So, is it better to lose 2-1 at home to a B team that is jet lagged or 4-0 in London to an A team? To me it’s the former. While the result is disappointing, and even more so when you consider our opponents circumstances, but it (for me at least) wasn’t nearly as demoralizing as the latter result. There are certainly some things that still need work and some positions that need to be filled, but there were many brights spots as well.
Hong did indeed make many changes to the XI with only Son Heung-Min and Kim Young-Gwon retaining their starting berths. You could argue though that the changes strengthened the team as Lee Chung-Yong, Kim Bo-Kyung, and Koo Ja-Cheol all started from the beginning. Hong’s XI looked like this:
Functionally, there were no changes to the team. Koo Ja-Cheol operated in largely the same role as Ha Dae-Sung, Park Jong-Woo likewise in the Lee Myeong-Joo role. Jung Sung-Ryong returned between the sticks, and Kwak Tae-Hwi made his first appearance since Hong took over.
1st Half Recap and Thoughts
The first half was a bit all over the place. Korea seemed a bit overanxious and often rushed their play. The result was some bad passes and poor touches. Croatia didn’t seem to tired from their long trip and pushed up the pitch frequently. However, the Korean defense did well, with Croatia’s best chances coming from Korean mistakes (like getting caught in possession deep in our half). Koo Ja-Cheol had a bit of a rough time, and he clearly does not seem fully adjusted to the deeper role, at least with the national team. Son Heung-Min had a more subdued half as well, tightly marked by Vida, the Croatian right back. Up top, Cho Dong-Gun struggled to make an impact with his best chance coming at the end, when he got his head to a corner. Yoon Suk-Young, starting at left back also struggled. Yoon looked quite rusty from wasting away on the QPR bench. His passes were often over hit, and his touch a bit poor.
Lee Chung-Yong continued his bright run of form for the national team. Lively on the right, but it’d be nice to see him develop more of a killer instinct. Lee often finds/makes space in the box, but his natural instinct is always to pass when sometimes a shot could be a better option. Kim Bo-Kyung had a good half as well. I thought he started a bit slow, but as time went on he improved. Doing well to hold up the ball, whether in attack or in transition. Park Jong-Woo had a decent half as well. He doesn’t seem quite up to the level of Lee Myeong-Joo, but seems to be a decent back up/squad player. It was pleasing to see him play a smarter game than usual (no needless bookings).
2nd Half Recap and Analysis
At the beginning of the second half Hong made his first change, bringing off Cho Dong-Gun and putting on Han Kook-Young. Koo Ja-Cheol slid up top again into the false 9 role he tried against Haiti. And, for the first 15 minutes or so, I thought Korea played their best football of the night and that we’ve seen in a while. While being a one-top isn’t Koo’s natural position he certainly seemed more comfortable there than as a deep midfielder. The passing and ball skills of the attacking four (Koo, Son, Kim, Lee) was also quite a joy to watch. The runs off the ball by them and the one touch passes clearly had the Croatian defense on their heels. Unfortunately a goal didn’t come, further highlighting the need of a finisher to convert the chances that will certainly come.
Croatia’s goal seemed to come from nothing. A free kick conceded outside the box and then slack marking on the set piece allowed Croatia to take the lead. The goal seemed to deflate the whole stadium, shocked by what had happened (given Korea’s dominance at the time). Croatia’s second effectively killed the tie when the fullbacks (both of them) got caught out. Lee Yong allowed the cross to come in uncontested, and then Yoon Suk-Young got caught behind Kalinic who headed home. Korea managed to score a well deserved consolation goal late through Lee Keun-Ho to make the final result a tiny bit less painful.
Jung Sung-Ryong 6.5 – Couldn’t do much with either goal. Did well on a couple of Croatian efforts. Think he’s still the number 1 by a bit, but Kim Seung-Gyu is pushing him, which is good.
Lee Yong 6.0 – Maybe could have been better on Croatia’s second, but a decent night on the right. Right now I think the battle between him and Kim Chang-Soo continues on.
Kwak Tae-Hwi 6.0 – No major problems for Kwak on his return. He got burned by Croatian speed in London, but not last night. Don’t think he’s a starter, but could be a good veteran influence in the squad and on the young defenders.
Kim Young-Gwon 6.5 – No problems for him either, and had a stinging free kick saved on the other end, as well as a header go just over.
Yoon Suk-Young 5.5 – Probably the poorest player on the pitch, and with some reason. Was clearly rusty. Saddens me a bit to see how far he’s fallen since the Olympics last year. Third choice now behind Park Joo-Ho and Kim Jin-Su.
Park Jong-Woo 6.5 – A solid night without any highlights or lowlights. Don’t think he’ll push any one out for a start, but a reliable squad player.
Koo Ja-Cheol 6.0 – Average as a central midfielder, decent as a false 9. Koo seems in danger of being the odd man out. Kim seems to be making the central attacking role his, and Koo isn’t good enough as a central midfielder. Up top? Maybe, but he’ll need to sharpen his goal scoring which will be difficult given his club role.
(sub) Lee Keun-Ho 6.5 – Late sub but managed to get his name on the scoresheet. I’m not sure where Lee will fit into the team. I think he’ll definitely go to Brazil, but not sure where. He would seem to have the best scoring instincts on the team other than Son, but he won’t push out one of the attacking trio. Will likely battle Koo for the one-top role.
Lee Chung-Yong 7.5 – Another bright performance for Lee. Worked the right well, and gave the Croatian defense a torrent time.
Kim Bo-Kyung 8.0 – Man of the match for me. Strong in transition and some wonderful passing. Best attacking mid we have right now.
Son Heung-Min 7.0 – Decent game, but had more trouble with some tight marking. Still created danger though, a testament to his skill.
(sub) Yoon Il-Rok s.v. – Late sub for Son. Had some nice runs, but not enough time to impact things.
Cho Dong-Gun 5.5 – Not good enough. Full stop.
(sub) Han Kook-Young 6.0 – Decent in open play, but I think a bit culpable in the Croatian goals. Marking clearly not his strong point.
Hong Myeong-Bo 6.5 – I understand his desire to create competition and fairness, but it’s time to start deciding on a core team. There won’t be too many friendlies left, so Hong needs to start building some cohesion rather than changing pieces every time out. Also, set piece defending. Let’s work on it.
Hmmm, some good things, some bad things. Defending still needs a bit of work, particularly in terms of set pieces. I think the center backs are okay now, but we desperately need some consistency from the fullbacks. A goalscorer would also be nice. Son has the potential, but for now he’s a winger and we shouldn’t be counting on him to deliver the goods every match. Kim Bo-Kyung has cemented his place in the starting XI for me.
For me the biggest question right now is Koo Ja-Cheol. If Kim Bo-Kyung takes the #10 role, and we assume that Ki Sung-Yueng returns to the side in central midfield, where does that leave Koo? He’s not strong enough defensively to partner Ki nor is he effective out wide (nor is he good enough to push out Lee Chung-Yong or Son Heung-Min). Yet he’s clearly regarded by Hong as he was named captain of the Olympic team (in fairness after Hong Jeong-Ho’s injury) and he captained the team last night. The only viable spot would appear to be the forward role. And while I’ve advocated for him to play there, I do have concerns about his ability to adapt to so many different roles. Played as an attacking midfielder the last few years, but now is a deeper midfielder at Wolfsburg. Then trying to add a forward/false 9 role with the national team? It may be too much. Then we can throw in Lee Keun-Ho. Not a natural forward either, but he has decent goal scoring abilities, and did fairly well there at the end of the match. Should he get a run out as the forward?
The other question is the deeper midfield. Ki is missed. And I think the team would be better with him. So, if we assume Ki will take one of the deeper roles, who takes the other? Ha Dae-Sung has done well, but he doesn’t seem an ideal partner for Ki. Lee Myeong-Joo would fit better, but I would worry about the two of them being overrun by higher energy players (pacier, more aggressive midfielders). Han Kook-Young seems a good option, but he’s still young and a bit inexperienced (he also seems liable for marking). Park Jong-Woo is similar to Lee, but not quite as good. Perhaps, we’ll see more experimentation in the future? Jang Hyun-Soo has been used in midfield (not very well). Perhaps Hong will continue to try and convert him into a holder? I’m not advocating this, but perhaps Kim Young-Gwon could be tried there. Decent distributor, aggressive, full of energy. I don’t know.
Overall, I think the team can take some heart in their performance. They held there own against some good players. They created some chances, and the promise can be seen. That being said, there must come a time when promise turns into results, and in the fast-paced, short life of international football, it needs to come soon. I said it earlier, but Hong needs to start settling on a core for this team, officially. Players need to know where they stand, and chemistry starts needing to be built. I think for me, about half the team is set (guess who). I’m hopeful that Hong will start to build around a core set of players starting next month.
And, just in case you’ve forgotten, the next match is against Brazil (gasp) and then another against Mali. I’m tentatively hoping to make the trip to Seoul for the Brazil game, so hopefully the next review can also include some pictures! Look for an ‘Observing the Enemies’ post for Brazil’s last two matches (6-0 win over Australia and game against Portugal [at time of writing Brazil is winning 3-1]).
Of course, your thoughts are valued! Share your reactions to the game in the comments and answer the poll question.