 67th minute, whose off-the-ball contribution and poacher’s instinct nabbed the win for Korea.

Photo Credit: @Socceroos twitter

Conversely, Australia left most of their European-based core of players at home, instead opting to call-up a young and inexperienced side which featured 6 potential debutants in order to test depth at the highest level.

In the end, Arnold started with Andrew Redmayne in goal, off the back of his heroics for Sydney FC in the A-League Grand Final. He also handed a first-team debut to Brandon O’Neill, as Suwon Bluewings’ adopted son, Adam Taggart sat on the bench.

Bluewings fans give warm welcome to current player, Adam Taggart.
@Socceroos twitter

First Half: A one-sided affair

Australia were very much the better team as the match got underway, as the Koreans held their ground defensively, but looked to offer nothing going forward. For much of the first half, Korea relied too heavily on long balls pumped forward by their central midfield pairing, who were sat too deep and offered little on the counter.

Australia had much of the early chances, as they pressed the Koreans consistently and eventually it paid off, as O’Neill won the ball in midfield and set free Mitchell Duke in the box, who skewed the shot wide.

Their early momentum almost paid dividends, as a whipped corner from the debutant O’Neill glanced off the head of Duke before hitting the upright and pinging back into play.

Korea’s only half chance came in the form of the bigman Kim Min-Jae in the latter stages of the first half, as he latched on to a poor clearance and marauded past his man, sending in a low cross that was almost turned into his own net by Jurman.

Second Half: Quiet Korea creep back into the game

As Korea’s attack slowly began to creep back into the game, Australia deployed a more physical man-to-man system which saw Korean media outraged at the treatment of star player Son Heung-Min.

All hands on deck for Australia as 3 players close in on Son.
Photo Credit: @Socceroos twitter

Korea started brightly, as the Socceroos were forced into niggling fouls and late challenges.

Injury concerns were aplenty throughout the second half, as Hwang In-Beom was clattered by O’Neill and had to limp off the pitch for a brief moment. Mustafa Amini, who should be credited for a brave display in which he kept Son quiet for the majority of the match, went off the rails in the 60th minute, earning himself a deserved yellow card after his harsh challenge on Son. The inexperience was starting to show through cracks in the Aussie defence and mentality.

After a frustrating game for a static Hwang Hee-Chan, Bento brought on Hwang Ui-Jo in hopes of refreshing his attack and that he did, to deadly effect.

Although early signs were not encouraging as Hwang blasted his first opportunity over the bar, his introduction provided the midfield with a much needed front man to play off. His constant diagonal runs began to cause problems for the Australian defence and it was in the 76th minute that the breakthrough came.

A long ball from Kim Min-Jae in the defense found K-League’s very own Kieran Trippier in the form of Hong Chul, whose cross found a fortunate defection straight into the patch of Hwang Ui-Jo to make it 1-0.

Moments later, Son garnered the last of his energy, slicing through the Australian defence with a mazy run, only to find his goal-bound shot turned around by a great save from Redmayne.

With that the game drew to a close, Korea setting up well defensively to prevent a young and hungry Australian side.

Takeaways from the game

Although the squad weren’t up to scratch, this match only further proved the significance of the two Kims and Hwang Ui-Jo to the national side.

Bento was unwilling to rest his core of European players who, in his defence, did say that they were ready to play. However, after a campaign with fixtures as hectic as Son Heung-Min, Hwang In-Beom and Hwang Hee-Chan, Bento should have taken the initiative to try out other players he had brought along, such as Lee Jeong-Hyup, Kim Bo-Kyung and Paik Seung-Ho.

Especially when we are as fortunate to come across a similarly matched opponent playing an experimental side, Bento must try and develop a plan B for Korea in terms of squad depth and not just ridiculous formation changes. Korea scraped a win today and although there were many variables, such as fatigue involved, it was a poor showing and reminiscent of the ineffective football from the Asian Cup.

Here’s to hoping some of the U20 World Cup talents and K-League talents are given more chances in the build up to World Cup Qualification.


  1. I’m a little late to the party because I almost forgot about this fixture thanks to the Womens World Cup and U20 World Cup, but it seems like I was better off watching those. Uninspiring to say the least… Very well written article though and I must ask if you watch Australia too?

    • Thanks for the kind words Danny! I think Bento was just trying to experiment with a more conservative formation, but really he shouldn’t be doing that in fixtures where we can boss the game and win instead of grinding out a result. As for Australian football, the Socceroos are only second to Korea in my heart! I do watch Sydney FC in the A League, so I am all too familiar with Redmayne and ONiell if that’s why youre wondering!

  2. Wondering when Bento’s “style/philosophy” will fully kick into gear, think it’s been what 10 games he’s had now. I wanna give him a proper shot, and I thought the picture/direction was becoming clearer the last 2 friendlies, vs Bolivia/Colombia. But then the Oz match…

    Bento mentioned he’s been keeping an eye on the U20 WC, and particularly certain players, so here’s hoping he adds a couple into the mix. And if LKI doesn’t ultimately get a spot in the final WC team selection…

    Anyway, busy day tomorrow for both teams, hopefully after we’ll have a better idea of where things stand, so be still my heart & see y’all on the flip side 😉

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