On 6/15 our Olympic team, preparing for the Hangzhou Asian Games in September 2023 with the all-important military exemption on the line, defeated hosts China 3-1 earlier today. It was a comfortable win – China’s goal came from a cross that was very obviously out of bounds. There is also a second match against China scheduled 6/19.
The all important squad selection. The squad had to be split with the senior team as both the A team and the U23 team have fixtures at the exact same time (the senior NT plays Peru tomorrow); for example, Lee Kang In is a lock for the final Olympic squad.
This is admittedly a very strong squad. We are flush with attacking midfielders: Lee Kang In, Hong Hyeon Seok (with the senior team) + Freiburg Jeong Woo Young, Um Won Sang, Yang Hyun Jun, Song Min Kyu, and Go Young Jun. Many of these guys played in the 2022 World Cup. The rest of the team has good depth too. The CB position looks amazing with Lee Han Beom, Kim Ju Sung (on the senior team this time but also has military exemption already), and Lee Jae Ik. There’s a lot of depth in FB with Hwang Jae Won, Choi Jun, Lee Tae Seok, Park Gyu Hyeon (now on the senior team with Klinsmann cuz he loves his German players), and a potential wildcard selection Seol Young Woo who JUST misses the age cutoff for this squad by only a few days. The CMs/DMs are pretty good and Lee Gwang Yeon is a pretty good GK too. We can feel pretty confident of winning the whole thing barring any shenanigans from China given they’re playing on home turf.
There is only one headache here: the CF position. Oh Hyeon Gyu is obviously our best U24 striker but with military exemption out of the way, 1) should we bring him on when we can probably win the whole thing without him, and 2) will Celtic even let him go? Cho Gue Sung is just over 24 but also is exempt; so is Hwang Ui Jo. Joo Min Kyu, the K league top scorer, has been floated too but he too has exemption and he is also 33. After these names… the quality really drops off. Cho Young Wook, ever present in the Korean youth national teams, isn’t really a traditional striker and arguably plays better out wide.
A strong lineup with Song Min Kyu, Go Young Joon, and Yang Hyun Jun – three of the best attacking mids/wingers in the K League leading the front line alongside Cheon Seong Hoon who moved back to Korea from Augsburg this season. The backline was as expected. The center mid pairing was always one in fluctuation for pretty much all our national team setups – this time we went with two players in fantastic form in the K League this season – Jung Ho Yeon (apparently attracting interest from Celtic) of Gwangju FC and Kim Bong Soo of Jeju United.
I could not watch this game as it was at 3 AM PST, but here are the highlights.
It seems to me that somehow the floodgates opened up after we subbed out our entire front line Cheon Seong Hoon, Song Min Kyu, Go Young Jun, Yang Hyun Jun to Park Jae Yong, Um Won Sang, Cho Young Wook, and Jeong Woo Young. I don’t think that’s necessarily representative of who’s better than the other though. But it clearly does showcase the great form Um Won Sang has been in recently (amazing movement and finishing on those two goals) as well as the fact that Jeong Woo Young can tear it up against Asian U23 opposition. He may be a bit ineffective for the senior NT at times, but he is no doubt going to star in the Asian Games.
In the highlights the combo of Kim Bong Soo and Jung Ho Yeon looked very effective – each notched an assist to Um Won Sang. So did RB Hwang Jae Won, who could be seen dribbling past opponents with ease and played very well outside of an errant pass (didn’t see too much of LB Lee Tae Seok). I’m not sure if our CFs did much all game.
This match also makes me worried about China shenanigans. The refs this game were all Chinese, and true to how China always plays, they were shockingly physical with very dangerous tackles that went unpunished (I didn’t watch the full game but the media and my friends who did watch are all commenting on this… China will always China I guess). They injured Um Won Sang too – in the YT video you can see that the tackle from the opponent puts his R knee under some unnatural valgus stress… that’s a MCL tear right there I bet. and the ref allowed a goal that was very obviously out of bounds. It’s really kind of a shame we’re playing them again on Monday.
What we learned
Per those who watched the game + news outlets, the big revelation has been our CM pairing + RB Hwang Jae Won. The opponent was China, but we still dominated the game and also brings up the question of whether the already-exempt Kwon Hyuk Kyu (who I always figured would be our automatic pick for the DM position) even needs to be on the squad. The balance of going for getting as many players military exemption as possible vs making sure that we bring all our best players is always a tough one. This dilemma is biggest for Oh Hyeon Gyu, but now maybe we can throw in Kwon Hyuk Kyu’s name as well. This game also reinforced the need to find a solution to the CF problem. I figure that next game we may trial any of our attacking mids e.g. Cho Young Wook or Song Min Kyu as CF. We will probably also make rotations in the entire defensive line as well as the CM pairing. I also pray that Um Won Sang won’t be out for long (still waiting on Korean media to report on the extent of the injury) because he is an essential player in this squad as well – although we have the depth in his position, he is still a lock for the final squad assuming he recovers quickly enough and doesn’t lose form.