Preview: South Korea vs Czech Republic – Searching for Redemption

After a humbling 6-1 shellacking at the hands of the current European champions, the Korean National Team searches for redemption in Prague against a Czech Republic side eager to head into the Euros running.

Team News
If you still aren’t acquainted with the call-ups, you can find them HERE.

Ki Sung-yueng
The biggest piece of team news since the Spain friendly is that captain Ki Sung-yueng will miss out on this friendly due to injury. He missed out on the first training session in Europe because of discomfort in his right knee, but injury concerns were largely dispelled after playing full time against Spain. Unfortunately, it seems like the injury has returned and Ki did not participate in training in Prague. You’ll recall that he has had issues with that knee in the past (tendinitis) and had to have surgery last summer.

Stielike was sure to reassure the media that it wasn’t a “serious” injury for Ki, and he’s instead missing out in order to prevent further damage, especially since later this month Ki must report to his mandatory two-week military training.

This is a considerable blow as we know full well that the KNT struggles without Ki’s usual consistency in midfield, although he was largely disappointing against Spain, particularly because he didn’t demonstrate that reassuring and commanding leadership that is needed in moments of relapse akin to the ones that the KNT suffered on Wednesday.

Changes expected
It’s expected that Stielike will rotate quite a bit in this match in order to allow all players who made the trip to Europe to get a start. Stielike confirmed this at the press conference in Prague, saying, “We brought a smaller selection of 20 players to ensure that all players had a chance to play.” With that in mind, here’s my guess on how the KNT will line-up tomorrow:

Two things to keep in mind: Rim Changwoo is there as left back because I’m not sure if Stielike will play Yoon Sukyoung again, seeing how Uli did end up calling up three right backs (Rim, Lee Yong and Jang Hyunsoo). Secondly, this would mean that Yoon Bitgaram would not get a start, though I would find it absurd for Stielike to play any one of Jung Wooyoung, Joo Sejong or Yoon as number #10.

The Opposition

The Czechs didn’t have an easy road to the European Finals, having to go through Turkey, resurgent Iceland and surprise omission Netherlands. They find themselves in a tricky group with Turkey, Spain and Croatia. For more on our opponents, I put some questions to our good friend Tomas Danicek of Sandals For Goalposts’. Although he’s usually providing insight in the Asian football sphere (and that, with brilliant detail and knowledge), it so happens that he is a Czech!

1. We all saw Korea get shellacked by Spain earlier this week. Is there a possibility in your view that a similar result could be on the cards against the Czechs?

Not a chance, in my opinion. Not just because we are not Spain level quality-wise, obviously, but also because we simply do not destroy opponents. Throughout the whole qualifiers, our greatest goal margin was 2 goals – away to the lowly Kazakhstan – and that was it. Granted, it was a rather competitive group without a real minnow, but it’s still quite shocking. Also, our style isn’t exactly possession-based, we don’t look to dictate tempo that much, so even the whole outlook of the game should be noticeably different; if anything, this is the match Ki Sung-yueng and others can easily shine.

2. Could you give us a couple Czech players to look out for?

Tomáš Rosický is still an undisputed brain of this side, proper football genius for me, who drives the game like nobody else around does. It will be interesting to see him go head-to-head with a guy I have boldly dubbed ‘Korean Rosický’, ie. Lee Jae-sung (tongue-in-cheek, but also pretty accurate comparison, I swear!).

From the younger crop, Vladimír Darida is a fine box-to-box midfielder, highly rated in Bundesliga and the engine of this team. At right back, there’ll be an exciting attacking fullback, let it be Pavel Kadeřábek or Theo Gebre Selassie. And finally, Jiří Skalák can give Korean defenders proper headache; very cheeky, very agile right wing / second striker, who will look for fouls around the box and will be highly motivated since he’s fighting for a starting spot thanks to injury troubles of Bořek Dočkal (our main scorer in the qualifiers).

3. In general, how do the Czechs play? What is their general approach to the game and what are their strengths/vulnerabilities?

As I partially mentioned above, there’s usually good tempo to our game, we are not at our best when the game is slowed down, I would say. The side is very hard-working, which is epitomized by our left wing Ladislav Krejčí, who might be one of the best defensively responsible wingers at the tournament.

One weakness can be found at centre back where all Kadlec, Sivok and Hubník are very experienced, yet not exactly class options. Another alternative is Marek Suchý, who’s younger and slightly better on the ball, but it’s still rather easy and effective to get all of them under pressure and coerce them into mistakes, so Stielike would be best advised to go all out pressing against them.

On the other hand, look out for our set pieces; both Kadlec and Sivok are extremely strong in the air and the former head coach and current advisor Karel Brückner (responsible for our biggest achievement in this century; bronze medals at the 2004 Euro) is famous for his tricky signals, cunning free-kick routines in particular, indirect or direct.

4. Predicted line-up?

Vaclík, Suchý (Basel) and Pudil (Sheffield Wednesday) had very long club seasons, joined the team late and this is their first opportunity to actually take any part in preparations, so I fully expect them to do so, even though none of them will most probably start in the opener. Dočkal, as I said, is carrying a knock so I don’t think he’ll be risked now. There’s a good chance Rosický and Krejčí will be given a deserved breather, in that case Daniel Kolář and Josef Šural would be given a nod. Darida would be the same case but there’s no real typological backup for him in the squad, maybe Pavelka. Upfront, Milan Škoda (perceived to be our 3rd-choice striker) might be given a chance to prove himself, since the competition is rather open there and he wasn’t used against Russia.

Previous Meetings

South Korea has never won against the Czech Republic – they have a 0-3-1 record against them.

Their last match was on August 14th, 2001, where the host Czechs crushed Guus Hiddink’s Korea 5-0. Pavel Nedved opened the scoring and 21-year old Tomas Rosicky made the starting XI.

South Korea is 3-1-6 in their last 10 matches in Europe – their last victory in Europe was the 2-0 win over Greece before Brazil 2014.

This game matters
The context that we find ourselves in right now is pretty damn sad. A very sobering 6-1 defeat to Spain revealed to the international football community that our apparent transformation since the World Cup into a defensive powerhouse and cohesive attacking unit is more fiction than reality. In some ways, that pathetic performance revealed cracks in the KNT which we had hoped had magically vanished.

However, although many will point to individual errors being our downfall in that match, for me, the major mistake was our approach to the friendly. Stielike set up the KNT as if we were playing another Asian team on a parallel or slightly inferior level to ours. We showed Spain no respect and we got the result we deserved. You would have thought that after having our defensive line breached multiple times in the first half hour that alarm bells would have gone off in our manager’s head. Instead, we played 90 minutes playing as if we were the better team and ignoring the crystal clear fact that we weren’t. We passed up on a major opportunity to prove that we can grind out results and frustrate world class opponents in Stielike’s own egoistical dream plan whereby we were matching Spain spade-for-spade.

It goes without saying that the Czechs are a weaker side than Spain on paper. But we cannot simply pretend we are the better side. No one’s suggesting that we park the bus. But this match will be as much of a test of Stielike’s managerial skills as it will of the players’ skills. Without stalwart Ki in midfield, unproven fullbacks and slightly less convincing or in-form midfield options, can the KNT adapt and adjust? Can Stielike rally the troops and can these players pick themselves up?

Stielike called up these players – he made this team selection. He snubbed some of the K-League’s more in-form talents in favor of others. It was his decision to limit the team squad to 20-men. And he made the call in the Spain match to set the team out the way he did. Yes, there are injuries. But with fans beginning to see the flaws of the KNT in one of our worst defeats in history, the pressure is on. Excuses aren’t going to be enough. This is a real shot at redemption, and these players and this manager need to seize it.

June 5th, 2016
9:10AM EST, 10:10 PM KST @ Eden Arena, Prague

About Tim Lee 321 Articles
The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?

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