What’s the saying, Sunday is unofficially “heart attack day” for football fans world over? It was nearly the case for yours truly, so much on the line, so close to Korea magically defeating Germany 3-2, all to come crashing back to terra firma in less than 2 minutes of stoppage time. But a draw with Germany, by all non-romantic means of looking at it, isn’t too shabby. Let’s forget for a hot moment Korea should have won on Sunday – a draw with Germany is, on paper, respectable. But the task ahead is clear –bottom line for Korea it’s win or draw with Mexico on Wednesday (Thurs AM in Korea) to advance from Group C and keep alive dreams of a medal and that magical exemption that comes with it to unfetter another generation of Koreans from compulsory military service. No rest day for Wednesday’s fixture. Let’s break down the scenario for Korea to advance onward, starting with deconstructing El Tri.
First, the standings before Wednesday’s decisive games:
Korea 4 pts +8 GD (goal difference)
Mexico 4 pts +5 GD
Germany 2 pts 0 GD
Fiji 0 pts
Group C is up amazingly for grabs, with Fiji playing valiant spoilers -the latter already having made strides to improve from their initial 8-0 shellacking by Korea – including a HT lead of 1-0 against Mexico before capitulating eventually 5-1. Mexico know they are in trouble by failing to match Korea’s massive 8 goal difference against Fiji. Germany aren’t out of the woods either, drawing with both Korea and Mexico -but a win, however likely, will require Mexico to lose in order for the Germans to advance. IF Korea/Mexico ends in a draw, THEN it’s a 3 way tie with Goal Difference deciding who advances and who goes home. That’s where Korea really did themselves a favor with their 8 goals cushion. And with Fiji improving in form and confidence, they know they can’t win, but they can make Wednesday a hell of a lot more interesting if they can hold off Germany with their stingy compact defense and Neuer-like keeper.
As mentioned before on the Tavern, Mexico lost 2 of their attacking players, Oribe Peralta and Rodolfo Pizarro, both injured in Mexico’s less than stellar win over Fiji on Sunday. Both men scored against Germany in their 2-2 draw last week and will be replaced by Carlos Fierro and Raul “Dedos” Lopez, alternates who will file in for the injured Mexicans. Interestingly, while Peralta, the hero of Mexico’s 2012 Gold medal match against Brazil is replaced like for like with forward Fierro, instead of an attacking midfielder, Mexico called up Lopez, a fullback. Perhaps Lopez can also play midfield, but it suggests however that Mexico is more worried about their backline. Lee Young-Pyo scouted out Mexico last Sunday and noted weaknesses in the back, particularly #4 CB Cesar Montes. He’s only 19 years old, and perhaps in this Olympic tournament, out of his league. In the very recent Tavern podcast previewing the Mexico clash, Tomas Danicek picked their RB, Jose Abella as their achilles heel. With that bit of counter-intel work, Jinseok speculates the likes of Suk Hyun-Jun and Son Heung-Min could slice through like butter. Meanwhile, rising stock in Erick Gutierrez, their holding mid who scored 4 goals against Fiji (though in context, Peralta created many of those goals – and as we mentioned, he’s out of the equation now).
Looking at Mexico’s u23 form pre tournament, it should be noted that after qualifications were over, they’ve managed only 2 wins, 4 losses and 3 draws. And it should be repeated, unlike Korea, Mexico were struggling with Fiji, down 0-1 at HT. Overall Olympic tournament stats going back to 1992, Mexico has faced Korea 3 times, 2 draws and 1 win -in favor of Korea. While Mexico did eventually win Gold in 2012, Korea and Mexico were also in the same opening group and drew 0-0, though Korea looked more of a threat in that one to break the scoreline.
Boss Gutierrez might change up to a 4-3-3 formation. He’s had virtually the same 4-4-2 for both Germany and Fiji. Here’s what Mexico’s starting XI could look like:
… Fierro (replacing Peralta) Bueno Erick Torres
… Gutierrez Lozano Cisneros (replacing Pizarro)
Jorge Torres Salcedo Montes/Aguirre Abella/R. Lopez
… Talavera (GK)
On to Korea and what could be Shin Tae Yong’s XI against Mexico (4-2-3-1):
… Suk Hyun-Jun/HHC
… Son Heung-Min Kwon Chang-Hoon/HHC Ryu Seung-Woo
… Park Yong-Woo Lee Chang-Min
Shin Sang-Min Jung Seung-Hyeon Jang Hyun-Soo Lee Seul-Chan
… Kim Dong-Jun (GK)
NOTE: Jang would move back from double pivot to CB. Moon Chang-Jin and CB Choi Gyu-Baek (injured?), both starters against Germany would likely not start. Hwang Hee-Chan also started against Germany – and while it’s possible he would still start up top, Shin Tae-Yong might be looking to get some mileage out of the towering presence of Suk and then give him some rest at the 55th minute (he’s likely still not fully recovered from injury from the Iraq ‘friendly’). Alternatively, as a more adventurous possibility, perhaps Hwang can steer from the hole rather than Kwon. Ryu on the wing is a no-brainer – something I will knock Shin Tae-Yong about in the future.
OR why not 5 at the back? It was discussed in the Tavern podcast AND Shin TaeYong did employ this versus Qatar, a 5-2-2-1. Here’s Tim: “Against Qatar in the AFC U23 Championship he used 5 back to nullify speed of Qatar. We destroyed them in possession actually because they couldn’t cope and tried to bypass midfield with long balls. That time, Ryu and Kwon played on the wings and Kim Hyun was up top.
Here’s what 5 back could look like:
… Suk Hyun-Jun/(Hwang Hee-Chan)
… Son Heung-Min Ryu Seung-Woo
… Lee Chang-Min Park Yong-Woo
Shim Sang-Min Jung Seung-Hyeon Jang Hyun-Soo Lee Chan-Dong Lee Seul-Chan
… Kim Dong-Jun (GK)
What we know: Korea U23 offense is really quite potent. Many thought this roster of attacking youngsters, along with the overage firepower of Son and Suk could do some offensive damage, but these Rio Olympics have really unleashed something here. Hwang and Ryu have both done some gorgeous stuff creating and scoring. Korea have traditionally been known for stingy defense while scoring multiple goals was difficult at best. With this squad, the narrative has now been almost completely flipped. It’s Korea’s D that’s more of a concern -especially the fullbacks that leave space recklessly behind. But goals? Most analysts thought coming into the tournament that it would be Brazil lighting it up. Nada. Instead it is Korea providing some scintillating goals, creatively attained, spectacularly finished -save for Suk’s falling over at the 90th -but let’s not dwell on that. Point is, Korea currently is lighting it up; it falls to Shin Tae-Yong and these youngsters to find the right combination to create the greatest havoc in Mexico’s half while shoring up some weakness at the back.
One troubling thing to consider: the passing has been less than stellar. Check this twitter/stat:
Korea U23 pass completion v Germany. Inability to retain possession remains an issue even among the new generation. pic.twitter.com/1rOauM5Dst
— Steve Han (@RealSteveScores) August 9, 2016
Fortunately, Germany was rattled by Korea enough to pass almost as badly. But this isn’t a pass (not pun intended). To medal, this critical area has to improve.
Another long term -structural problem the Tavern will undoubtedly address again in the future, the system in Germany gives way more pro minutes to youngsters vs those from Korea. Check this:
Korea U-23 players starting against Germany today have combined for 736 games played at club level. Germany's starters: 1419. #flawedsystem
— Steve Han (@RealSteveScores) August 7, 2016
Time for a change – you think?
Prediction: After that FK goal conceded at the death against Germany, I refuse to give a score prediction, but as the old Tavern Owner, I’m fairly confident Korea will get either the win or draw and not lose this match. With Mexico’s offense needing critical tinkering with little time left after Peralta and Pizarro’s untimely exit, AND their inability to run up the score against Fiji AND having the distinction of conceding a goal to Fiji, expect a nervous open game from the Mexicans, which will invariably leave them exposed for the likes of Hwang, Son, Suk or Ryu to pounce -just name your poison and they will deliver.
Kickoff Wednesday 3PM US EST / Thursday 4AM Korea Time
TV US: MSNBC
TV CANADA: CBC (the app), TSN (maybe)
TV KOREA: KBS2 and SBS
What are your thoughts on this critical game? Share them here at the brand new Forum. The Tavern will reopen in the morning for strong soju-fusion drinks. Come by, hang out, and chant Dae Han Min Guk together. Right on, right on.
Note: You can thank former Republic of Korea dictator Park Chung-Hee for that ‘Hunger Games-esque’ way of making what is normally considered not-a-worthwhile football tournament into something of a must-win situation for these young men. Korea needs no more self-defeating barriers to help advance their national football program. It’s not the only thing that needs to be reformed and rebooted with Korea’s football development, but it would be a tremendous help if one day, Korea can actually join the rest of the world and not really worry about medaling in Olympic football. It is well past time for a constructive dialogue to find a reasonable way to balance national security needs and advancing Korean football.