In the final televised and public World Cup Tune-Up before the 2018 Russia FIFA World Cup kicks off in just over a week, the Korean National Team will take on an experimental Bolivian side in Austria.
We’re a little late on this preview, apologies!
Last Time Out
Does anyone need reminding? Korea dropped their second consecutive “send-off” friendly (after losing to Tunisia 1-0 in 2014) with a 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Bosnia. Though there were some positive signs, including Lee Jae-sung’s beautiful finish, Lee Yong’s surprisingly decent performance at right wingback and the side’s high press reaping some benefits, the side was remarkably disappointing in defense. Gaps between the wingbacks and centrebacks allowed easy picking for the Bosnians who scored a hat-trick through Visca. Ki Sung-yueng was furious at being placed into central defense, and, at half time, through his armband on the ground at disgust. In the post-match interview, he was much more reserved, but the general consensus among players and the manager Shin Tae-yong was that the team’s tactical shape (mostly a 3-5-2) had been picked apart.
The team left to Austria where they have taken on more intensive training. The Paju training camp was dubbed by some in the media as a “healing camp” (also a play on a Korean TV show) with players all in various stages of recovery. Since they’ve moved to Austria, the level of training has intensified, with the coaches taking the players through “intensive conditioning”. The focus in interviews has been firmly on defeating Sweden – watching video, tactical sessions, etc, while the team has also gone through work on their set-pieces – something Shin Tae-yong loyally believes can make the difference.
*Shin Tae-yong seems to have this obsession with cute-sy, unique set-pieces, instead of the standard “cross it into the box” or “whip it in to the tall guys”
Who Will Be Injured Next? Korea World Cup Team Edition
Jang Hyun-soo has returned to full fitness and is expected to start, while leftback Hong Chul has had back spasms and will miss out against Bolivia. Otherwise it’s a (much needed) clean bill of health for the squad.
Tactics & Predicted XI
Shin Tae-yong has indicated he will revert back to a 4-back system in this match, as well as given the side more of a cautious shape. The team won’t be pressing as high as against Honduras, he says, but rather remaining deeper and waiting to dispossess the opposition. In this respect, I think the line-up will look a bit like the 4-4-2 we saw against Colombia and Serbia back in November, with the strikers pressing the ball to one half of the pitch and choking the opposition into a turnover rather than aggressively pursuing one as they have in the past two matches.
With Jang Hyun-soo returning into the side, the line-up could look like this:
A couple more notes:
- The wingbacks who started against Honduras will probably be rather fatigued, so I suspect that Go Yohan comes back in the right (despite Lee Yong, in my view, challenging for first choice) while Park Jooho, who has barely played at all, could start on the left.
- Shin has insisted on the importance of drilling in the 4-man defense and solidifying it. In that respect, whatever centre-back pairing we see against Bolivia could be indicative of what the starting centre-backs in a 4-man defense look like.
- Shin has said that he intends on starting his best XI both against Bolivia and Senegal, but that the best XI will “only show 60 or 70% of what they’re capable of”. Whatever that means.
- Speaking of which, I do think that the predicted line-up above is the closest to a best eleven we’re going to get before the tournament.
The Oppo: Bolivia
FIFA Rank: 57th
ELO Ranking: 47th
World Cup Status: Not qualified, 9th CONMEBOL (4-2-12)
Bolivia hasn’t made the World Cup since that one time when they were a CONMEBOL power in 1994. Since then, they have been extremely hard-pressed to make it out of an extremely competitive confederation, and it was no different this time. Bolivia managed to pull off a couple upsets here and then (thanks, altitude!), including a 2-0 over Argentina and 1-0 over Chile, but still finished second-to-last in the confederation. More recently, they’ve experimented and tried to integrate new players into the side, with such experiments resulting in a 1-1 and 1-0 loss to Curacao as well as a 3-0 defeat in Chester to the United States last week. A quick Soccerway check reveals that they seem to benefit greatly from playing at high altitude, as they appear to only have won 3 away games in… over 25 years.
Indeed, only three players called up to this squad have more than 10 caps, and their entire defense has been shuffled out, save for their 37 year-old 100-cap captain Ronald Raldes. The squad includes many U-23 players and is almost entirely consisted of players from the Bolivarian domestic league, with many (both Korean press and those more in the know) calling it a Bolivia “B” or “C” team. Their performance against a younger and equally experimental US team last week reflected that, with La Verde succumbing to a lot of pressure as well as conceding a lot of corners and shots. Defensively they were weak, and they struggled to hold any kind of possession. Given that the Korean team should be bracing to compete in a World Cup, they should be expected to do better than the Americans fared.
International Friendly (World Cup Preparation)
Tivoli Stadium Tirol, Innsbruck, Austria
June 6th / 9:10pm KST, 8:10am EDT,
TV/Streaming info: MBC in Korea
Last Meeting: South Korea 0:0 Bolivia – 1994 FIFA World Cup Group Stage
If Shin Tae-yong is indeed playing his best eleven in this match, then this has to be an easy win. Anything less would be unacceptable and extremely worrisome. This should be a confidence-builder heading in to the World Cup.
Korea 4:0 Bolivia