After a disappointing result but improving performance in Belfast, the KNT are set to wrap up their March international break against the #6 ranked Poland.
Last Time Out
A 2-1 loss against Northern Ireland on Saturday. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Koreans – much to the contrary, a dominant first 10 minutes saw them create their first goal, via Kwon Chang-hoon from a nice chip pass from Park Joo-ho. But a leaky defence and individual mistakes saw a clinical Northern Ireland come out on top despite Korea’s creativity, ball-control and work rate. For more on the Northern Ireland match, click here.
The KNT is coming under much pressure from netizens back home who are content with the performances of many players but who are, perhaps rightfully, but certainly not politely, ripping into the team’s defensive performance. Jang Hyun-soo, who was responsible for the main error leading to the second Irish goal, was trending on numerous Korean media portals (and not for good reason) as yet another worrying performance saw the netizens explode into uproar against a third defender in just a few months (Kim Young-gwon re: crowd noise, Kim Ju-young scoring two own goals…).
Meanwhile, Shin Tae-yong seemed to offer harsh words for Son Heung-min after the game, though there does seem to be a major element of mistranslation. Shin reportedly said ‘Son should figure out a way to be effective on his own’ when asked about the Spurs man being stifled by numerous defenders. However, upon reading the original quote, Shin seems to have something closer to ‘Son needs to find a way to be effective on his own’ – less of a stinging rebuke.
Kim Jin-su will miss out due to an injury he sustained early in the first half in Belfast. Initial reports suggest his damaged right knee ligament will keep him out from 3-6 weeks, and he’s gone back to Korea to recover. Having missed out on the last World Cup due to injury and having grown into importance and relevance in this national team today, we’ll be eagerly wishing the leftback a speedy return to form.
Lee Keun-ho will likely continue to miss out. Shin Tae-yong called up the veteran forward despite knowing he likely wouldn’t feature in either game (source: Steve Han).
Three To Watch
1. Chuncheon Boys Re-united Up Top?
Both Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan hail from my second hometown of Chuncheon, in Gangwon-do (close to where they had the PyeongChang Olympics), and after Kim Shin-wook’s ineffective performance against Northern Ireland it seems likely that a change up top will be in order. With Shin saying in the post-match interview that he’d stick to the 2-forward look in Warsaw, all eyes will be on what chemistry Hwang and Son will have. On paper, it’s a better fit – Hwang will play the creative, mobile assistant to Son and let the Spurs man finish the chances. On the pitch, one could have concerns for team balance – is a side containing Lee Jae-sung, Kwon Chang-hoon, Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan too heavy on dynamic speed merchants?
2. Redemption by Lewandowski
If Kim Min-jae and Jang Hyun-soo had troubles in the air against Magennis and Washington, they will have their hands very full with the indomitable Bayern Munich giant Robert Lewandowski. That’s if Shin elects to stick with that centre-back duo – both defenders made glaring errors in the game that could force Shin Tae-yong to perhaps integrate 2014 World Cup veteran Hong Jeong-ho.
3. Level of Play
Korea was dominant against Northern Ireland, controlling the ball for two-thirds of the match and staying firmly in the opposition half for large spells. However, Northern Ireland are a more structured opponent to the Poles, and the Group H top seed is likely to want their fair share of the ball and pitch position. How will Shin Tae-yong’s side react? Will they defend in numbers and limit Poland to non-threatening possessions and long balls (see: Colombia, Serbia, November 2017)? Or will it be yet another road collapse (see: Russia, Morocco, October 2017)?
Notes: It remains to be seen if Shin will experiment more or try and give his preferred XI as much time together as possible (more likely the latter)… Cho Hyun-woo will probably get a shout at goal to try and challenge Kim Seung-gyu after he had a decent game against Northern Ireland… Shin’s irrational, undying love and affection for Jang Hyun-soo likely means that it will be Kim Min-jae making way for Hong Jeong-ho… Jung Woo-young could partner Ki in midfield, but after Park’s great showing journalists are hedging their bets on the former Dortmund man.
Poland are making their return to the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 2006, and yet were seeded in Pot 1 for the World Cup draw. Their group of Japan, Senegal and Colombia is a toss-up, but still a reward for the Poles who played the FIFA ranking system well. An easy qualification and an absence of friendlies over a sustained period of time meant that Poland found their way into the top 8 of international teams.
Since they recommenced playing in friendlies after the end of their qualification campaign, the results haven’t been rosy for Poland. A 0-0 draw with Uruguay, a 1-0 loss with Mexico and now a 1-0 loss with Nigeria. Poland had no problem finding the back of the net against Montenegrin and Kazakh defenses, but are struggling somewhat since.
Nonetheless, one cannot underestimate Poland, even if they are one of the easier European sides to qualify for Russia 2018. The aforementioned Lewandowski leads the line in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2 shape, while Napoli’s Pietr Zielinski has been increasingly shifted in behind him. Though his last international goal was in 2013, the 23-year-old attacking midfielder’s contribution to Napoli’s Serie A title challenge has attracted attention from clubs such as Liverpool for his dribbling skills and quick passes. Other familiar names include Kuba Blaszczykowski – the go-to right midfielder – and Dortmund’s right-back Lukasz Piszczek.
I confess that I know very little about Poland, but reading homework and highlights seem to show that they are a side content to commit numbers to an aggressive pressing strategy. Korea struggled with a controlled press against Iran in the Asian qualifiers, so it remains to be seen if they can transition out from the back without resorting to stray or hopeless passes. That said, that press, like any press, can leave a team exposed at the back, which allowed for Victor Moses to win and convert his penalty in Nigeria’s very recent 1-0 win. Reports also indicate that the Polish manager, Adam Nawalka, is seeking to bring in another striking option – Milik – into the mix, to possibly try and create more opportunities for Lewandowski.
Historical Matches between Korea and Poland
What They Said
“Poland is different to Sweden, but similar to Germany in that they are both strong teams. I’ve watched their recent friendlies – they have great power and passing play. I don’t need to mention that Lewandowski is the best player at Bayern Munich. (…) We will need to adjust our tactics and formation accordingly (…).” -Shin Tae-yong
South Korea vs Poland | International Friendly | Chorzow, Poland
March 27th, 2018, 2:45pm EST, 3:45am KST
The coaching staff trialling a new headset communication system (some of Korea’s Spanish assistant coaches will watch the game from the stands and communicate information to Shin on the touchline via headset) may be as experimental as this game will get for the Koreans. With little time to go ahead of the FIFA World Cup, the emphasis will be on stopping a Polish side grasping for goals and finishing off their attacking plays. A victory would go a long way to quell nerves in the camp and instil confidence in a side that wants to prove it shouldn’t be taken for granted in Russia.