Korea v Costa Rica Preview [v.2 updated]

Hwang Ui-jo and Son Heung-min practicing at Paju / Photo: Yonhap News

Korea v Costa Rica international friendly 

Friday September 7 at Goyang Stadium (north of Seoul) at 7am US EST / 8pm Korea Time

TV: SBS/Naver

[note: in the US and Canada, Naver App sometimes geoblock channels, but lately has not done so]

International break time comes as Korea is feeling some “kibun jo-ah” momentum.  Most of Korea was apparently watching the Asian Games football gold medal match, a nail biter that turned into relief amidst joy as Son Heung-min, Lee Seung-woo, Cho Hyun-woo, Hwang Hee-chan and Hwang Ui-jo and other impressive youngsters that earned the correct color of medal to unlock their football careers -and for Son, the biggest sigh of relief for the captain as he is able to see out his 5 year renewed contract with Tottenham without having to be hauled back to Korea for 2 years (see Son’s pathways to military exemption or conscription ICYMI). The last senior match saw Korea crash out of the World Cup in Russia, but left with heads held high as they shocked the world by beating the defending world champions Germany 2-0. Nobody saw that coming. It will now be part of essential Korean football history lore.

However, the general dissatisfaction with Shin Tae-yong’s haphazard call ups and puzzling management hovered in and around the KFA all summer. It was no surprise that Shin was replaced eventually -the decision to replace Shin with Paulo Bento however was somewhat of a head scratcher.  If the Portuguese manager’s appointment was seen as a left field choice of sorts, he’s hit the ground running hard, taking in K-League games, assembling his staff and insisting on a dedicated office in Paju (the commitment to stay in Korea already exceeds the low mark set by Korea’s last foreign manager, Uli Stielike who spent most of his time not in Korea) and announcing plans to analyze Korean football from top to bottom.

At the Tavern, we’ve hardly had time to assess Paulo Bento while the Asian Games was in full swing, his appointment and his career pathway that took him to the heights of European coaching with Portugal before winding up coaching in the Chinese Super League. There’s reason for both pause and optimism in his hiring, but we’ll get to that in a future musing.

Here’s some of what Bento said during a recent press conference:

“I want to check whether we can possess the ball and control the game against good opponents,” he said. “I really want to find that my football philosophy can be displayed on the pitch tomorrow.”

It’s early days in the new Bento era for the KNT, so lets look briefly at his call up:


There’s a mix of Asian Games newbies and World Cup veterans. Some players of note: GK Song Bum-Keun replaces Cho Hyun-woo who is out injured from knee problems during the Asian Games. Daegu FC’s Cho became one of the newly minted heroes to emerge from this World Cup. “San Cho” also played a massive role in stabilizing Korea’s somewhat shaky defense in the Asian Games with spectacular saves that quite literally saved the entire team during some of the knockout matches in the tournament. In last Saturday’s gold medal match against Japan, Cho apparently played despite knee problems from an injury incurred in the Round of 16 matchup with Iran. It’s that same knee that will take him out of the roster for this international break.

Looking quickly at center defense, Kim Min-Jae earns this call up, returning from injury that forced him out of the World Cup squad, the Jeonbuk Hyundai CB was one of the more solid defenders during the Asian Games tourney for Korea. The other notable CB in the roster, Kim Young-Gwon a stalwart defender – he’ll go down in Korean football history with his stoppage time goal against Germany in the World Cup. He’s been attempting to transfer to Europe, but there hasn’t been any takers so far (we’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed).

In the fullback department, Yun Suk-Young returns to the KNT fold after some time in the wilderness following his time at LB for QPR. Returning to the K-League with FC Seoul, he’s done enough to earn the call up. On RB, Kim Moon-Hwan turned enough heads with his efficient Asian Games performance to get the nod (though his Asian Games counterpart at LB Kim Jin-Ya was absolutely brilliant in his role – he did not get the call to duty. However, it will only be a matter of time before he gets his chance).

At this stage, you might be more familiar with the midfielders and attackers in this squad – let’s skip ahead a bit and suggest that with Son Heung-min looking fatigued and Ji Dong-Won returning to the fold, I’m going on a limb and predict that Bento – or his advisors will be pipping Ji to start over Son in order to just see what he has at his disposal. UPDATE: scratch that- Bento announced in a press conference that he will start Son Heung-min, one of the few details to emerge on what he’s going to do in this upcoming game.  Additionally, Lee Seung-woo and Lee Jae-Sung might also get the start to get the ball rolling against a travel fatigued Costa Rican team.

Hwang Ui-jo and Son Heung-min practicing at Paju / Photo: Yonhap News


Bento has been known to utilize a 4-3-3 formation with Portugal. If he goes with that, here’s one possible XI:

UPDATE: while the predicted XI above indicates no Son and Hwang Ui-jo up top, new information confirms that Son is going to start. I’m inclined to think now that Son will start where I have Ji at on the left attacking side. Now this might not (well, with Son the only confirmed starter tomorrow – this will not) be Bento’s starting XI, but he’s told the Korean media that he’s interested in testing every player at this disposal. With that in mind, he might have a mix of veterans and youngsters to try out the chemistry. This particular lineup could be close to what he’s after, but it has it’s pros and cons. Lee Seung-woo had a positive chemistry with Hwang Hee-chan – but will he be able to give and go with Hwang Ui-jo?  We didn’t see it as much during the Asian Games, but it might be worth a go with that tournament’s 2 top scorers as part of a front three with (Son). Additionally Lee Seung-woo might find some positive overlaps with Lee Jae-sung. Hwang In-beom along with Ki Sung-Yeung might be interesting to see how they are able to be on a similar wavelength. If the fullbacks do their job, competently moving the ball up the flanks, it will be an interesting friendly low pressure test for Bentos and his crew. Expect Ji Dong-won, Moon Seon-min and Nam Tae-hee, along with Jang Hyun-soo (interestingly classified as a midfielder rather than a defender) to enter the fray in the 2nd half – that is if my prediction is wrong and they wind up starting instead.


Costa Rica, which had a setback with their group stage failure in Russia, will fly into Korea without Keylor Navas and Bryan Ruiz. Costa Rica will however see Incheon United’s Elias Aguilar join their side – the Costa Rican midfielder will enjoy the benefit of not traveling thousands of miles and may end up being their go to player by default. Another player to look out for is Joel Campbell. He was a cunning striker for Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup, but struggled in this last World Cup edition. The former Arsenal man has had a journeyman career, endlessly on loans. He’s currently with Serie A outfit Frosinone.


The key is this: while the Asian Games players are tired, they have the wind at their backs after the game of their lives to win a gold medal. Nearly 60% of the country (possibly more) was watching and cheering the team on (there’s a video of an apartment complex in Seoul where the majority of the block erupted in cheers after Lee Seung-woo’s goal). International friendly results will not matter other than for FIFA rankings (which did affect several Koreans attempting to transfer to England this summer – more on that in a later post). For Bento, it’s not a bad time to be Korea’s manager – low pressure and expectations given that the next World Cup cycle hasn’t even begun.

If he’s good on his word in terms of assessing and possibly giving more room to youngsters on the squad, this renewal process may have a positive effect on club level to play more young-uns. Win lose or draw, it’s more important to focus on his process for carving out a real identity for this Taeguk Warrior team – and that’s where the assessment of the Bento era will begin in earnest.

Be on the lookout for the 2nd international friendly against Chile. That game will be in Suwon on Tuesday, September 11 – 7am US EST / 8pm Korea time.




About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
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