Poland 3:2 Korea / Comeback Stymied by Defense (again) + Video Highlights

An insane last 7 minutes of the game saw Korea nearly complete a comeback from a 2-0 deficit against Poland, with the host looking extremely vulnerable. The surprise entertaining ending took everyone by surprise, stunning the Warsaw crowd with 2 goals in 3 minutes from Lee Chang-Min (the Jeju man getting his first international goal) and a nifty team goal scored by Hwang Chang-Hee from open play. But much like the Northern Ireland defeat, Korea’s shaky defense -right on cue – gave up a last gasp goal in stoppage time for Poland to notch a feel good morale boosting victory. But for either side, managers can do an autopsy of their beleagured backlines.

This will be a brief recap-  Shin Tae-Yong trots out a 3-4-3, tries on 3 at the back against Poland


1st half Korea were on their heels, pinned back in their own half and enduring waves of Polish attacks, with Bayern Munich’s talisman Robert Lewandowski providing a constant menace to the Korean defense. Korea had difficulty controlling possession, a number of wayward passes indicative of how unsettled they were in a hostile packed Warsaw stadium.    Son led a somewhat promising counterattack, except that he was surrounded by 4 Polish defenders the entire length of the field. With no help forthcoming, Son took a crack at goal that was smothered by Juventus’ Wojciech Szczęsny. Korea had about 3 good counterattacking opportunities, but Poland were the more ruthless in converting their chances, the first from none other than Lewandowski with a far too easy header despite being sandwiched between Jang Hyun-Su and Kim Min-Jae. Kim Min-Jae – who shouldered a number of mistakes against Northern Ireland, looked very unsettled and caused a number of self inflicting problems for Korea with panicked passing back to Poland and being out hustled by Lewandowski on a number of aerial duels.  He left in the 38th minute, with Hwang Hee-Chan coming in – with that Shin Tae-Yong abandoned with 3-4-3 and reverted to his 4-4-2 with Hwang and Son to lead the attack.  Hwang was culpable of missing out on a golden chance, with Kwon Chang-Hoon threading a golden ball to Hwang, but a heavy touch betrayed the Salzburg forward and the chance fizzled. Poland finished the half with another goal by Grosicki. The usual Tavern admonishment of Jang Hyun-Su this time could not pinpoint blame on the FC Toyko CB – one could say the entire backline was culpable being all out of position, though Hong Jeong-Ho might have done better to poke/clear the ball away from danger.


[watching casually on Be-in Sport 4 / Fubo TV, the camera crew got a close up of the locker room, unfiltered of the pep talk Shin Tae-Yong gave his team, with Son Heung-Min chiming in while Jung Woo-Young stretched in the middle of the huddle].

2nd half

Poland took off Lewandowski and Szczęsny while Korea brought in Yun Young-Sun for Hong Jeong-Ho. Korea finally were able to string some passing together and took control of the midfield. They were more assertive and began a number of promising raids into Polish territory.  Lee Jae-Sung and Hwang Hee-Chan interplay with Son Heung-Min allowed Korea to start getting a number of shots off. The Polish defense started to become unglued under sustained pressure, but Korea wasn’t able to take advantage of some glaring mistakes made from the back, with Lee, Hwang and Son all missing their shots. The game gradually grounded down to a morass, and with Kim Shin-Wook coming in for Lee Jae-Sung, Shin seemed to be readying for the hail mary’s. The lumbering Wookie once again didn’t offer much up front. Ki Sung-Yeung going out for Lee Chang-min a few minutes later seemed like raising the white flag of surrender.

Except that a curious thing happened. In the 85th minute, Kwon Chang-Hoon deftly weaved his way forward through a crowded Polish midfield, amped up his run and ran into Polish half with vigor. He gave it to Son, who tried to shake off pesky defenders, drifted out wide in hopes of finding some space to shoot. Instead, with defenders swarming around him, he linked up with Jeju’s Lee Chang-Min. The center midfielder was 30 yards out from goal, but he took a touch, saw an opening (perhaps with so many numbers mugging Son), and took an audacious shot from distance in the direction of the bottom left corner of the goal. Shock and awe later, the ball was in the back of the net!  Seemingly out of nowhere, it was a shot brilliantly taken. It would be Lee’s 1st international goal.


Less than 3 minutes later, Son was drifting towards the left, again swarmed by defenders, threaded a finely weighted pass for Park Joo-Ho making a run towards goal. He closed in, the keeper tried to cut off his angle, the Ulsan left back smartly laid an angled pass for Hwang Hee-Chan. His shot deflected off a Polish defender and bounced into the net – and just like that, Hwang slid on the pitch in celebration, stunning the Warsaw crowd with a triumphant equalizer with only 3 minutes to go.


Korea wasn’t done, Son kept on the offensive, blowing past the right back and driving into the area, getting a couple shots deflected out for corner kicks. Another opportunity a moment later, and Son tries to negotiate in tight space and Kim Shin-Wook in the way, getting a difficult toe poke shot couldn’t get past the keeper. No dice. Poland looked like they were hanging on for dear life, on the verge of conceding yet another goal with the punishing waves of Son Heung-Min led Korean attacks. With stoppage time running out, Poland escaped their own half, raced down the pitch and with a little shimmy that took Jung Woo-Young the wrong way, Zielinski snuffed out Korea’s hopes of a comeback by curling the ball past an outstretched Kim Seung-Gyu. Cue the roaring crowds. Jung Woo-Young bent over in disbelief. Game over.


Once again, Shin Tae-Yong gets to lay out narrative that there are positives that he can take away from this World Cup tuneup, that hope is out there for advancing from a difficult World Cup group. He gets to do that with those 2 goals scored in the 85th and 87th minute. But another narrative can be found, that those goals saved him from another poor performance overall. Poland has had trouble scoring as of late – that is until they played Korea.


That tweet was sent out before Korea’s keystone coppers/defense conceded YET another late game goal. The way they conceded late goals against both Northern Ireland and Poland, were this not an international friendly with low stakes, already has legs to becoming a running punchline.  They may come to redefine the Spursy way of losing matches.

But I’ll lay off the D for a moment. They are human. They will make mistakes. And defensive problems have been a hallmark of Korean teams for as long as anyone can remember. Structural problems which should have been addressed by the KFA long ago – still (perplexingly) remain. We’ll take another look at the defense at a later point, and discuss any possible solutions (and I’ll warn you, there might not be any decent solutions).

And yet, objectively, positive things can be taken from this game. Korea isn’t incapable of scoring against stubborn opposition. They proved that in this international break -but Korea needs to be far more efficient with their chances created (am I on a treadmill repeating myself here?) Lee Jae-Sung, I’m looking at you. Super awesomeness on the ball  – but work on that clinical finish. AND unless there are drastic improvements to the backline (possible but I’m not holding my breath), Taeguk Warrior supporters are being asked to not over-react, save their yeots, and be prepared for low expectations in this World Cup.

All hope should not be abandoned. The only way to advance from their difficult group is for Korea to be ruthless where they are strongest at: scoring. Opt for say 2, better yet, 3 or 4 goals because they will need that to have any hope of gaining a cushion for what will be inevitable goals conceded. I’m predicting here and now that the KNT will cough up – at the very least – 2 goals per World Cup match. If they’re on their game, the D might limit that casualty to 2, not psych themselves out of the game, and have the mental fortitude, discipline and courage to go forward – with the decent firepower they have at their disposal – they have proven capable of creating their chances.  The ultimate question – will they be able to make good on them and often enough to overcome their deficiencies at the back? This international break was about a reality check. Club football will return, it’s back to dream land. We’ll see you soon at the Tavern again, Chal ga.


About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner


  1. I agree the 1st Polish goal could have been defended better, a lot of good crosses in the box end up being completely mucked up by a bad header. Lewandowski snuck in perfectly against those 2 korean defenders and headed it in like a pro, sometimes you have to tip your hat. The 2nd goal is indicative of how bad the KMNT is on transition defense. It seems like an adventure every time they are running back on a rush against them. The play leading to the 3rd goal is a microcosm of the KMNT’s entire problem playing against non-Asian Int’l competition. #12 got bullied right off the ball on a bad cross, lost his opportunity to clear the ball out, and one of the guy’s in MF was too timid and turned it over, which led to the winning goal.

    And Roy, you’re right. In the 3 group games, they’re going to give up a minimum of 6 goals. I honestly truly believe it will be closer to 10 goals allowed, the KMNT is in for a rude awakening this World Cup.

    From the highlights, on a positive note, it seems like they had their fair share of chances offensively. I thought Poland played quite well defensively at the Euro tournament 2 years ago, but it seems like they gave up a lot of chances. Anyways, that was great for the KMNT to score those 2 good goals, really liked the 2nd one where the ball was lobbed to beat the back line and some terrific movement to pass back, score, etc. The team cannot defend to save their lives, but at least they can create some chances.

    • So what’s the underlying problem behind their defensive woes? A lack of physicality? Should they learn to start pushing people around or do they lack the size and athleticism? Or is it something else like a lack of awareness on the pitch or very slow reaction times?

      • Poland’s 3rd goal, #13 Korean defender wasn’t in position to make a play on the ball because he was tying his shoes! (or adjusting his shin guard). He was tying his shoes in front of the box and let the Polish player receive the pass in front of him for the quick shot! How about that for a lack of awareness!? Am I wrong or seeing things?

      • Kevin, I am not a KMNT scholar like some of the other people on here, but your points have merit. Having been a football conoisseur over the years, I think

        1) A lot of Korean players at Intl level, don’t seem to be able to make quick positive decisions while being pressured on the ball. This was very indicative in the Algeria game 4 years ago & every game they played at WC 2010 except the Greece match. In 2014 against Russia, they looked great at times because Russia didn’t try and pressure them off the ball. As soon as a ball handler is being closed down, the KMNT has a tendency to lose possession. I would say some of that has to do with youth training. It’s not nearly as sophisticated enough as other countries.

        2) There is a lack of size for sure, but if that was the #1 factor, then all the African & Scandinavian teams would never concede goals. There’s a confidence issue I think. Once again, that can be attributable to the nature of the technical & mental coaching that is provided at grassroots level. So far, the answer points to a resounding “No”. Some teams will always be vulnerable to the aerial attack. This was one of Spain’s weaknesses for a long time, and it still is but fortunately they are so ridiculously good at many other things.

        3) I don’t know if the KFA’s ultimate objective is to solely qualify for the World Cup, and anything beyond that is a bonus. Considering the KMNT has qualified for 10 Past World Cups and only been to the knockout phase in 2, you couldn’t blame anyone if they came to a similar conclusion. 2 out of 10? That’s, well…pretty damn utterly pathetic really. I can understand that the KFA doesn’t have the same intensity/pressure from the public to improve performance levels like other countries, but quite simply, they are bad at their job. 2 out of 10? Soon to be 2 out of 11.

        • I sometimes think the KFA is gonna be content to ride the coat tails of 2002 and say it’s still the greatest Asian performance in a WC- until that record is broken, even if we never do shit until then..

          • 2002 wasn’t that long ago, want to talk about defense? How about only 3 goals conceded in 6 matches until the Turkey game! Shutouts against Poland, Portugal, and Spain. That defense played hard and challenged. Bring back Hiddink!

          • Well… it was 16 years ago. That’s a lifetime in soccer. Turkey got 3rd place (better than us), and they’d be pretty pathetic too if they keep talking about that instead of qualifying for other World Cups since then.
            But you’re right. Our defense has fallen apart since that epic performance, and the team/KFA/youth system hasn’t done enough to fix it.

          • It’s going to be impossible to mimic the defending from 2002. I heard Hiddink had several months to prepare for the world cup. The players didn’t have club level football to worry about. I think Hiddink turned all the players into competitive marathon runners. The players somehow had the stamina to press for 90 minutes for almost all the games. Also, Korea sort of had a golden age at the time. They had so much talent like Hong Myung Bo, Lee Young Pyo, and the very promising Park Ji Sung. Didn’t Hong Myung Bo win the bronze ball at the world cup and was chosen by Pele as a top 100 player in the world?

  2. #19 Korean defender on Poland’s second goal. I watched this 20 times, did he just watch the ball go through his own legs? Then it looked like he followed that up with a hands up gesture almost as if he didn’t want to make contact with the ball. I know this happened at full sprint but how strange it was.

    • Yep Hong Jeong Ho dummied it for Polish player. It looked like he took a very wide and unusual route to close down the player. For the 3rd goal, Park Joo Ho fell on the floor and was getting up. He wasn’t tying his shoes.

      Korea does lack some physicality. While you can make up for a lack of athleticism with mental toughness and skill, Korean CB’s unfortunately lack these qualities too. At the world cup, Korea’s only chance to get past the group stage is with tactics, discipline, teamwork, and lot of luck. I know Korea loves to play attacking football, but they don’t have the firepower to outscore the other teams. They’ll have to park the bus and rely on a couple counterattacking opportunities, which Son can hopefully take advantage of.

  3. I knew the three in the back and Son up top experiment would fail. Experimenting in the first place against a very good team in their home stadium seemed like a mistake from the beginning. I do want to give some credit to the manager for making a quick change back to plan A, the 442. Also, Son shouldn’t play as a lone striker when the team is sitting deep in their own half. When a team counterattacks with very few players, you need to have a player that can hold the ball up. This game made me realize again that Son isn’t good at this. He needs another player that can play that role(like Kane and Alli for Spurs) while he can make a run off the ball.

    I really like HHC as a partner to Son. While he’s still very raw(not clinical and doesn’t have a great first touch), he’s very aggressive and surprisingly strong unlike most of Korea’s players that are more of the finesse type. I’ve heard Korean netizens compare him to Rooney. I think Hwang’s aggressive play could really help Korea at the world cup. He has already shown that he can create problems for quality teams like Dortmund. Very good CB’s, Soktratis and Toprak really struggled with him constantly running at them.

    I’m really hoping that Jeonbuk’s back four can develop good chemistry in the K-league before the world cup and make Shin Tae-yong realize that there’s no place for Jang Hyun-soo in the first 11 lol.

  4. Very nice and balanced article. I don’t want to say that we should lower expectations, but I guess that’s really the only way for fans to avoid being depressed after the WC.
    To be honest, I’m glad we are in a tough group. Two reasons: 1) It can inspire the team to take this shit seriously. Last WC we were way overconfident, and it’s embarrassing how badly we performed. Even my friends who are KNT “fans” were so sure that we’d get out of the group.
    2) If our defense gets obliterated at the World Cup (which is definitely possible), I hope the KNT/youth system finally addresses our defense. It has been a problem for the better part of the last 10 years. I seriously hope our defense becomes like Iran (which may make people roll their eyes, but oh well). We have no control over the teams we play at the WC. Just because we can breeze through AFC qualification (not anymore though…) doesn’t mean our defense can stand up against the best in the world. Iran held Argentina and Messi to a wonder goal in the 93rd minute at the last WC, but completely stifled them throughout. I dream of us being able to do this, as boring as it may be.

    As for yesterday’s game, my thoughts.
    The ending was exciting, but it’s so sad that it got to that point. Poland subbed out their keeper and brought in a second string guy. Not sure why we’re celebrating being able to score against him. And even once we tied it, it was almost as if Poland always believed they’d be able to score again if needed. And sure enough, they did. Literally a couple minutes later, even without Lewandowski. This reminded me of the 2010 WC against Uruguay, which shows how long this has been an issue. In that game, Uruguay scored early and just invited Korea to try and score for the whole game. We finally scored, and then they just started attacking again and took us out within 10 minutes. I imagine this can kill morale on our team.

    Park Joo Ho was one of the only guys on defense who looked pretty great in both games. I agree HHC should partner with Son. If they work together more, they can figure it out (which is why I was so annoyed with the Wookie starting against Northern Ireland… waste of an opportunity for these two + Kwon Chang Hoon to start to gel). Son needs to be an insane assist man this summer, because other defenders are gonna naturally swarm him- I guess we already predicted this, but it became very, very clear in these friendlies.

    One potential issue with these friendlies. We just gave Sweden, Mexico, and Germany a playbook to our glaring defensive weaknesses. Our coaching staff/players better start fixing them ASAP

    • Upon looking at highlights again, PJH wasn’t great on defense. But if his offensive capabilities create chances, I’ll take it. Not sure if he’s a better defender than Kim Jinsu at leftback, but we at least know that one of them should fill that role, no?

  5. I feel like Kim Shin Wook shouldn’t be in the World Cup roster period. He lacks finesse, he’s slow, and he doesn’t look like he can compete at this level. It’s sort of like what Chris Wondolowski was for the USA. I really hope we give Suk Hyun Jun more looks when healthy. He’s just a more proven talent and goal-scorer than the Wookie.

    • I was literally JUST thinking of making the same Wondolowski reference for the Wookie. TOTALLY agree. Domestic league fans love the guy, but completely useless for the national team

  6. I know this will just set me up for disappointment later but I’m actually optimistic about this squad. We played Northern Ireland (who narrowly missed out on the World Cup, losing to Switzerland in the UEFA two leg playoff) in Belfast. Then we played Poland (a Pot A club) in Chorzow. Granted, neither team was 100% and made a bunch of substitutions. But we had a bunch of great chances on offense, made some blundering mistakes on defense, and ended up losing on two end of match goals. I’m really hoping Shin realizes the optimal offensive setup does not involve Kim SW. Hwang HC looked good out there, granted he is not fully polished. I really hope, as I’ve been saying, Suk HJ gets a shot during the May friendlies. And let’s not forget that Lee KH and Koo JC were out injured this time around. And let’s all hope that the Jeonbuk defense can get it together!

    • Sorry to break it to you (and to many others) but KFA/Shin TY will announce the WC squad around May 14th… well before the pre-WC friendlies. I think it is safe to assume the March roster will likely be the WC squad, which means… players like Kim SW will have a role at the World Cup.

      Unless Suk HJ starts to score in every game til May 14th (Ligue 1 season ends on May 19th), he doesn’t have a chance of making the squad. Shin TY didn’t bother to test him once since he took over as KNT senior manager while players like Kim SW raised their stock w/ Shin TY against B or C teams at EAFF & during Jan friendlies vs FIFA ranked teams around 100th (and even they fielded backups).

  7. I’m thinking off the top of my head here. Let’s say hypothetically jeonbuk starts to suck through May and their defense is in shambles. Would it be a terrible idea for STY to just call up the best back line in the KLeague at the time to start at the WC?
    I’m looking and in the AFC champions league Suwon has conceded the least amount of goals.
    In the KLeague, Gyeongnam and Jeju have so far conceded 2, and Suwon 3.
    Let’s say in May, one of those teams has an all-Korean backline that is far and away the best defense. Would it be a terrible idea to bring that defense to the WC?
    I know experience is important, but 1) experience didn’t mean shit in 2002 and 2) I get that Jeonbuk has guys with national team experience, but sometimes those guys need to GTFO and also, their confidence may already be wrecked by the public criticism.
    I know it’s not so simple as bring them in and make it work, but we already knew before these friendlies that Jeonbuk’s defense had recently been leaky, and shocker, that also showed in the friendlies. So… why not try bringing the most in-form defensive unit at that time and give them the opportunity of a lifetime?
    I’d be happy to hear even people say this idea sucks

    • this is what I’d personally do if I was the WC manager
      Publically announce that the DF spots are up for grabs, encourage K league sides to kick up their defensive game, callup the best ones.

    • I like your idea, best line wins, experience doesn’t count for anything when you’re giving up goals left and right. There’s got to be players in the K-league that can step up and put their bodies on the line and knock some people around.

    • As you stated, it isn’t simple…

      1 – 2002 KNT defense was full of experience, built around legendary Hong MB. Not to mention, Hiddink operated 2002 KNT like a club. They trained & built their chemistry for few month together.

      2 – Shin TY has different tactic & defensive system/scheme & etc compared to K League clubs. Again, you can’t simply line up random K league defenders when that has been the biggest reason for pathetic defending by KNT. Defending isn’t just about defenders but as a team. From pressing scheme as a team, defensive line position and so forth.. far more complicated than to throw random guys at the defense. Many might argue KNT tested the “same ol” players but for the past 8 yr or so, it was full of different defensive line ups. Hardly any chemistry nor was the defense built around a core/key player (of which, it includes constant change of GKs).

      3 – Many point out defensive lineups of Spain, Germany, Italy and so forth… calling up players from one or two elite clubs. Well, imo… it works for them as they play for the best clubs in the world.. not to mention, similar to their club teams, their national teams dominate each game. This isn’t true for Korea & K league clubs. Some point out the “success” of K League defense in ACL.. but at the same time, these are the same group of players/defense who struggle against 3 to 4 elite Foreign players in CSL too.

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