It’s the first big test for the South Korea national team since Uli Stielike took over. The Taeguk Warriors travel to Salzburg, Austria to take on former world and current (at least for a little while longer) European champions Spain.
South Korea Team News
Jinseok posted a full recap of Stielike’s call-ups for this and the Czech Republic match, so check that out here if you missed it. But below is the updated list (there has been one injury forced change).
GK: Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Jung Sung-ryong (Kawasaki Frontale)
DF: Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg), Yun Suk-young (Charlton Athletic), Rim Chang-woo (Al-Wahda), Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Kim Kee-hee (Shanghai Shenhua), Lee Yong (Sangju Sangmu), Jang Hyun-soo (Guangzhou R&F)
MF: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea City), Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk), Han Kook-young (Al Gharafa), Jung Woo-young (Chongqing), Yoon Bitgaram (Yanbian Fude), Nam Tae-hee (Lekhwiya), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg), Ju Se-jong (FC Seoul)
FW: Suk Hyun-jun (FC Porto), Hwang Ui-jo (Seongnam FC)
The update is that Al-Rayyan midfielder Koh Myeong-jin has been removed from the list due to injury and was replaced by FC Seoul’s Ju Se-jong.
Reaction to the squad list has been mixed at best. Inclusion of players like Yun Suk-young and Ji Dong-won, players who have struggled to get any sort of playing time with their respective clubs (for various reasons), have been included while in-form players like Kim Bo-kyung were left off. Stielike has also chosen to include several faces that have not been seen with the national team for a while like Yoon Bitgaram, Lee Yong, and Rim Chang-woo.
The other major talking point about the squad has been the omission of normal mainstays Lee Chung-yong, Kim Jin-su, and Park Joo-ho. All three are victims of Stielike’s decision to axe players who have consistently not been getting minutes with their club teams. At the press conference to unveil the squad, Stielike said, “I … warned in March that if players cannot grab opportunities to play for their clubs, it will be difficult for them to play for me. Nothing has changed since then.” A fair decision, but if the concern is the team’s overall ability level than it’s debatable if their replacements – likely Ji Dong-won, Koh Myeong-jin, Lee Yong/Rim Chang-woo – will be any better.
One of the other potentially interesting points is how well the team gels together and how their fitness looks. The European season is over, but the Asian leagues are in full swing. This has created a little bit of a split in how much training the players are getting. The Asian players joined up with the squad just recently following the weekend’s league matches, while the European players have been at Paju NFC for over a week. The Europe-based players have actually specially requested that they be allowed to have training sessions at Paju in order to be in better fitness for the matches. The defense in particular will likely a slightly re-vamped look to it.
Stielike has pushed the idea of Korea playing with confidence and the idea that they can win, and as such I think he will put out a fairly ‘normal’ looking XI as much as he can. The biggest possible wrench in that idea is that five players (Jung Sung-ryong, Jung Woo-young, Ju Se-jong, Lee Jae-sung, and Lee Yong) all arrived on the morning of the 31st. Given the jet lag, and lack of training time, it may be difficult for them to be ready to start this match.
I think the defense will likely be Kim Jin-hyeon in goal with a four-man line of Jang Hyun-soo, Kwak Tae-hwi, Hong Jeong-ho, and Yun Suk-young. The midfield will certainly include Ki Sung-yueng and Son Heung-min. I imagine Han Kook-young will start if Jung Woo-young isn’t recovered enough. Similarly if Ju Se-jong/Jung Woo-young aren’t ready, then that leaves, likely Yoon Bitgaram to partner Ki in midfield. Right midfielder will probably depend on Lee Jae-sung’s condition. If he isn’t ready to go, either Ji Dong-won or Nam Tae-hee should start. I suspect Suk Hyun-jun will get the nod at center forward ahead of Hwang Ui-jo. (But who knows? I’m terrible at guessing line ups.)
Spain Team News (update, Spain has released full 23 man squad for Euros)
Since they are preparing for the upcoming Euros, Spain has brought a strong squad as well. Although with the match coming just days after the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, players from those two teams will not play any part in this match as they will not join the Spain squad until June 4.
Full 23-man Euro 2016 Spain Squad (updated)
GK: Iker Casillas (FC Porto), David De Gea (Manchester United), Sergio Rico (Sevilla)
DF: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Mikel San Jose (Athletic), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid)
MF: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Bruno (Villarreal), Thiago (Bayern Munich), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Pedro (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), Koke (Atletico Madrid)
FW: Aritz Aduriz (Athletic), Nolito (Celta Vigo), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Lucas Vasquez (Real Madrid)
Spain cruised to comfortable 3-1 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina in their first warm-up match that featured many new faces. Spain’s starting XI was: Sergio Asenjo; Azpilicueta, Bartra, San Jose, Bellerin; Fabregas, Bruno, David Silva; Nolito, Aduriz, Asensio. Celta Vigo’s Nolito took most of the plaudits due to his well scored brace. Many of the players who took part in the various cup finals (Barca, Sevilla, Juve, Bayern, Man United) a week before joined the squad late and were only nominally involved.
Presumably, Spain will draw their XI from the above 19 players. I would expect that Spain’s starting XI will likely feature many of those players, and then Del Bosque will heavily substitute in the second half if their fitness levels are not up to par yet. My thinking is that Del Bosque went with one group in the first match, will work in (mainly) the Barca component against Korea, and then the Madrid-based players in their final tune up.
A possible starting XI could look something like: David De Gea; Hector Bellerin, Marc Bartra, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara,
Cesc Fabregas Andres Iniesta; Alvaro Morata, Aritz Aduriz, Nolito.
I don’t suspect many are going for a Korea win, and admittedly I’m not either. Despite the fact that Spain will be looking to avoid injuries pre-Euros and just warming up/gelling together, I think they will still have a bit too much quality for Korea to handle. Stielike said he would use footage of the last Korea-Spain match (back in 2011, 1-4 loss) as a video review/possible motivation for the team, and hopefully this match will not be as one-sided as that one was.
I think the main point for Korea is to get their feet wet against a top side, and really get a check on who far this team has come under Stielike in the past year plus. It is also a chance, one would imagine, for some of the players who are slightly struggling for playing time in Europe (Suk HJ, Yun SY, Ki SY, Ji DW, and Son HM) to make a case for either a move or more time.
Prediction: Spain 2-1 Korea
A mini-scandal of sorts broke out on social media (of course) surrounding a comment Iker Casillas left on Suk Hyun-jun’s Instagram. Suk has posted a photo of him and Ki Sung-yueng on the plane heading to Salzburg.
Casillas posted, “Open your eyes!!!!”. Suk responded, “Already open amigo”. This small exchange has spurned a mini debate on Casillas’ comments and whether they are racist. Always dangerous to wade into the topic of racism on the internet, but I suppose it must be addressed at least partially. Within the limited context available, Casillas’ comment was racially insensitive (IMO). I won’t say it’s full-blown racist because it’s a comment that in theory could be applied to any person with small eyes regardless of race. I will also refrain from being too disparaging of Casillas because I don’t believe he’s making the comment from a malicious standpoint, but rather a racially ignorant one. People can, and have, been tut-tutting him for it, and that’s fine. But I think this is a relatively small one in the battle against racism, and shouldn’t be unnecessarily overblown. The other aspect, which I cannot know, is how Suk Hyun-jun actually feels about the comment. His online response is one of someone who doesn’t particularly care, although some have offered that perhaps he doesn’t feel like he can call out Casillas on it or was flustered by it. My guess, having lived in Korea for some years now is that Suk probably has been teased about his eyes for a while – from both Koreans and foreigners. That doesn’t make it right, and one could say something about being desensitized to racial comments, but I fear that would be too long a post for this preview. For now I’ll stop, perhaps more can be said or written about it later.