On Tuesday, the 26th, South Korea will play their fifth match in the final round of Asia World Cup qualification in Seoul against Qatar. Group A is finely balanced right now, with only four points separating top and bottom. If you’ve forgotten, Uzbekistan is currently in first on 8 points (from 5 matches) and Lebanon is last with 4 points from 5 matches. Korea is second on 7 points (along with Iran and Qatar) from 4 matches (Iran and Qatar have played 5).
Then: South Korea 4 Qatar 1, 2014 World Cup Qualifying, Round 4, June 8, 2012, Doha, Qatar
Back in June the two met in Doha, where Korea ran out 4-1 winners behind goals from Lee Keun-Ho (two goals), Kwak Tae-Hwi, and Kim Shin-Wook. I was trying to remember this match, but was having trouble, and looking back at an old post I realized why. I didn’t watch it. Oops. The reason why was, I was sick, it was on at 2AM, and my alarm didn’t go off. So, I can’t offer any real in-depth analysis of how this match went, but I can probably assume (and I will) a few things. Looking at the scoring, Qatar scored first, before Korea equalized. It was early in the second half when Korea went ahead, and then finally Korea iced the cake with a third and fourth goal. Which leads me to think that the general pattern went something like this. Qatar sat deeper, played a well-organized defense, and looked to hit on the counter. They were successful. After that, Korea, initially hesitant being the away team, upped the pressure.and were able to equalize. After that the game settled back down, Qatar stayed defensive, and Korea pushed less. This lasted until Korea scored again, causing Qatar to now push for an equalizer, opening up more space in the back. That allowed Korea’s attacking quality to come through and score twice more, and kill the game off.
Now: South Korea vs Qatar, 2014 World Cup Qualifying, Round 4, Tuesday, March 26, Seoul, South Korea, 8 pm Korea time / 7am US EST
There have been a few changes in recent days as a few players have gotten injured. Suwon’s Kim Do-Hyeon has pulled out after picking up a serious injury in the K League Classic match against Pohang. Kim Chang-Soo of Kashiwa Reysol and Kim Young-Kwang of Ulsan Hyundai have also pulled out due to injury. Replacing them are Hwang Ji-Soo of Pohang, Choi Chul-Soon of Sangju Sangmu, and Kim Yong-Dae of FC Seoul respectively. Also, there is news of injury to captain Kwak Tae-Hwi. Manager Choi Kang-Hee has also hinted a little bit about his possible formation and player selections.
Goalkeepers – Kim Young-Kwang‘s injury doesn’t change much at the back. Jung Sung-Ryong will still start, Lee Bum-Young will still be third choice.
Defenders – Here’s where the changes really happen. I thought that Kwak Tae-Hwi would have started, but if the reports are true that he has a torn quadricep then he will most certainly miss out. The team has been practicing without Kwak lately. Should Kwak Tae-Hwi miss out, then Kim Ki-Hee could possibly step in. However, Choi Kang-Hee has been trying out FC Tokyo youngster, Jang Hyun-Soo in practice. In the inter-team scrimmages Jang has been playing next to Jung In-Hwan. There had been reports that Kim Chang-Soo may have started at rightback, but given his injury and subsequent pull-out, obviously that will not be the case. The question becomes will Choi turn to the other right back initially called, Oh Beom-Suk, or the newly called Choi Chul-Soon? I still believe that Park Won-Jae will start at left back ahead of Yoon Suk-Young given Yoon’s lack of action since his move to QPR.
Midfielders – Formation reveal or sneaky trick? In the link listed earlier, Choi had said that he had initially planned to play a 4-2-3-1, but when he realized that Qatar was likely to take a more defensive approach, he decided not to play with two defensive midfielders and just go with one. So, the 4-1-4-1 formation seems to be the likely option, but the team also practiced in a 4-4-2. Choi also said that Ki Sung-Yueng would possibly take the holding role in effort to create a more offensive side. Choi also said that Lee Chung-Yong would likely start on the right, leaving the other three midfield roles open for competition. It would be shocking if Koo Ja-Cheol did not take one of them. So that leaves the other attacking central position and the left position open for Son Heung-Min, Ji Dong-Won, and Lee Keun-Ho. Lee Keun-Ho is a favorite of Choi’s and he is also very comfortable in a more advanced forward role, so I think he takes the central role. Since Son Heung-Min does not track back, and given another sub-par showing against Croatia, I think Ji Dong-Won will start on the left. Also, there were reports that Son had a fairly average showing in practice when he lined up with the usual starters (interestingly he did much better when playing with the second-string). Another interesting note about the recent practices is that Hwang Ji-Soo, called to replace the injured Kim Do-Hyeon, was used in the holding role for the 4-1-4-1, and subbed in during the 4-4-2 formation test.
Forwards – It think it will be Lee Dong-Gook, even though I feel that Kim Shin-Wook has actually been in better form in the K League Classic so far. I’d say, 75% chance Lee Dong-Gook, 25% chance Kim Shin-Wook. Kim Shin-Wook was used in the 4-4-2 side during practice, playing up top alongside Lee Keun-Ho.
Formation – So, there are basically two reported formations going around the press. The 4-1-4-1, and the 4-4-2. Choi has used the 4-1-4-1 lately, against Iran, Australia, and Croatia. It seems to be the formation he is leaning towards, but he has said he’s not sure yet which he’ll use. Given the defensive frailties of this team, I would prefer he go 4-1-4-1 just to put a little more protection in front of the defense. But there have been strong hints that he’s leaning 4-4-2. All reports seem to suggest the formation selected will hinge on how Choi plants on using Ki Sung-Yueng. Despite playing with the first team in practice, I’m skeptical that Hwang Ji-Soo will start, considering he wasn’t even in the initial call-ups. I’m also hesitant to say that Son Heung-Min will start, it feels like Choi is trying to work him in, but the chemistry just isn’t there. And with the team in borderline crisis mode, I don’t think the conservative Choi will take the risk.
Ji Dong-Won / Lee Keun-Ho / Koo Ja-Cheol / Lee Chung-Yong
Park Won-Jae / Jung In-Hwan / Jang Hyun-Soo / Oh Beom-Seok
Lee Dong-Gook / Lee Keun-Ho
Ji Dong-Won / Ki Sung-Yueng / Koo Ja-Cheol / Lee Chung-Yong
Park Won-Jae / Jung In-Hwan / Jang Hyun-Soo / Oh Beom-Seok
Goalkeepers: Saad Al-Sheeb (Al-Sadd), Quasim Burham (Al-Gharrafa), Rajab Hamza (Al-Arabi)
Defenders: Ibrahim Majid (Al-Sadd), Abdulkaeem Hassan (Al-Sadd), Hamed Ismaeil (Al-Rayyan), Ibrahim Al-Ghanim (Al-Gharrafa), Belal Mohammed (Al-Gharrafa), Mohammed Mousa (Lekhwiya), Khalid Muftah (Lekhwiya), Yousif Muftah (Al Wakrah), Ahmed Yassir (Lekhwiya)
Midfielders: Talal Al-Bloushi (Al-Sadd), Kahlfan Ibrahim (Al-Sadd), Abdulaziz Al-Sulaiti (Al-Arabi), Younes Ali (Al-Rayyan), Abdulaziz Hatem (Al-Arabi), Khalid Abdulraouf (El Jaish)
Forwards: Hassan Al-Haidos (Al-Sadd), Yusef Ahmed (Al-Sadd), Jarallah Al-Marri (Al-Rayyan), Sebastian Soria (Lekhwiya), Ali Afif (Lekhwiya), Majid Mohamed (Al-Sadd)
There were a couple players whose position I couldn’t find: Mohamed Alsaid and Taher Zakriya.
Admittedly, I know little about Qatar, even though it seems like we play them quite often. The only player that I know is Sebastian Soria, who I saw play against Japan in the 2011 AFC Championships. If you’re thinking, “Sebastian Soria doesn’t sound like a very Qatari name,” you’d be right. Soria is Uruguayan by birth, but has played in Qatar since 2004 and is a naturalized citizen. Soria is their lone dangerman, and is the only player with double digit goals to his name. However, the squad is fairly experienced with many players in the 20-30+ cap range.
Qatar is coming in on a decent run of form that has seen them win their last four in a row (against Malaysia, Eygpt, Thailand, and Lebanon). Not exactly tough opposition, although Egypt is decent.
Tavern note: On Friday, Qatar visited Bahrain for an Asian Cup Qualification match. Qatar lost that match 1-0, with Faouzi Aaish scoring the lone goal in the 20th minute.
Qatar has never qualified for the World Cup before, and there is a decent likelihood (no offense Qatar) that they won’t qualify until they host the event in 2022. Qatar’s only major honor is a surprise 2006 Asian Games gold medal. Their highest finish at the Asian Cup is a quarterfinal appearance.
Their last qualifying win was against Lebanon, when they won 1-0 in Qatar from a late-ish goal by Soria. Qatar is currently in 4th place, although they are level on points with us and Iran with 7 (beating Lebanon twice and recording an impressive 0-0 draw in Tehran). Of course their one loss in the 4th round of qualifying was to us. In Doha. 4-1.
What to expect
If history is any guide, then the match will be a bit on the conservative side. Qatar will most certainly be happy with a point, and while it would certainly not be desirable, Korea would survive with a point too (a loss would be fairly disastrous though, but more for psychological reasons). While the formation listed above seems to be a bit more on the attacking/gung-ho side, it is also easily a more defensive formation. Lee Chung-Yong and Ji Dong-Won (should he start) are more defensive then say, Son Heung-Min. Plus we saw against Croatia, that Koo Ja-Cheol is willing to drop deeper into the midfield. So the formation could easily become more of a 4-4-1-1 or 4-5-1.
As far as roles within the team goes, I imagine that Korea (assuming a 4-1-4-1) will look to play a bit like Manchester United does, at least in terms of the midfield and forwards. Ki Sung-Yueng will be tasked with the Michael Carrick role, starting attacks and providing some sort of shield for the defense. Koo Ja-Cheol will be the Tom Cleverly type, sort of a shuttler between Ki Sung-Yueng who is deep, and the forward players. Lee Chung-Yong is Antonio Valencia, a natural wide player who will hug the touchline and try to provide crosses. Ji Dong-Won is the Nani/Ashley Young type, a wide midfielder who can also provide a wide attack angle. Lee Keun-Ho in the Wayne Rooney role, a support striker who can also help link the midfield. Finally, there is Lee Dong-Kook in the Robin Van Persie role (I know, a ridiculous comparison, but bear with me). A player who can hold up the ball, but also cause problems around the penalty area, and maybe, hopefully score a goal or two.
Even though Qatar should not present too much of an obstacle, it’s been awhile since I’ve felt this much tension surrounding a match. Really, not since the final days of Cho Kwang-Rae’s tenure, when some were claiming the sky was falling. While it is true the team is not in the greatest of form (lost the last three matches), I think one would have to be a bit in the “glass half-full” camp to say we shouldn’t win this one. I think the beginning will be a bit nervy, but the team will pull it out in the end.
Prediction? Korea 3 Qatar 1. Goals from Lee Dong-Gook (to give Choi an excuse to call him again), Koo Ja-Cheol, and Lee Chung-Yong. Qatar pulls one back late on a set-piece.
I will be attempting to “live tweet” the match, so don’t forget to follow @SKSblog for in-match cynical comments!