Reflecting on the Asian Cup and looking towards the future

So that was… disappointing (although not entirely surprising). I owe Jinseok a post or two (or dozen), and unfortunately due to covid this post is going to be less impressive than I had originally hoped it would be. But, as they say, showing up is half the battle (or something like that). For the record, I had hoped to take key tactical takeaways from each match with images and maybe some diagrams and stats. But, this will just be a more reflective (hence the title) look back at the three knockout stage matches and a brief look towards the future.

On Klinsmann

There has been a lot of noise around Klinsmann. Some of it is much deserved, some of it is over the top. But as has been said elsewhere, this tournament revealed (again) that tactically he doesn’t really provide much. “Get the ball to the good players and hope they make some magic” is not really going to cut it on a consistent basis. That being said, he did (for good or bad) show flexibility in matches and between them in terms of trying to correct some issues. However, it should also be pointed out – something that again reflects back to the earlier comment – that those changes between matches didn’t really do anything.

While I’m not a fan of Klinsmann, and I think we all ultimately know how this relationship will end, I don’t think he should be fired because of the Asian Cup. We haven’t won this thing since when? A semifinal appearance is enough for him to keep his job. Plus, if we’re honest we know the KFA doesn’t have the money to go out and actually get someone good, so even if we’re out Klinsmann we probably end up with someone like Kim Hak-beom.

On formation soup

This is more of a little pet peeve (if that) of mine. Sometimes we get too caught up in formations. In reality, the 3-4-3 against Saudi Arabia and the 4-2-3-1 against Australia operated the same way. It’s just in the 4-2-3-1 Park Yong-woo dropped between or next to the centerbacks rather than having three centerbacks with one pushing forward from deep. You’re just changing the characteristics of that third defender while the overall tactics remain the same. The 4-3-3 against Jordan was slightly different in that they did hold that shape a bit more. But even that operated in a largely similar manner.

On Son Heung-min

Let’s say something controversial. Maybe this tournament was an example of why his father has continuously insisted Sonny is not world class? For the record, if Son Woong-jeong does truly believe Son Heung-min is not world class, I imagine it’s for different reasons, but for the sake of argument let’s go this route. 3 goals in 6 matches? Well, that’s not too bad. Oh, two were from the spot? Okay, yes, the third was a wonderful free kick to win it over the Aussies, but no goals in open play is not good when you are the (supposedly) best player to ever wear the national team shirt. In defense of Sonny, the midfield was pretty shit and the service to him was dreadful. And again, Klinsmann’s “tactics” did not put him in situations where he had a lot of great chances. But this was a pretty forgettable tournament for our captain.

On Lee Kang-in

So, I’ve been on the Lee Kang-in hype train for quite a while now. But, I’ll admit to being skeptical about his ability to successfully acclimate both into the national team and PSG as a key player (possibly because of a certain other wonderkid’s inability to do so). I am very happy to eat my own words as Lee Kang-in has been very good for both Korea and Paris (knock on wood).

I don’t watch PSG enough to pull anything that resembles intelligent insight into this conversation, but it is clear that his position and role with the national team needs some thought. Sticking him out on the right wing just because, well that’s kinda where he needs to go because of this player or that player, is well… stupid. Lee Kang-in needs to be central and have enough freedom to touch the ball whenever he damn well wants. If you have to sacrifice another player (or two) to do that… well… so be it.

On Hwang Hee-chan

Hwang Hee-chan remains a difficult player for me. On the one hand, when he’s healthy and in a decent run of form he’s absolutely amazing. He’s fast, he’s decisive, he’s strong. He’s very much what this team needs. But… if I have to sacrifice a player he’s my first choice since he’s similar in mould to Sonny and he’s pretty good off the bench.

On Cho Gue-sung

Ah… at times it feels like Cho Gue-sung is more celebrity than footballer because of his looks and reality TV show appearances. Cho Gue-sung clearly needs to work on his technical ability and become more than just another big target man. But, I think he needs to be a regular in the team (which we’ll come to in a bit).

On how some things just never change

To be honest, one of the reasons why I stopped watching and writing about every KNT match was that there just wasn’t anything new to write about. You could just copy-paste any sort of analysis from the past 5-10 years and most of the points would still be valid. Watching this tournament (and I hadn’t watched any of Team Klinsmann prior) gave the same feeling. The slow tempo, the lack of movement in the final third, the side-to-side and backwards passes, the defensive failings. It was all just so, so familiar.

The lack of movement in the final third remains my biggest annoyance. You have three static attackers, two fullbacks pushed high, two midfielders trying to control the whole center, and three defenders as outlets. You just see it, and it’s like, yeah no wonder we’re resorting to long passes from the back.

On who should be our central attacker

I am going to say, that I believe that Cho Gue-sung should still be our regular #9 at this point. The Jordan match is the reason why. You put in a front three of Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan, and Lee Kang-in and get nothing. No shots on goal. You also put in a midfield three of Hwang In-beom, Lee Jae-sung, and Park Yong-woo and still end up with long passes from the back for the forwards to chase and crosses from the fullbacks as your primary means of trying to create goal chances? That’s absolute nonsense. “Well, if you put in someone like Cho Gue-sung all we’ll do is play long balls to him and crosses.” Yeah, news flash, we’re doing that anyway and at least Cho Gue-sung may actually do something (even if it miss chances) with them.

If Klinsmann or whoever is in charge is going to make a real push towards playing through the middle and on the ground then sure, drop Cho Gue-sung to the bench and play the Son-Hwang-Lee trident. But, until that happens, if the flanks and crosses are going to remain our bread and butter attack then put a striker who can at least miss those big chances.

On attacking tactics going forward

There’s probably a more interesting, nuanced discussion underneath the surface of the above point. I don’t know if I can clearly articulate what I’m thinking but here goes. You look at the Jordan game and the six forwards and midfielders (okay maybe take out Park Yong-woo) and wonder why we’re playing down the flanks and crossing the ball into the box. The likely response is that it’s simply because of the way Jordan defended – five across the back, conceding the midfield flanks, and aggressively pressing when the ball comes central. So, yeah, the obvious response is you take what they give you and hope that you can work it in and that one of the attackers does something magical.

But that’s like the textbook strategy to use against us. It’s not like Jordan pulled out some wild, new strategy that had us flustered and bamboozled about how to go against it. So, I think the next thought in this chain is, well Klinsmann tried to counter that by putting in the players he did, you know, players that are good on the ball, can work out of presses. It just didn’t work. We came out of back-to-back 120 minute matches in the round of 16 and quarters. Maybe in another universe where we’re a little fitter, a little sharper, the decision works a charm and we easily beat Jordan.

Maybe. But, the more I watched this team the more I began to think that we just don’t have enough players that have the mentality to play that kind of game. The kind of player who will think they can break the press, carry the ball forward, and help open up space centrally for the team to create an attack. It just felt like every time, players opted for the safe pass back out to the flanks or to the centerbacks. I’m too lazy to recreate the meme, but I think of that Drake meme. Beat a man? Nah. Pass it back towards safety? That’s it.

Is this a coaching issue? Maybe. But at this point it’s so common throughout our team, I’m not sure it’s something the current group can be coached out of. And to bring this back full circle, it’s why I’m in favor of playing Cho Gue-sung up top regardless of his ability to actually score consistently. If we’re going to play like this regardless, then you might as well put players in there that might be able to make it work.

My wish going forward

But can this work? We don’t exactly have a plethora of good true wingers, and I already have Son Heung-min, Lee Kang-in, and Cho Gue-sung earmarked in the team. I also don’t really want Lee Kang-in out there on the wing. I’d much rather him playing as a 10. So… a 3-4-1-2? A 4-3-1-2? The good ol’ 4-2-3-1? I know I said earlier I don’t much like formation number soup and the 3-4-1-2 and 4-3-1-2 probably are about the same thing in the end. Between those two and the 4-2-3-1 is more a question of where you want Son Heung-min. If you’re okay with him wide and drifting in then the 4-2-3-1 works. If you also want to shoehorn Hwang Hee-chan back in (and sacrifice a bit at the back) then you can go this route. It’s also potentially useful if you consider our fullbacks kinda suck (although Seol Young-woo was solid).

There’s pros and cons to all of them (namely on the defensive side I think the fullbacks get roasted regularly without a lot of help to cover them). But they would put Lee Kang-in a better spot to really help the team going forward and feed towards the idea that midfield remains our biggest strength. I’m still kind of processing which I would prefer and maybe I can further make a preference in the future (as always this post is taking too long to write and I don’t want to delay posting it much more).

So, I’ll end it on this. Lee Kang-in is both the here and now and the future. I do love Sonny, but the team should shift it’s focus towards Lee Kang-in tactically. Put the team in a position to best make use of Lee Kang-in’s abilities and the rest of the pieces will start to fall into place naturally. Just do it Jurgen!

About Jae Chee 339 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


  1. 4-3-1-2 seems like the ideal formation for the players we have atm.

    Top two – Heechan and Son.
    CAM is Kangin
    Midfield trio – Hong / KHK / PSH
    Back 4 – SYW / KMJ / LHB / HJW

    When attacking, the formation turns into 2-3-3-2 as the Fullbacks push up toward the midfield similar to Ange’s tottenham while Hong and PSH push up.

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