November 16, 2012
Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates: The U19 Taeguk Warriors have just about done it; with Wednesday’s 3-1 semifinal win over Uzbekistan, they advance to Saturday’s date with destiny. Iraq wouldn’t be on the top of most people’s lists when it comes to dates with destiny, but their 2-0 semifinal victory over Australia secured their ticket to the big game. If Wednesday’s win over Uzbekistan was any indication of how they might fare in the final match, the young South Korean side showed off a sparkling offense against the Uzbeks that gave causal viewers the impression that multiple goals were just around the corner. A brace by Kang Sang-Woo and a converted PK by Moon Chang-Jin confirmed the confidence that was brimming from the talented crop of future Taeguk Warriors. Here are some highlights of the match:
To hedge any over-exuberence from his players, coach Lee Kwang-Jong acknowledged a kind of home field advantage for the Iraqis, represented by the host stadium’s closer cultural affinity for a West Asian side. The match is set for Saturday 7:45 am EST / 9:45 pm Korea Time.
Things are not going so swimmingly for the senior Taeguk Warriors. Earlier on Wednesday, they lost a friendly to Australia on home turf by a score of 2-1. The half full Hwaseong Stadium watched as coach Choi Kang-Hee’s side lost for the second time in a row. The glass half full version would have you focus on a Choi’s risk taking with an experimental lineup, giving some younger players some international experience and a chance at cracking into the senior men’s team. The short FIFA window gave a chance for the European based Taeguk Warriors to stay with their clubs and avoid the jetlag. K-Talk listed among the changes Choi made: a new backline as well as some tinkering with the midfield. Old timer Lee Dong-Gook got on the scoreboard with an early goal thanks to a brillant assist by Lee Seung-Gi. While the first half was dominated by the Taeguk Warriors, they weren’t able to capitalize and the Aussies struck back, getting a goal before halftime from Nikita Rukavytsya. Second half, the Taeguk Warriors eventually became unglued, with uncharacteristic poor passing and characteristic disorganized defending. In the end, an 87th minute goal was decided by a K-Leaguer; Robert Cornthwaite, a centerback for the Chunnam Dragons was right at the doorstep to knock in a loose ball that resulted from a free kick netminder Kim Young-Kwang wasn’t able to secure. The backline was standing around, waiting for an off-sides call to come through. Replays showed Cornwaite just a hair off-sides, but just not enough for the linesman to call it that way. With this second loss in a row, not to mention a downward slide in the FIFA ranking by 7 positions, more pressure will be ratcheted up for boss Choi to possibly resign. Adding to a growing sense that the national team is headed in the wrong direction, with Wednesday’s result from a World Cup Qualifying victory in Iran, Uzbekistan has now leapfrogged over South Korea to lead Group A .
The Taeguk Warriors are just a sliver of a goal differential ahead of Iran to hold the runner up position. Let’s look on the bright side: perhaps boss Choi believes struggle defines character. Others may believe that the struggle to qualify for the World Cup may be lessened with a new manager. The Tavern statistician has informed me that since the Uzbekistan match in September, the Taeguk Warriors have scored 3 goals in 3 matches: against Uzbekistan, Iran and Australia. On paper, those countries are FIFA ranked 69th, 44th, and 33rd respectively – and that’s with the new updated November rankings. Previous rankings placed those teams 70th, 58th, and 34th, with Uzbekistan and Iran’s positive ranking momentum as a direct result of South Korea’s hapless performances against them. How the Taeguk Warriors in it’s current state fare against higher ranked teams in Brazil is a question that needs to be asked. World Cup Qualifiers for the Taeguk Warriors pick back up in March 2013 when they are scheduled to play Qatar.
And if the Korean FA is actually considering a new manager, the Tavern’s director of information is telling me that former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is rumored to be ending his sabbatical from coaching soon. Just a hypothetical: the Korean FA make a bid to attain the services of a certain Pep Guardiola. Now before you dismiss this as the ravings of a mad Tavern owner/blogger, this really isn’t as far fetched as it seems. Guus Hindink was already a pedigreed manager when he took over the reins of what would become the most storied South Korean team in history (thus far). He had previously coached Valencia and cobbled a fractured Netherlands side all the way to the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup before taking over Real Madrid for a short spell. He was brought on board in December of 2000 with the Korean FA recognizing it’s teams’ failure to score goals and produce anything close to attractive football. That, and they hadn’t won a single World Cup match previous to 2002. The Korean FA does have it’s preferences: they haven’t secure the services of a foreign manager since Pim Verbeek in 2007, and only 5 out of 68 managers have been non-Koreans. Still, a good manager is a good manager, and there’s any number of clubs or national teams that will kill to secure Pep’s services. For a sabbatical, Guardiola and family is holed up in one of the most cosmopolitan of places: New York City. What with all the hurricanes and apocalyptic floods and power outages in Manhattan in recent days, I can imagine the Korean FA would have no difficulty making an effective pitch about moving to a comparable cosmopolitan city –one that just happens to be dry and with power. But more importantly, in the end this is a football opportunity, and for someone who has managed arguably the greatest Barcelona squad in it’s storied history during his 4 year tenure, you can bet he is looking for “the challenge of doing something new,” as Gabriele Marcotti described his mindset in ESPN FC.
But lest I be accused of having a foreign manager-only approach, Hong Myong-Bo would a cracking good candidate as South Korea’s next manager. He was considered as a replacement manager after Pim Verbeek departed, but instead helmed the U-20 team, leading to the pinnacle of his coaching career last summer: a Bronze medal win against Japan in the 2012 Summer Olympics with a hybrid U-23 Taeguk Warriors team.
We are approaching countdown for Saturday’s games so let’s take a very quick look. All times are listed in US Eastern Standard Time unless noted otherwise. All TV channel networks are listed for the US ; internet streaming should be international.
AFC U-19 Championship Final, South Korea vs. Iran 7:45 am
Germany, Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Augsburg 9:30 a.m. Tv/Internet? Koo Ja-Cheol has virtually restarted his season having just returned to the team from long term injury. He is expected to receive his 2nd start since coming back. Should be an interesting matchup with upstarts Eintracht Frankfurt the surprise promoted team that rocketed up the Bundesliga table early in the season.
Germany, Hamburg vs. Mainz 9:30 a.m. Tv/Internet? Son Heung-Min looks for his 7th goal of the season. He’s had a red hot start to the season, already surpassing his 5 goals from last year.
England, Newcastle vs. Swansea City 10 a.m. foxsoccer2go.com (tape at 4:30 on Fox Soccer). Ki Sung-Yeung is out with an injured hamstring. He received that while tracking back in defense: a sliding tackle in stoppage time that successfully knocked the ball away from a Southampton player deep in Swansea territory. It also successfully hurt. He is expected to return to action, possibly next week.
England, Cardiff City vs. Middlesbrough 10 a.m. beIN Sport VERY EXCITING as this should be the first time US based Tavern goers can see Kim Bo-Kyung‘s Cardiff City team on a US network. A tough fixture as it’s a battle of #2 vs #3 in the English Championship division. Sadly for the Tavern owner, Comcast cable in rural Maryland DOESN’T HAVE THE CHANNEL. We’ve got BeINSport Espanol, which has been fantastic in delivering several key Celta Vigo matches this year, but not the english language version of the network. Enough complaining, enjoy the matches for those in the US that have it. Back to Kimbo, he’s been starting home matches for the Bluebirds as of late and won last week’s Man of the Match against Hull.
England, Bolton vs. Barnsley 10 a.m. Tv/Internet? Lee Chung-Yong hit the reset button and it’s worked. 2 goals in 3 matches; expect the Blue Dragon to start and perhaps score again for Bolton.
England, QPR vs. Southampton 10 a.m. foxsoccer2go.com (tape at 2 on Fox Soccer Plus) It is believed Park Ji-Sung is still out with a knee injury. QPR is in dead last place, 4 points so far. When will Mark Hughes get the boot?
Germany, Werder Bremen vs. Fortuna Duesseldorf 10 a.m. GolTV Is Cha Du-Ri back? He was out of last week’s game, no word on what the absence was about. His career has taken an odd turn of late: rebranded from being a defender to being a forward, a winger and as an attacking midfielder. What will he be on Sunday?
Spain, Celta Vigo vs. Mallorca 10 am TV/Internet?
Park Chu-Young has been tearing it up in practice as of late, this according to the (newly revamped) Rainmaker18.com blog. Since scoring the game winner against Getafe in late September, he’s been in a bit of a scoring rut. In his favor: he was on the cusp of scoring against Real Madrid 3 weeks ago. Not in his favor: that happened 3 weeks ago, he didn’t make an impact against Barcelona and didn’t get on the pitch last week (due to a defense approach after a Cabral red card). Will it now be Park Chu-Young time finally?
England, Fulham vs. Sunderland 11 a.m. Fox Soccer, Fox Deportes The Tavern has given up all hope that Ji Dong-Won will make an appearance for the Blackcats this season; coincidentally most people have given up on Sunderland entirely this season. That is exactly why Ji will make his surprise appearance and score a hat trick against Fulham. The Tavern’s wife is reminding me that it’s 1:51 AM and I may be hallucinating. That said, for real -Ji is strongly linked to an overseas loan to Augsburg – joining fellow Taeguk Warrior Koo Ja-Cheol. That deal, first rumored/reported in Korean media – is yet to be officially certified.
Lastly, we head back to Korea and scratch our collective heads at the Tavern as to why football is playing second fiddle to an American way-past time, baseball. Baseball? Yagu? Seriously? This is in spite of the fact that millions of Koreans were decked in red, jumping up and down, dancing like mad-men (pre-Psy Gangnam Style) with each improbable exciting World Cup advancing win in 2002 by the Taeguk Warriors, not to mention 10 Asian Champions League titles won by domestic K-League teams – the last one earned last week with Ulsan’s decisive 3-0 title victory over Al Alhi at Ulsan’s home stadium. The Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale made a prediction: while the stadium in Ulsan was packed for last Saturday’s final, the following week back in domestic action would see a virtually empty stadium as the team desperately fights back to retain atop 3 finish necessary to compete in next season’s Champions League. Sadly, she will probably be right. There is a real disconnect with love for it’s international soccer stars abroad + it’s Taeguk Warriors – and the downright ambivalence towards it’s vital but poorly attended K-League. Writing for the New York Times, John Duerden observed infamous instances of Korean TV broadcasters simply not broadcasting key K-League and even Asian Champions League matches. When they do broadcast football games, some of them are on tape delay – so that they could air baseball matches live. “Baseball wins out with broadcasters almost every time,” Duerden concluded.
This disconnect has some real implications being played out on a ground level: K-Talk blog witnessed a protest by Suwon fans, angry over alleged ‘discrimination’ against the established soccer team as the city attempts to woo an expansion baseball club. Excessive incentives not offered to Suwon’s football club is at issue. The intersection between the two sports can be keenly felt with the limited time and attention from a divided Korean populace; if the K-League continues to lack support in the stands, it may well have long term consequences for the national team’s future outlook.
More musings on this for another post.
Final final note: BaekHo, the white tiger mascot for the Taeguk Warriors, usually can’t do no wrong. That changed on Wednesday when he ran out onto the pitch to hi-five Lee Dong-Gook and company after they scored against Australia. I could be dead wrong, but don’t mascots usually stay exclusively on the sidelines or in the stands doing stunts? Baek-Ho, meet me at skype camera 1. WHAT THE F$@# dude – mascots DO NOT go onto the pitch in an international match. I don’t care if it was a friendly … wait, how many countries have official mascots? Does England? Now who would that be – John Terry? No no no, you are lucky that South Korea even HAS a mascot. You want to keep your job -don’t go on the pitch and mug the camera for a hi-five. You are a cultural product for the Korean FA to sell some plush dolls to kids. Who knows, you may have even jinxed the Taeguk Warriors from winning the match against the Aussies. Ok, please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I don’t like making mascots cry. Mein Hamneeda. You didn’t cause them to lose on Wednesday. You were on the pitch, but you didn’t make them lose. Wipe those tears and just stay off the pitch, and we’re good here, ok?
Right, before anything else happens, I am going to sleep. Goodnight!