In what will likely be Korea’s toughest international friendly ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Shin Tae-yong’s Red Devils are set to take on Bosnia on a sendoff night in Jeonju that will also see captain Ki Sung-yueng earn his 100th international senior cap (+ breaking news on Kim Jin-su’s injury).
Breaking News: Kim Jin-su likely OUT of the World Cup
We begin with some breaking news on Jeonbuk and former Hoffenheim left-back Kim Jin-su. Kim had picked up an injury in the friendly against Northern Ireland in March and was expected to be out for nearly 6 weeks. However, slow recovery has turned into disaster as media is reporting that Kim Jin-su has told Shin Tae-yong he does not expect to be fit for the World Cup. Though Steve Han had been reporting that Shin was ready to take Kim Jin-su even if he would not be fully fit for Korea’s opening group match, Kim is reportedly still unable to dribble the ball and has not trained once with the senior team.
Shin Tae-yong will confirm his roster on Saturday (after the Bosnia friendly) but it seems likely that Kim will be dropped. It’s heartbreaking for the exciting left-back, who had missed out on the 2014 World Cup also due to injury.
Last Time Out
Korea defeated Honduras earlier this week in comfortable manner with a 2-0 victory. Former Barça Academy star Lee Seung-woo dazzled and drew acclaim from the crowd in his first senior cap, playing on the left side of the midfield before moving centrally in the second half. Though Korea had a lot of possession in the first half, thanks to their aggressive pressing of a jetlagged and turnover-prone Honduras defense with the highly fluid combination of Son Heung-min, Lee Seung-woo and Hwang Hee-chan, the team lacked a focal point and an incisive pass.
The second half saw the field open up with the addition of left-back Kim Min-woo and the side using the 20 year-old Lee more centrally. Son Heung-min bagged his 21st goal for Korea from outside the box in the 60th minute, while Incheon United’s Moon Seon-min, also on his senior debut, kept his cool in short range from a Hwang Hee-chan cross for the 2nd goal. The defense kept their first clean sheet (excluding the low-key friendlies in Turkey & the EAFF Cup) since September 2017, while Asan’s Joo Se-jong got good marks for his crisp passing in midfield.
However, post-match, captain Ki Sung-yueng questioned the opponent’s quality, complaining that what was Honduras’ B side was not adequate preparation for the World Cup.
Who Will Be Injured Next? Korea World Cup Team Edition
The aforementioned Kim injury likely has bumped up Sangju’s Kim Min-woo to the starting left-back role. Kim, a former winger/wide-midfielder with Suwon, is versatile and can play both in a high press 4-4-2 or as a wingback in a 3-4-3. Sangju’s Hong Chul failed to impress in his start against Honduras, but may still make the trip to back-up Kim Min-woo. Alternatively, Shin could elect to play Ulsan’s Park Joo-ho in his usual position of left-back, as opposed to defensive midfield.
Reports seem to indicate that both Lee Jae-sung and Ki Sung-yueng are ready to go after sitting out the Honduras friendly for precautionary reasons, but centre-back Jang Hyun-soo appears likely to remain on the bench due to a lingering knock.
Shin Tae-yong hasn’t divulged whether he’ll play a 3/5-back system or a 4-back system, which could significantly affect what the team will look like, but we’ll go for a prediction anyways:
If the line-up resembles this, some things do change from the Honduras match. Whereas Honduras’ lack of technical skill and jet-lagged nature permitted Korea to engage in intense, high-tempo pressing, Bosnia won’t have the same trouble building up from the back (you’d think). I think in that respect we’ll see a defensive shape that’s a bit more like the one we saw against Colombia, where initial pressure will be applied, but if the opponent breaks out of the press, then Korea will collapse into 3 defensive banks in their half, with the Korean forwards trying to push the Bosnian ball to wider areas to pressure them there. Park Joo-ho will probably be tasked with picking up Pjanic (or perhaps Shin tries the Ko Yo-han in midfield experiment again). In attack, Korea will rely on pace, but the approach on the wings will be different as Lee Jae-sung will try to create more while Lee Seung-woo will look to dribble and take on defenders. We’ll also have to see if the Son-Hwang partnership reaps more rewards than against Honduras.
Of course, Shin could also try to revert to his five back system, which offensively doesn’t change the approach but instead numbers (2 wingers + 2 FW vs 2 wingers & 1 FW). Defensively it’s a fairly significant change, but one that I feel speaks to absorbing pressure and rolling with the blows rather than preventing them. Basic defensive skills, like winning challenges, clearing second balls, wingbacks coming back to recover, zonal marking among the centrebacks will be tested.
Update: Shin Tae-yong has confirmed he will start a 3-back formation.
We all got trolled by Ki Sung-yueng not suiting up for what was supposed to be his 100th cap against Honduras, but he will start and captain the side against Bosnia in this one.
What to say about Ki? He began his national team as just a 19 year-old, scoring in his debut against Jordan in an international friendly. He quickly settled into the national team, becoming one of Huh Jung-moo’s preferred midfielders, and even essentially becoming that side’s midfield passing general, playing all 4 games of the South Africa run.
After the Cho Kwang-rae era was cut short, Ki Sung-yueng ran into a very turbulent era with a public spat with manager Choi Kang-hee. Ki had more or less been dropped from Choi’s side, and challenged the manager’s decision to choose domestic players over foreign players (CKH had compared Celtic to a “National League” team – then Korea’s 2nd division) sarcastically on his private Facebook account. (See Jae Chee’s explainers on the Tavern from 2013 here and here). Ki was sternly sanctioned by the KFA and Choi, and had to carry that baggage for the next several years. But Choi left, and Ki stayed, and after the 2014 World Cup (in which he played all 270 minutes), he was made the National Team captain under Uli Stielike for the 2015 Asian Cup.
Now as a 29 year-old, Ki is entering what may well be his last World Cup. He has publicly mused about entertaining the idea of an early retirement, which may have contributed to Chinese league clubs making lucrative offers for the talented midfielder. Though it appeared that he was ready to make the cash-grab, Ki later announced that “so as long as I am captain of the Korean national team, I will never play for a Chinese club.” This nationalist outburst was roundly applauded and cheered by supporters, and any disunity or “baggage” he had caused was more-or-less forgiven.
A quiet leader who seeks to lead by example on the pitch, rather than bridging the gaps between players (Koo Ja-cheol appears to have had a more extroverted style of leadership), Ki becomes tied with Park Ji-sung for the 13th most capped player in Korean history, he’ll be one of the only 14 players to join the century club. He joins a group which is composed of Cha Bum-keun, Hong Myung-bo (both 136 caps), Lee Woon-jae (133), Lee Young-pyo (127), Yoo Sang-chul & Kim Ho-gon (124), Cho Young-chung (113), Park Seong-hwa (107), Kim Tae-young (105), Lee Dong-gook (105), Huh Jung-moo and Hwang Sun-hong (both 103). In summary, Ki is entering the history book of Korean greats. He’s a tournament player, who’s played every major international and continental game for Korea since 2010, and a vital cog in this team’s balance and success.
Before, I had to just worry about myself and what I did on the pitch and if what I did was enough. Now as captain, I have to worry about everyone else doing enough and getting the result. I have that responsibility.
Through hell and high water, Ki’s been that irreplaceable player in the midfield. If at times he’s been too lax and laid back, more often he’s been the calming presence that makes the team tick, and who has so often lent his identity to the team’s brand.
The Oppo: Bosnia
FIFA Rank: 41st
World Cup Status: Not qualified, 3rd UEFA Group H (4-2-3)
Bosnia had a poor qualifying run after making the 2014 World Cup. Paired in a group of Belgium, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar, the Bosnians were expected to be competitive for at least a play-off spot. A shocking 4-0 drubbing by Belgium in October 2016 essentially left them out of the conversation for the top spot. Two blown leads in 2017 – a 95th minute concession vs Greece and a devastating collapse against Cyprus, blowing a two goal lead in the second half, put destiny in Greece’s hands, who obliged with wins against Cyprus and Gibraltar to finish two points above Bosnia for the play-off.
Since then, former Real and Barcelona midfielder Robert Prosinecki has taken on the side, and it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. In 5 friendlies, Bosnia has put up four 0-0s and a 1-0 victory over Bulgaria. The side is very much in a period of transition with players like Vehad Ibisevic and Emir Spahic playing a retirement game against Montenegro earlier this week. Reports indicate that the Bosnians line-up in more of a 4-3-3 shape, but with players jaded at the end of a long-season, and many A team starters playing a full 90 minutes vs Montenegro, it’s uncertain what the side will look like vs Korea. Hopefully, Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic will both feature and give Korea an honest test. But, if I had to guess, given that Prosinecki has indicated he wants to give players who didn’t play in their earlier friendly an opportunity, I think we might be a little disappointed again in the quality of the opposition.
International Friendly (World Cup Preparation)
Jeonju World Cup Stadium, Jeonju-si, South Korea
June 1st / 8pm KST, 7am EDT
TV/Streaming info: KBS, Naver TV
Last Meeting: South Korea 2:0 Bosnia (May 26th, 2006 – World Cup Send-off Friendly as well!)
I’m letting emotions get all involved in this one. I would like nothing better for this side to have a morale-boosting send-off despite all the injury bad news. The crushing, screeching, embarrassing loss to Tunisia in Seoul in 2014 raised serious questions about the side, which were only accentuated by the 4-0 defeat to Ghana days later. Now we know there’s problems with this team, but if there’s one good side to the relatively easy friendly schedule (Bolivia next) it is that the team can gather some semblance of confidence and momentum. The defense may struggle to shut down Dzeko and Pjanic entirely (if they play…), but I’m calling for Lee Seung-woo and Son Heung-min to get on the scoresheet in a 2-1 victory in front of a packed ground in Jeonju (the game is close to 80% sold out already from quick math).