For a little it seemed like deja vu. Dominating possession, making the better chances (although still not that good), yet losing to something simple. Mali had just taken the lead with their first shot of the game. A set piece after a somewhat soft foul committed by Kim Jin-Su. But then, fortune smiled on Korea. A penalty. A second quick goal right after the restart, and a nice finish to seal things off.
This was a good performance from Korea, and one that was desperately needed to give the team a small boost of confidence, and the public as well. That being said there were still a few things that really need to be addressed in the future.
Hong Myeong-Bo had said he wouldn’t change too much of the team that lost 2-0 to Brazil on Saturday, and indeed he didn’t, with only Ji Dong-Won and Kim Bo-Kyung making way for Lee Keun-Ho and Son Heung-Min respectively.
Korean Offensive Tactics
While the personnel change wasn’t much the presence of Lee Keun-Ho and Son Heung-Min did change things. Korea were much more effective on attacks, with Lee Keun-Ho very much involved in the early stages. Lee’s biggest strengths are his energy, strength, and versatility. Originally a wide midfielder, Lee is comfortable playing on either flank as well as more centrally. His running the channels off the ball created much of Korea’s attacks with the defense struggling to keep up. Additionally it opened space for Son, Koo, and Lee Chung-Yong to move into. I’m not sure if it was a tactical instruction from Hong, on pitch discussion between the players, or just Lee being smart, but often his moves (when attacks started in Korea’s half) went from middle to the left, allowing Son to drift inside and Lee Chung-Yong to stay in his more comfortable right side zone. Against Brazil, Ji Dong-Won often drifted wide right, forcing Lee Chung-Yong to stay a bit deeper.
Korea also did better to vary their build up more. The team, at times, played more direct with long passes from Kim Young-Gwon and Hong Jeong-Ho, and at other times, a bit shorter with Ki Sung-Yueng moving forward and combining well with the front four. The latter aspect is an important development as the sudden solid performances from Han Kook-Young have freed Ki from the more restricted defensive role that he had had to take on previously. The two fullbacks, Lee Yong and Kim Jin-Su were also more involved in this game, but their final ball still is a bit lacking at times.
Korean Defensive Tactics
There isn’t much to say about Korea’s defensive ideas. On the rare occasions that Mali got the ball deeper, and had time to get men forward, Korea dropped into their deeper 4-4-2/4-5-1 shape. The Malian players lacked the technical ability to really play their way into good positions, and relied more on their strength and athleticism to work their way there. It wasn’t terribly effective and Hong’s high pressing generally was able to work the ball off Mali before they got too close.
The first half of the first half was all about Korean possession with no real teeth. Korea moved the ball well. Lee Chung-Yong look revitalized on the right with no Neymar or Marcelo to deal with. Son Heung-Min also looked bright on the left, and as mentioned before, Lee Keun-Ho was a relative revelation up top. Those three combined well, but struggled to really work anything that resembled a great chance. Lee Keun-Ho, while working hard and showing glimpses of why he won the Asian Player of the Year award, still lacked a bit of that finishing touch, with some of his passes going badly astray, his touch a little heavy, and his shooting wayward.
Then Mali took the lead, almost from nothing. A free kick was given, deep in the Korean half, near the touchline. Kim Jin-Su ruled the offender after a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. The Mali player, Modibo Maiga, held off his marker and easily headed home. Set pieces are still a worrying problem, and one that I’ll discuss later. For the next several minutes, Korea looked a bit stunned. But they received a slightly generous call from the referee, who adjudged that (I believe) Tongo Doumbia handled in the area. From the replay, Doumbia goes down/falls down to block a cross. The cross seems to hit him in the chest first, but then roll onto his outstretched arm (to cushion his fall). Penalty? Technically, I suppose, but I’ve seen similar incidents not called. Either way, Koo Ja-Cheol stepped up and easily converted the spot kick. The teams went into the break level, 1-1.
Korea’s second goal came from the first attack after the restart, and it was easily the best goal that Korea scored in the game (or in recent memory). The restart went back to Kim Young-Gwon, who hit a long, diagonal ball to Lee Chung-Yong on the right. Lee played it to Koo Ja-Cheol, who laid it back to Lee who had made a sideways run towards the middle. Lee played a nice little scoop pass over the top to Son Heung-Min who smashed it past the keeper. The second goal seemed to virtually end the contest. Mali, despite being a goal down, did little to get an equalizer. And, in a breath of fresh air, Korea did not rest on their one goal lead, and continued to push on for a third. That killer instinct mentality is something that often goes wanting at higher levels in my opinion.
The third goal eventually did come through a combination of individual brilliance and good fortune. Kim Bo-Kyung, who had subbed on for Koo Ja-Cheol who had suffered an injury, scored the final goal. Lee Chung-Yong danced his way past defenders and into the area, Lee went down under a challenge, but the ball rolled nicely to Kim Bo-Kyung who finished well. The game did settle down from there. Mali pushed a bit, but chances were few and far between, with most coming from free kicks. Hong eventually made some subs, with Go Yo-Han, Yoon Il-Rok, and Park Jong-Woo coming on late.
Jung Sung-Ryong 6.0 – Tempted to give an s.v. given how little he had to do. No chance on the goal, close range with pace.
Lee Yong 6.5 – A better outing for the right back, who seems to offer a nice balance of defense and offense. Maybe a nose ahead of the competition in Kim Chang-Soo.
Hong Jeong-Ho 6.5 – Another quiet night for Hong Jeong-Ho. Controlled the backline well.
Kim Young-Gwon 7.0 – A good night for Kim as well, who also showed his attacking value as well. His long passing certainly helped, and it also relieves some of the pressure on Ki Sung-Yueng.
Kim Jin-Su 6.5 – A nice night for the youngster who seems to have jumped Park Joo-Ho in the pecking order. Needs a bit of refinement on both ends, but that should come with time and more experience.
Ki Sung-Yueng 7.0 – A slightly shaky first night back against Brazil was followed up by a very good night against Mali. Looked positive and showed some of the play that he had for Swansea last season.
Han Kook-Young 6.5 – Another solid showing for Han who wasn’t quite as good as he was on Saturday, but his defensive capabilities were not required as much either.
Lee Chung-Yong 8.0 – MotM performance from the Bolton wide man, was angry, physical, and defensive against Brazil, characteristics we don’t usually associate with Lee, but against Mali he was his usual self. Graceful, poised, skilled. Wonderful stuff.
Koo Ja-Cheol 6.0 – Better than his Brazil showing, but still a far cry from Koo’s potentially game changing self a year or two ago. Hopefully his injury is minor, and he can retain his starting spot with Wolfsburg.
Son Heung-Min 7.5 – Another player who showed improvement from the Brazil match (although admittedly Son’s was a cameo). Pace and power, a wonderful combo when Son can utilize it fully. Showed better off the ball movement as well.
Lee Keun-Ho 6.5 – A massive improvement up top when compared to Ji Dong-Won, but still a bit limited/rough around the edges. Lee’s time with Sangju Sangmu isn’t helping. He was very bright in the first half, but faded in the second.
Kim Bo-Kyung 7.5 – A surprise omission from the starting XI. Kim came on in the second half for Koo, and his impact was immediate. The flexibility and understanding between the front four was quite wonderful to see.
Go Yo-Han s.v. – Late sub for Son Heung-Min. Maybe a future role in the team, but hasn’t contributed much lately.
Yoon Il-Rok s.v. – Late sub for Lee Chung-Yong. I think another with a bright future, but can he force his way in past Son, Kim, and Lee? Not too sure.
Park Jong-Woo s.v. – Late, late sub for Han Kook-Young.
Hong Myeong-Bo 7.5 – Overall, I thought this was Hong’s best game in charge of the national team. The only major complaint I had was Koo Ja-Cheol starting ahead of Kim Bo-Kyung who is in better form, and since Hong has made a big deal about players playing for club and “earning” their spot, I thought it was a bit hypocritical. But the tactics were done well, the majority of player selection as well.
The best the team has played since Hong took over, and I feel were starting to see the core group of players that Hong is really considering for Brazil. Lee Keun-Ho did well, but he’s not quite up to the level that we need for a striker (cue Park Chu-Young protests). I realize why Hong has continued to select Koo Ja-Cheol as well, but I think the supporting three are pretty clear in Son-Kim-Lee barring Hong deciding to move Son to their one-top role (something he doesn’t seem to want to do). I thought the team’s attack generally looked more fluid and threatening when Kim had come in for Koo.
The Ki-Han duo seems to be gelling well, and ideally for me it’s the best partnership as Han’s pure defensive mindset allows Ki more freedom to get up and down the pitch. As long as Han continues to develop the other aspects of his game, and continues along his current path he should be just fine.
Defensively the team seems a lot more secure now than they did a year ago. Hong and Kim have formed a solid partnership in the middle, and as long as Hong gets to play some matches with Augsburg and Kim stays at Guangzhou (and playing) both should be fine. Fullback still seems a bit up in the air. Lee Yong seems to have edged past Kim Chang-Soo, while I think it’s a bit open between Park Joo-Ho and Kim Jin-Su, but it does seem like Hong likes Kim more. Yoon Suk-Young? Too bad. I think Jung Sung-Ryong will be the number 1 until after the World Cup, after that I think it’ll be a fight between Kim Seung-Gyu and Lee Bum-Young.
The next matches will be in November on the 15th and 19th. There has been no official announcement regarding the place and opposition for those dates. Rumors on ROKfootball have said that Switzerland will likely be one of those opponents (in Korea) and that the other will be somewhere in Europe.
As always share your thoughts on the match in the comments!