Tomorrow, South Korea will take on Russia in Dubai. Korea is coming off that morale boosting 2-1 win over Switzerland in Seoul, while Russia is coming off a more mooted 1-1 draw with Serbia. Both will be heading to Brazil next summer, but who will come out on top Tuesday?
Not too much to report at this time for the boys. The team safely arrived in Dubai, but their preparations were disturbed by strong winds and sand, so the team was forced to move indoors onto a futsal court. Nonetheless, the team is preparing well according to Hong Myeong-Bo, and will be ready for tonight.
Hong is keeping his starting XI secret (as he usually does), but the only changes expected are in midfield, where one of Park Jong-Woo or Ko Myeong-Jin is likely to step in for Jang Hyun-Soo. Some reports indicate that Hong will give both players a chance to impress, and that they will each play a half (Park the first, and Ko the second). Some predict that Lee Keun-Ho may start in the ’10’ spot ahead of Kim Bo-Kyung, who was a bit off the pace of the game against Switzerland. There are a few who think that Shin Kwang-Hoon will get a run out at right back, after Lee Yong had a poor night against the Swiss, but I suspect Lee will hold onto that spot. Other than that, things look like they’ll stay the same. Kim Shin-Wook will get another run out at the one-top, and in goal, Kim Seung-Gyu is expected to start thanks to his one good one-on-one save against Switzerland.
Like Switzerland, I can’t claim to be an expert on Russia, as I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Russian Premier League match. The only time I’ve seen Russia play are at international tournaments (Euro, WC, Champions League). And, the Russian team is composed solely of players who play in Russia.
Anyway, it wasn’t too long ago that Russia was being tipped to break up the hegemony of western European power. That was back at Euro 2008 when the likes of Igor Akinfeev, Yuri Zhirkov, Roman Pavlyuchenko, and Andrei Arshavin were bursting onto the world scene. Russia did well then, reaching the semifinals before losing to eventual winners Spain 3-0. Since then Russia has faded from the scene a bit. Failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and then failing to impress at Euro 2012 where they went out in the group stages.
Korea and Russia share some managerial history with each other. From 2010-2012, Russia was managed by the Dutchman Dick Advocaat, who of course, also managed Korea. Prior to Advocaat, it was none other than Guus Hiddink who was in charge of the Russians. He held that job from 2006-2010.
After the Dutch duo, Russia turned to the Italian Fabio Capello. Capello needs little introduction, as he’s currently one of the biggest names in coaching, but a little history seems in order. His first job was with Milan, replacing the legendary Arrigo Sacchi. Many were a bit skeptical about Capello’s ability to lead such a successful team, but he did very well. Winning the Serie A title his first season. Capello’s crowning moment with Milan would come in ’94 when his side destroyed Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team” 4-0 in the Champions League final. Capello would then proceed to move from club to club. To Real Madrid, back to Milan, to Roma, to Juventus, and then back to Madrid over the next 10 years. And in each place, with the exception of his second stint at Milan, he delivered trophies. League titles with Madrid (both times), Roma, and Juve (later stripped due to calciopoli).
Madrid would be Capello’s (as of now) last club job, and a few months later he got hired by England, a controversial move considering many felt that England should hire an Englishman to lead their national team. Capello guided England to the 2010 World Cup comfortably, but the actual tournament was a disaster. Unconvincing in the group stage, where they drew with Algeria and the US while beating Slovenia, they were blown out in the roundof 16 by Germany 4-1. Capello came under quite a bit of criticism for a number of things, and in many ways that was the beginning of the end for him. Capello would continue to coach “The Three Lions” and successfully qualified them for Euro 2012. But he finally resigned after the FA decided to overrule him and strip John Terry of the captaincy.
Since then, Capello has been in his current job with Russia. Capello is often seen as a very stereotypical Italian manager. Tactically astute, defensive, rigid, but successful. Yet, when I watched Russia’s last match, a friendly against Serbia, Russia looked anything but. The team was very fluid in their movements and pushed up in attack quite often. However, the downside for them is that they looked too loose, and often a little lost. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, with captain Alexander Samedov opening the scoring, only for Serbia’s Filip Djordjevic to equalize literally a minute later.
Describing Russia’s tactics and normal starting XI isn’t a simple task. Generally speaking they play a 4-3-3 that morphs into a 4-4-2 (and occasionally a 4-5-1) when defending, and a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-4 when attacking. The midfield three are very fluid in their movement, and it wasn’t uncommon to see them straying quite far from their “normal” positions. The front three are more static in their movement, with the wide players drifting in and out the only real variance.
Final Thoughts and Predictions
An interesting match, as it’s Korea’s first away from home under Hong Myeong-Bo. Korea has traditionally been poor outside of Asia (although I suppose Dubai is technically Asia), but how the players react to slightly more hostile conditions will be well worth a watch. Russia seems like a team, somewhat similar to Switzerland, in that when they’re on song, they can be very difficult to beat. But, if Korea plays well, they should be able to force the Russians back and really keep the pressure on them. The Russians looked a bit lacking in terms of technical ability, and seemed to rely a bit more on physicality and directness. I expect the Russians to press Korea a bit, and if Korea can break that initial pressure, there should be space to play into.
I’m not 100% sold on the idea of Lee Keun-Ho coming in for Kim Bo-Kyung. Lee was very good against Switzerland, and deserves to play, but I worry about our ability to control the midfield with Lee there. Lee is more like a striker/wide man, and I don’t know how effective he’ll be in dropping back a bit to help the likes of Ki and Park/Ko/Jang deal with the Russian trio. Russia could press them a lot and we could cough up the ball cheaply and in dangerous positions. I hope Kim Shin-Wook has another good match. A poor or indifferent showing, and the knives could be back out for him.