Hong Myeong-Bo’s team takes the field once again on Friday when top-seeded Switzerland comes to town. Possibly one of the surprise teams coming out of Europe this year. The Swiss team easily topped a relatively weak group E, seven points ahead of Iceland, with a record of 7-3-0. That sparkling record saw them leap up the FIFA rankings to 7th, and into the top pot for next summer’s World Cup. Certainly they’ll present a stiff test, but can Hong Myeong-Bo’s Korea compete with them?
Much of the talk following the announcement of Hong’s call ups centered around the recall of Kim Shin-Wook and the non-call of Park Chu-Young. How Kim and Lee Keun-Ho handle the forward role will be closely watched. Additionally there was some bad news on the injury front leading up to the game. Both Yoon Suk-Young and Han Kook-Young were forced to pull out of the matches. In their place Park Joo-Ho and Jang Hyun-Soo were called up in their place. Park Joo-Ho is a relative like-for-like switch with Yoon. But the Jang for Han call is a bit odd, and furthers a suspicion I’ve held, which is that Korean coaches see Jang as a possible defensive midfielder. But more on that as it (possibly) develops.
The other question will be how Hong chooses to approach these matches. Whether they’re warm-ups and further chances for the first team to gel. Or if they’re matches for the fringe players to show that they can handle the big European boys. It would seem that Hong will hand the Europe-based players starts as it will be their last matches for awhile. So, the follow up questions would be, who will start at striker, who will partner Ki Sung-Yueng, and how will Son Heung-Min be utilized?
It looks like Kim Shin-Wook will be handed a start, despite Lee Keun-Ho having played well last time out. Kim, who was left out by Hong Myeong-Bo virtually since he became manager, is eager to impress and show that he’s improved his ground game since Hong accused him of being too one-dimensional. The other side question from this choice is, how will Kim’s inclusion affect Son Heung-Min? Son has been regularly played as a left midfielder under Hong, but Son was quite effective as a second striker playing just off Kim Shin-Wook in the World Cup qualifying match against Uzbekistan. And apparently that idea is something Hong is considering. I feel though, and initial reports from training camp seem to indicate, that Hong will stick with his usual 4-2-3-1, which means that Son will likely stay out wide.
The other question, who will partner Ki? Han seemed to really put his name at the head of the list after two strong showings against Brazil and Mali, but his untimely injury has forced Hong Myeong-Bo to re-think his options. There would seem to be three choices: Ko Myeong-Jin, Park Jong-Woo, and Jang Hyun-Soo. Jang Hyun-Soo is a defender by trade, more specifically a centerback. Yet, Korean NT bosses, seem to see him as a defensive midfielder . Choi Kang-Hee started him there against Iran, and Hong subbed him in as a DM against Peru. While Jang does seem to be a decent young defender, I don’t think he has the positional sense and technical ability to be a midfielder. Ko Myeong-Jin is midfielder for FC Seoul. He’s an interesting option, but a bit unproven at the international level. Ko has only made one appearance for the senior side, a year ago against Australia. Back then I said Ko was okay, but didn’t have much impact on the game (of course the four players I said were very good have dropped off the face of the earth, so what do I know?). So we come to who I think is the more likely choice, Park Jong-Woo. Park, of course, formed a solid partnership with Ki at the Olympics, and would seem, on paper at least, to offer the best balance to sidle up next to the Sunderland player. Park has some offensive ability, as well as some defensive ability. He doesn’t excel in either area, but offers enough in each to warrant inclusion. Park would be my choice, but some pundits are thinking that Hong will give Ko Myeong-Jin a chance.
The other small question, that is only there because Hong seems to be pondering it, is who to start in the number 10 role. Hong seems to be actively looking for a more creative, attacking threat, and said he is considering Nam Tae-Hee along with Kim Bo-Kyung for that spot. From a personal standpoint, I don’t think Nam is quite ready to compete with a very physical Swiss midfield, and Kim should start. Although it is slightly worrying that Kim, despite playing well, is regularly getting subbed out early in matches for Cardiff, and has appeared on the bench with increasing frequency.
The Swiss are riding a massive 14 game run of no defeats. The last time they lost was in May 2012 to Romania in a friendly in Lucerne. While most of the teams they’ve beaten or drawn with since then aren’t terribly impressive, their run does include a 1-0 win over Brazil last August (through a Dani Alves own goal) at St. Jakobs Park in Basel. As mentioned in the opening, Switzerland cruised to World cup qualification, going 7-3-0 and topped their group by a healthy seven point margin. Switzerland is currently ranked 7th according to FIFA, and as the rules dictate, have earned a top pot place in the upcoming draw. Certainly Switzerland will be tough customers.
The Swiss are led by the German Ottmar Hitzfeld, a highly decorated manager who has coached Borussia Dortmund (in the 90’s) and Bayern Munich (in two separate spells). Hitzfeld has won the world coach of the year award twice, was voted by Bayern fans as the best coach they’ve ever had, and has plenty of silverware including two Champions League winner medals and seven Bundesliga titles. Hitzfeld has been with the Swiss national team since 2008 after Jakob Kuhn left following Euro 2008. Hitzfeld guided the Swiss to the 2010 World Cup, where the team failed to make it out of the group stage despite winning their opening match against eventual champions Spain. A lose to Chile and a draw with Honduras saw them finish third in the group. Switzerland then failed to make it to Euro 2012, finishing behind England and Montenegro in their group. Despite that setback, Hitzfeld was retained as coach.
The Swiss also aren’t immune to the injury bug. Midfielder Valon Behrami and defender Ricardo Rodriguez both pulling out late due to niggling injuries picked up in the final weekend before the break. The Swiss seem to be taking this match seriously, as Hitzfeld has called up a strong side. Other notable absences are Bayern Munich playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri and Juventus right back Stephan Lichtsteiner. Both are long term injury victimes.
and I’m not positive why Shaqiri was omitted. Possibly due to his lack of games at Bayern where he has fallen down the pecking order since Guardiola took over (as well as the arrival of Thiago Alcantara).
I haven’t watched the Swiss team a lot, so I can’t claim expert status on them, but I saw their qualifying match against Albania. Switzerland had not officially qualified yet, but only a monumental collapse at that point would have seen them not top their group. The game wasn’t terribly exciting, Switzerland won 2-1, but I think it probably was indicative of their overall style. Which is, strong at the back, skilled in attack, and physical. In short, it’s probably what Hong would like Korea to be like.
Switzerland’s line up for that match was: Benaglio; Lang, Schar, von Bergen, Rodriguez; Inler, Behrami; Shaqiri, Xhaka, Stocker; Seferovic. And I suspect that we will see a similar line up tomorrow. Of course, as mentioned earlier, Rodriguez, Behrami, and Shaqiri are all missing so those positions will be open. Since Rodriguez is a left back, the most likely option would be Reto Ziegler. For Behrami’s holding midfield role, I suspect that Blerim Dzemaili will step in, preferred over Gelson Fernandes, due to the fact that Dzemaili (like Inler and Behrami) plays at Napoli in Serie A, so they should be more familiar with each other. For Shaqiri, who usually plays wide right for Switzerland, it’s a bit more open. The likely choices are Admir Mehmedi and Tranquillo Barnetta. Lately, when Shaqiri has been subbed off for a more “like” sub, it’s been Mehmedi. But, Barnetta is a more natural wide player (although usually on the left). So, either is possible.
To beat the Swiss, Korea will need to be decisive when attacking. Meaning, the slow, patient build up play likely won’t be terribly effective. Switzerland will certainly drop 9-10 men behind the ball when Korea attacks, so Korea’s best hope will be to get Son and Lee going in and really penetrating the spaces in the Swiss defense. If they, along with the fullbacks can get some good crosses in, Kim Shin-Wook should be able to get onto some of them, as he has a few inches on both Schar and von Bergen. This won’t be an easy match. And to be honest, I think a draw would be a very positive result for Korea. That being said, a win is possible, and would certainly be a wonderful boost for the team to continue building off last month’s friendlies.
[table “” not found /]