Korean football fans had good reason to be extremely anxious going into this tournament. Despite boasting a team miles ahead of everyone else (no other team features a player in a top European league, let alone players from PSG, Stuttgart, KAA Gent, Midtjylland, not to mention domestic players regulars on the senior KNT with World Cup experience like Paik Seung Ho or Song Min Kyu), manager Hwang Sun Hong has proven time and time again that despite having talent at his disposal he does not always know how to utilize it. The team lost to China of all teams in a friendly a few months back and in the run up to the tournament he posted very poor results and unconvincing performances, albeit with a B team that had no players from the final squad.
Although he hasn’t been tested properly so far, so far things are looking good. A 9-0 win against Kuwait, a 4-0 win against Thailand, and a 3-0 win against Bahrain means that we advance the tournament as by far the strongest looking team who can seemingly score for fun, albeit against very weak teams so far.
A recap for those of you not in the know and why this mickey mouse tournament with extremely weak teams is such a big deal for Korea:
- all Korean men must serve in the military before age 28 for two years; this is a huge impediment for any footballer, who would be in their prime in their late 20s
- the only way to get around this is to Gold Medal at an Asian Games or get any medal at the actual Olympics (in the past the World Cup semifinal team of 2002 also got exemption but the World Cup no longer allows exemption as it was deemed unfair to other athletes who had no similar opportunity)
- Although Korea has won the last 2 gold medals in 2014 and 2018, the best team does not always win because 1) the tournament is arranged such that you play a game EVERY TWO TO THREE DAYS and 2) the quality of refereeing is straight up garbage so the shadier teams (any team that hosts, middle eastern teams, China) always get away with favorable calls. Every single year a moment of crisis comes up for us in these tournaments usually in the RO8 or semifinals, whether it’s because we just play exceptionally poorly or get wrecked by the referee / middle eastern grassrolling.
With that out of the way, here’s how we lined up each of the three games. And remember that squad rotation is absolutely essential given the brutal schedule (we played Kuwait on the 19th, Thailand on the 21st, and Bahrain on the 24th). A refresher on the squad, and my reaction to the roster announcement can be found here:
Probably our strongest lineup albeit without Lee Kang In due to him still being in Paris at this time, and without Seol Young Woo, who played two FT games for Klinsmann for the senior team less than a week prior. It seems that HSH’s favored starting CF is Cho Young Wook. It was a true goal fest – 9-0 is a scoreline we don’t see often on the KNT at any professional level. After the match HSH was telling everyone to forget this result as it’s only the Gold that matters. That’s the right mentality to have.
Of note, Park Jin Seob got a yellow card, and I was telling my fellow KNT fans that he should get a yellow on purpose the next game so that he could be suspended for the third group stage game and get his yellows wiped considering that we were going to be rotating heavily anyway.
I was personally expecting HSH to completely rotate the squad, but he chose to make early substitutes instead. UWS came off at 45′ for JWY, PSH and PJS came off at 55′ (PJS as I called it got a yellow card on purpose by taking too long on a corner kick – he later confided that he had never taken a corner kick in his entire life!), and GYJ came off at 75′.
More rotation this time, especially from the prior game – Lee Kang In started unexpectedly after joining up with the team only on the 21st, but was subbed off at 35 minutes for Go Young Joon (who probably played the most minutes among the attacking players so far alongside Hong Hyun Seok). Song Min Kyu, injured in the past two games, finally came back with a 65th minute substitution.
I admittedly didn’t get to watch this game (4:30 AM PST is brutal) but I’m reading from friends and from media that we weren’t trying 100% and missed a lot of easy chances esp in the first half. Highlights below with excellent commentary as always from Lee Young Pyo:
What did we learn?
Everyone on this team is almost too good for this tournament. Even Ahn Jae Jun and Park Jae Yong (we suspected the FW spot could be a point of weakness) have been pretty good. Even without Lee Kang In, this team could probably win the tournament. With a insane, totally not standard protocol schedule, rotation will be extremely important for us.
I really don’t know what our best starting XI is.
Hong Hyun Seok is a real gem. I am positive he will become a very vital player for us going forward. Paik Seung Ho as well – he’s way too good at this level, and I believe could earn a move to Europe with exemption. Hopefully to Spain! Maybe to Mallorca who is apparently sorely missing LKI and from what I’m reading on Spanish media, have a near nonexistent midfield…
The group is set up such that we face Krgyzstan in the RO16 and likely China (hopefully either Qatar or Palestine) in the RO8. I am very wary of facing China, who will almost certainly have the refs calling in their favor (and this is a team known for extremely reckless fouling… they will almost certainly try to hack at Lee Kang In’s legs). I am also wary of Japan as always but to a lesser extent. While their team is leagues below ours at least on paper… our manager has lost to Japan before … with many of the players on this squad like Goh Young Joon, Lee Kang In, and Hong Hyun Seok.
Ultimately.. we’re going to win this bar underperformance or referee shenanigans. It’s obvious we have the quality to win this tournament handily. It’s up to the boys and the boss now.