Admittedly, watching the third-to-last World Cup qualifying match against Qatar was straight up painful. Before yesterday’s ill-fated game Korea had a undefeated record against Qatar, wining 4 of 6 matchups, scoring 10 and conceding 3. Qatar was seen as a minnow we could experiment against rather than an opponent we would be seriously worried about.
But with Stielike at the helm we needed a comeback win to beat Qatar 3-2 at home back in November. This time we were completely dominated and there was no Miracle of Doha this time around as we fell 3-2. On the bright side we finally scored our first away goals in this final round of the WCQ – in our previous three away games we notched 1 draw and 2 losses without scoring a goal. On the really really bad side we lost against Qatar, almost as bad as losing against China.
I could rant about how awful Korea regressed for days but let’s put the complaining aside and get to the match review.
Here was the starting lineup:
This, as it turns out, was the last shred of optimism we’d get all day. Most of the discussion revolved around the inclusion of Lee Jaesung and Hwang Heechan – has Stielike finally seen the light and realized that these two players are, often times, our best performers? We saw Park Jooho and Kim Changsoo, ineffective against Iraq, dropped (although who knows if that’s the reason why) in favor of the Jeonbuk duo KJS and CCS – it seemed great at first, but both would also turn out to be completely ineffective. The inclusion of Kwon Suntae and Kwak Taehwi meant that this would be one of the most K-League heavy starting XI’s Stielike has put out in a long time.
Because of this we felt kind of good going in, and maybe in the first five minutes or so we connected a couple of passes and Lee Jaesung dribbled around some Qatari players – things were going well. Until we realized that the defense was just god-awful.
With basically no midfield presence we let Qatar do their thing in the middle and after producing just one shot on target (a tame header at straight at the keeper) we let Qatar score in just the 25th minute off of a free kick.
It was an amazing free-kick to Qatar’s credit, but you would think Kwon Suntae would have at least tried to dive for it – he just stood there motionless as the ball curled into the right post (1:40 in the HL video below). You would think this would elicit some sort of response from Korea but in fact the possession stats turned in Qatar’s favor and they continued to dominate in the rest of the first half. The defense continued to turn over possession multiple times and it was Qatar who deserved to extend their lead multiple times throughout the game. Had Abdelkarim Hassan been just a little more selfish, for example, Qatar may have been 3-0 up.
Admittedly, Korea wasn’t completely devoid of ideas – Hwang Heechan found space in the box and nearly scored from a tight angle. Shortly after, Lee Keunho found himself one on one after a Qatar defender failed to head clear a long ball. But in classic Lee Keunho style he whiffed the shot and it was saved all too easily (as much as I like Lee Keunho shot power is really not his forte). Before the halftime whistle blew, an intercepted defensive clearance from Qatar fell to Ki Sungyong, who volleyed just over the crossbar. And unsurprisingly, Qatar were up 1-0 at halftime.
One point of note: Son injured himself in the middle of the first half and left the game having done basically nothing other than two blocked shots and a lot of possession turnovers. Lee Keunho would replace him, and immediately after coming on LKH managed to dribble past a couple of players and keep the Korean attack alive. Why is Son so awful whenever he steps on the national team? Could it be the quality of players? Or disdain for Stielike? Either way, someone needs to figure out how to make use of a player who can score 20+ season goals for a top EPL side – because there’s no player like this in Asia, and he certainly should not be losing to Qatar.
Any hopes of a Korean comeback were shot early on in the second half as Qatar scored one of the easiest goals ever – a simple one-two that found Akram Afif in a large pocket of space that Jang Hyunsoo was way too slow to cover. Part of the blame also falls on Kim Jinsu for completely losing his marker.
In fact, I’m so mad I will upload some images – a 4 second sequence in which the goal happened. Just to highlight the unbelievably bad defending.
And just like that Qatar assumed their 2-0 lead.
Luck finally found the Koreans though in the 60th minute when a long punt from Kwon found Lee Jaesung in space. LJS being LJS, he actually produced some meaningful attack and took on a fullback before teeing up Ki Sungyong for a nice finish – 2-1 Korea.
Then just 10 minutes later Lee Keunho crossed a ball into the penalty box that Hwang Ilsu – the Jeju winger – knocked down for Hwang Heechan, who made no mistake in front of goal. This one, the Qatari defenders screwed up – they allowed Hwang way too much time and space to find his shot there. #15 should have moved forward and challenged HHC instead of flinching backwards a little, but hey we;’ll take it – against all odds we found the equalizer to make it 2-2.
At this point in the game Tim Lee suggested that the game would end 2-2, but I told him that “the floodgates have been opened – someone is bound to score again soon.”
I think I jinxed it a little because Qatar scored just 5 minutes after Hwang Heechan – off of a throughball that caught Kwak Taehwi off-foot. This was almost as embarrassing as the Afif goal I highlighted in detail above:
And no matter how much we chased the game we could not find another equalizer, and Stielike would once again lose an away game.
Kwon Suntae and the defenders can all just earn themselves a solid 4 or 5. No good tackles, nothing of note, pass misses all around.
Han Kookyoung and Ji Dongwon also deserve something below the neutral 6 because Ji did nothing but defend
(poorly), while Han Kookyoung just kept losing the ball trying to pass. There was this one hilarious incident where HKY receives a throw in and one-touches the ball completely out of bounds. Tim and I got a really good kick out of this – it’s not in the highlights but it goes along the lines of this. Disclaimer: it might have been Choi Chulsoon not Kim Jinsu providing the throw-in because it came from the right wing – but for some reason I distinctly remember laughing at both Kim Jinsu and Han Kookyoung.
Lee Keunho, Lee Jaesung, Hwang Heechan, and Ki Sungyong get something around 6-7 for providing SOME sort of offensive output. Ki SY was particularly influential throughout the match.
Every media report tells us that after this loss to Qatar Stielike will be sacked. That is probably the only silver lining from this entire game. But it is a silver lining of the best kind – STIELIKE IS (almost certianly) OUT!
Every Korean fan right now should be overjoyed, but then we should realize that there is literally no suitable candidate to replace him. Shin Taeyong has been named of course but we do not want that for many reasons (too young, no repeat of HMB 2.0, don’t want him to ruin his career, the team sucks, etc.)
Choi Yongsoo and Kim Hogon are also contenders, but again – who wants to take charge of this horribly disorganized KNT side?
I suspect the KFA will go for a domestic coach this time – but we will speculate on replacements for Stielike in a separate post.