Hi Hello Welcome to the Tavern for your World Cup 2nd Round qualifiers Asia edition, with a somewhat meaningless, yet potentially entertaining clash featuring unbeaten Korea v Lebanon set for March 24 at 7AM US EST/ 8pm Korea Time. Somewhat meaningless? Can I sell this game or what? Seriously though, with Korea all but sealing up Group H with 6 games won/no losses nor draws, practically no goals conceded, one can view this game through 2 prisms. And like the very nature of light (wave and particle), this game is both absolutely meaningless AND meaningful all at once. Come, enter this magical rabbit hole as we look at Korea in advance of this WCQ.
Lets get some viewing logistics down, in Korea SBS will be broadcasting this at 8pm. Everywhere else around the world, there are creative streaming options available. The Tavern will be watching from our vantage point on the US East coast at 7am, yours truly, the Old Tavern Owner fixing some coffee and eggs mixed with some gochu-jang and veggies fried. hells yeah.
Ansan Wa~ Stadium, Ansan, South Korea
A stadium with a running track? Please. But the show must go on.
What makes this international break with the ‘pair’ of WCQs somewhat lacking any air of drama is the fact that the next fixture, originally set with Kuwait next Tuesday was called off, all 3 points given automatically to Korea. In fact, it will go down as a 3-0 win to Korea. Reason: FIFA punishment for Kuwait’s government interference in their football association. It wasn’t reversed, so while it goes down as a postponement, practically it’s in the bag. So is Korea’s 2nd round, for all intents and purposes, they take the group. Instead of Kuwait, on Sunday Korea will face Thailand in a friendly. Thus some say the Lebanon fixture is all but meaningless and Uli Stielike should leave the Koreans fighting for their place in top flight European teams alone and field all experimental domestic side.
To which, wisely Stielike has done with Son Heung-Min in particular. He’s had an…ok but not spectacular season for Tottenham in their hunt to overtake Leicester for the Premier League title (how strange it is to even type those very words). Son, who scored in Spurs Europa League loss to BVB last Thursday, is in competition for league minutes within a very talented Spurs squad. My understanding is, a deal was stuck to leave Son at Spurs in exchange for Son to be released to Korea’s U23 hybrid squad for this summer’s Olympic quest for a consecutive medal (and more importantly, military exemption for the entire squad).
And yet, Stielike hasn’t done that with all the European based players. Here’s the call ups again (and since the Tavern’s initial post on call ups, Ji Dong-Won has almost emerged from injury recovery, he’ll be staying in Augsburg).
|Date of Birth
|17 / -12
|10 / -8
|65 / -64
|21 / 0
|28 / 0
|43 / 2
|50 / 5
|13 / 0
|32 / 1
|23 / 3
|30 / 0
|80 / 8
|10 / 0
|2 / 0
|50 / 16
|27 / 3
|70 / 7
|13 / 4
|2 / 0
|4 / 1
|12 / 3
|6 / 2
Not to be all Euro centric, but to be Euro centric for a hot minute, let’s take a look at the Euro based players again. Park Joo-ho (BVB), Kim Jin-Su (Hoffenheim), Ki Sung-Yeung (Swansea) and Lee Chung-Yong (Crystal Palace) have all struggled in some way shape or form this season. I’d argue that Alan Pardew has been an abject manager in not selecting his best XI; thus no coincidence that Lee Chung-Yong, who has hardly played this spring – played a vital role in Crystal Palace’s LAST league win way back in December when he scored the game winner in brilliant fashion. Lee needs minutes, any kind of minutes, and I’m speculating Uli has been advised of that. It’s low risk for Lee to fly clear all the way out to Korea partly for that reason. I’d daresay Ki Sung-Yeung could’ve also received the Son Heung-Min treatment, but Uli just can’t seem to manage without his central defensive captain in charge. Kim Jin-Su and Park Joo-Ho perhaps belong in the other ‘Lee Chung-Yong category’ of needing minutes, so we’ll see if rust has anything to say of their performance -or rather a more positive narrative, that of a stalwart gangbusters performance that kickstarts their European season back on track.
I didn’t mention Hong Jeong-Ho and Koo Ja-Cheol earlier. Both Augsburg men have been called up, both are now starters and doing rather well for their club. But other than a first half warm up to sync up with their domestic brethren, I’m speculating they will be given a rotation break to preserve them for the last part of their European season to avoid relegation in comfortable fashion. I’d advocate Ki in his role at Swansea be given rest for the same reason. Porto’s Suk Hyun-Jun has been called up but already will be tasked with a 2nd half appearance, due to a delayed flight and a perfunctory military duty that will take some time to sort out. That leaves Ulsan’s Lee Jung-Hyub to be Uli’s forward man again. We’ll see how he fares this time out.
Take note, all Korea’s netminders called up have all made the journey to Japan’s J-League, save for Kim Jin-Hyeon (he was already at Cerezo Osaka to begin with).
For me, the mystery call up is Koh Myong-Jin (Al Rayan). A tall, mostly unheralded midfielder for FC Seoul until he transferred to the middle east; one wonders what the 28 year old has done recently to warrant the call to duty. My sources tell me he last appeared for the KNT in 2011 for friendlies against Serbia and Ghana but ended up not playing.
Lebanon has has an unspectacular World Cup qualifying thus far. They’ve lost recently in friendlies to Bahrain and Uzbekistan, both by 2-0 scorelines, and lost in September to Korea back in September 3-0, despite the dust storm and laser beam home field advantage. Hassan Chaito might provide a little trouble for the Red Devils, but overall Les Cèdres shouldn’t be a problem on paper, even with an experimental formation or lineup from Stielike.
Here’s a possible XI for Korea, with a 4-2-3-1 formation
. Lee Jung-Hyub
Lee Chung-Yong Koo Ja-Cheol Lee Jae-Sung
. Ki Sung-Yeung (C) Park Joo-Ho
Kim Jin-Su Kim Young-Gwon Hong Jeong-Ho Kim Chang-Soo
. Kim Jin-Hyeon
Merry go round with any keeper, doesn’t matter. We should see a conventional backline of Kim Jin-Su, Kim Young-Gwon, Hong and Kim Chang-Soo to hold fort. Double pivot of Ki and Park Joo-ho to start, perhaps with Jung Woo-Young and Han Kook-young as 2nd half replacements (or dare I say Jang Hyun-soo?). You can’t go wrong with the Blue Dragon, Lee Chung-Yong to be part of the midfield attack along with Koo and Lee Jae-Sung of Jeonbuk. Lee Jung-Hyub as center forward? He still hasn’t convinced me after all this time, but against Lebanon, why the hell not, but should he do his usual routine of running around without impact, either Seongnam’s Hwang Ui-Jo or Porto’s Suk Hyun-Jun would be welcomed. Don’t be surprise if we see an entirely different formation, say a 4-1-4-1 along with some wholesale substitutions.
So why bother watching? I’ll make the case that Uli is continuing to imprint his brand of team dynamics and chemistry to take hold, while at the same time, find out which ones can effectively make this a truly deeper squad. Thus I will also be watching Uli’s substitution a bit more closely. Keeping in mind that it’s not necessary to get a spectacular result, I am looking for smart substitutions that will give the Euro based players opportunity to play in short increments and look long term experimentally to see what other players can do for the KNT.
Sure, Korea can beat minnows, but can it beat it with style and panache? Will we get to see some creativity that could leave opposition defenses in confusion and disarray? With formidable world class opposition waiting later this summer, Korea has an opportunity to fine tune their brand of football to reach that next step, and perhaps eventually go deeper into the World Cup. We may have a chance to find out who will be the impact players of tomorrow. Stay tuned. Tavern owner out.
PS, if you haven’t checked out some of the more recent contributions by the other Tavern writers, like the Tavern Match of the Day (Suwon Bluewings vs Jeonnam Dragons from K-League matchday 2), go and watch this right away. It’s amazing fun and will get you hooked on K-League action.