South Korea’s AFC Asian Cup So Far: Pros/Cons, Semifinal vs Jordan Preview, and Comments on Iran vs. Japan + Jesse Lingard to FC Seoul

What a journey our team has been on. Poor play and frustration all around yet somehow we made it this far already, thanks to moments of individual brilliance, incredible tenacity and stamina leading to 90+’ stoppage time goals in our last 4 (out of 5) games, and astute substitutions from Jurgen Klinsmann. Let’s deconstruct elements of our campaign so far and preview our rematch against Jordan in the semifinals. I will also say a few quick words about the Iran vs Japan match since everyone’s talking about it in Korean media. And finally, I have to comment on absolutely groundbreaking news that Jesse Lingard is about to move to FC Seoul – something so exciting and monumental for the K League would normally warrant its own post, but as details are a bit scant right now I will addend it here.

A defense of Jurgen Klinsmann:

Klinsmann has, understandably, gotten a lot of criticism in the media, because in the group stages he would stick to a system that has clear weaknesses with seemingly no intention to fix those weaknesses. It’s one thing if you don’t get the tactics right from the get-go, but it’s another thing if you do the same thing three times in a row and continuously concede from very similar patterns. But unlike Paulo Bento, Klinsmann seems to consistently make the right subs at the right time. I’ve gone into detail on these substitutions after each matchday so I won’t repeat them here, so this time let me go into detail three subs against Australia that I thought were really great: Lee Jae Sung replacing Cho Gue Sung, Yang Hyun Jun replacing Kim Tae Hwan, and Park Jin Seop replacing Park Yong Woo.

Yang Hyun Jun’s entrance was definitely the most interesting substitution in our tournament so far. The young Celtic winger, having just made his move to Europe this past summer, was a surprise inclusion in the squad to begin with, let alone being subbed in to play right back. But there was logic to the madness – Australia had just subbed on Jordan Bos for Craig Goodwin in LW. Bos is a LB by trade, and at the time we were carrying most of the momentum. We had also deployed Lee Kang In, Son Heung Min, and Lee Jae Sung on the left side, leaving a ton of space for Kim Tae Hwan (playing LKI on the left is something we do a lot late in the game when we are chasing a goal thanks to his crossing ability). But Kim Tae Hwan is a RB, not a dribbling or attacking RW. He can overlap when Lee Kang In cuts inside, but he can’t beat a LB one v one. So in retrospect YHJ was the perfect impact sub to attack the relatively empty right wing (since our team focused on the left side) and their relatively isolated left-back. Bos (actually a left back) didn’t venture up the pitch much and Park Yong Woo/Park Jin Seop did well covering the space left by Yang Hyun Jun where our RB normally would be, so YHJ was free to mostly attack, and he was usually very effective against Bos and Behich. The crosses he put up were excellent and nearly led to goals.

Cho Gue Sung making way for Lee Jae Sung was also very effective – because Cho Gue Sung himself just wasn’t. Everyone knows that Australia’s backline is super strong and tall (Souttar is 2m in height), but slow. So on one hand you could try fighting like for like with Cho Gue Sung, but on the other hand you could counter this with speedy guys who are quick on their feet (HHC, SHM, Lee Jae Sung, etc). As it turned out, Cho was more often than not losing duels against the CBs, and just like in prior games, he would be fed through passes to chase – which is absolutely not his strong suit (I’ve talked about how ineffective this is ad nauseam in prior match recaps). In hindsight, it would’ve been better to put SHM or HHC up top. And that’s exactly what Klinsmann did in the 70th minute or so. Their CBs found it much harder to deal with HHC’s and LJS’s runs. They dealt with crosses to the now CF HHC no problem of course (not sure why we tried so many of those), but at the end of the day we found that attacking an area of weakness, not fighting like for like, was the way to go. I think this shows that Cho is more effective as a super sub rather than a starter (like his effectiveness vs Saudi Arabia) – but more on that later.

The Park Jin Seop substitution was a bit of a minor one compared to above, but putting a third CB who can also play DM on for Park Yong Woo was a great idea when Harry Souttar started playing a more advanced role – PJS surprisingly won a lot of aerial duels against him when PYW couldn’t.

So if nothing else let’s at least give Klinsmann credit when credit’s due. Time and time again (every single game so far except the Bahrain game since that’s the only game where we held a lead at 90 minutes) Klinsmann makes the right subs at the right time to eventually get the W. He is good at reading the game and figuring out what we could do better / what weaknesses we can exploit. I also ask that we continue to support our team rather than hoping for an early exit to give us an excuse to sack Klinsmann (seriously let’s not do that please).

Our mentality is ironclad:

Have we ever seen a KNT squad so motivated and in Klinsmann’s words, so “hungry” for victory? Have we ever seen our team this persistent, to the point where they run like crazy and eventually do get the late equalizer and eventually the win? I was genuinely shocked that against Australia, WE were the ones who seemed to have more energy and stamina at the final whistle. We were the ones who played extra time the match before and had <72 hours of rest compared to Australia’s >120, but somehow we seemed less exhausted than them. Remember at the end of the second half of extra time when Seol Young Woo chased down the opposing right winger, made a tackle, recovered the ball, and literally ran all the way over to the touchline? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this degree of stamina in our team before. It’s actually really inspirational to watch.

If I had to hypothesize why this is the case I’d suspect it’s 1) Klinsmann’s training methods (he is known for being extremely fitness-oriented) and 2) Son Heung Min’s leadership. There are viral videos of Son’s words and his actions after matches that show what a real stand out guy he is, and it’s clear that every player is motivated by SHM to win this thing. They all say in media, “Son said ___” or “we truly have one mind, one goal” that kind of thing. Very inspirational to see such positivity within the players this time around. Oh and of course you can’t deny that Klinsmann is a fantastic speaker/orator/motivator. Say what you want about his ability as a manager, but he is very good at the above.

Does our system work?

In short, no. In my Asian Cup preview I discussed in detail Korea’s attacking setup. Perhaps due to Hwang Hee Chan’s absence, and definitely due to some poor tactical decisions by Klinsmann, something just doesn’t click in the attack, so we rely too much on individual brilliance which has somehow bailed us out every time. But Klinsmann does make the right subs, and I must say, Klinsmann has been making the right tweaks even to the starting XI as well. Yes, we are still not at the level that we should be at, and yes we should be scoring more goals from open play with the quality we have in this roster, but the RO16 was a small improvement from the group stage, and the RO8 was a small improvement from the RO16, particularly in terms of player positioning, building up from the back, and perhaps even resisting a press. We still have a long way to go in terms of creating chances and actually burying a game when we can (we missed SO many easy chances against Saudi Arabia and Australia it’s ridiculous), but I do think we will see a slow but steady positive trajectory as the tournament progresses.

We have lots of reflection to do and improvements to make post-Asian Cup, but winning seems within reach.

It really does seem like we are inching closer to actually winning the Asian Cup for once. Our semifinal opponent is Jordan – a very quality team in the AFC, but on paper easier than Qatar or Iran – and we’ve played them before which is a huge boost (more on that below). We even get an extra day of preparation prior to the final IF we win since we play on 2/6 and Iran/Qatar play on 2/7 ahead of the final on 2/10. And Qatar is nowhere near the quality they were in the 2019 Asian Cup when we lost to them, though the home advantage and favorable referee calls will surely be a thorn in our side if we play them. If we play Iran… they are a stronger team than Qatar on paper and we have NEVER beaten Iran comfortably (we have a losing record to them). Either way, with such quality in our squad, such unified mentality, perhaps this year is the year. I’m not getting my hopes up because for some reason the Asian Cup always eludes us, but who knows. There’s a first for everything.

Irrelevant for this post, but can I continue on with this optimism train for just a bit longer?

The future looks so bright for us. We have Kwon Hyeok Kyu who is absolutely bossing it on the pitch on loan to St. Mirren. We may FINALLY, FINALLY have a quality defensive midfielder to call upon for the first time since… 2002? I’m not joking when I say that I look forward to watching KHK more than any other of our footballers abroad – I love watching defensive midfielders play and it’s such an important position that we’ve always been weaker in. Then in the fullback positions we have Seol Young Woo of course but also young up and coming fullbacks like Hwang Jae Won and his junior RB at Daegu FC Yoo Ji Woon who recently transferred to FK Cukaricki in Serbia (isn’t it funny that we have a Korean player at each of Serbia’s top 4 teams?). Hwang Jae Won I really hope can move to Europe soon – never before have we seen such an exciting fullback prospect. And of course, we will undoubtedly have a VERY strong CB line soon with Midtjylland’s Lee Han Beom and Brentford’s Kim Ji Soo likely to partner up with Kim Min Jae. Attacking talent will always be there too. Bae Jun Ho has been particularly impressive recently, emerging as Stoke City’s ace at just age 20. He absolutely deserves a callup the next round of friendlies. We will only get better and better regardless of the result.

Korea vs Jordan Round 2 Preview:

I’ve already previewed the type of team Jordan is here, also put out a detailed match recap as well. A bit of team news: Kim Min Jae is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, which is huge considering that he single handedly stopped Al-Tamari on multiple occasions. But Jordan will also be missing a key defender in Al-Ajalin, as well as an attacker Ali Olwan. Interestingly, Kim Min Jae’s absence may indicate that our entire backline from the GK to the 4 defenders will come from Ulsan Hyundai (now Ulsan HD). Jo Hyun Woo, Seol Young Woo, Kim Young Kwon, Jung Seung Hyeon, and Kim Tae Hwan – that’s literally the K League champions Ulsan’s backline. Though there may be a chance one of the FBs may be rested in favor of Kim Jin Su, especially after playing two extra time matches prior to this one.

Advantages for us: we have played Jordan before. This should, in theory, benefit us more than it benefits them. You guys know how in football, single matches can go in either direction, but averaged over many meetings, a trend emerges? Or how in a league format yes the top teams may lose here or there but on average they win the most? So it stands to reason that in our second time facing Jordan, we should have the resources and the ability – as the better team on paper – to beat them properly this time. In other words, upsets don’t happen twice. We also have Hwang Hee Chan back, which is huge.

The disadvantage: no Kim Min Jae. That is also huge. I trust Kim Young Kwon and Seol Young Woo (I’d tip SYW over Kim Jin Su in this case) can take care of Al Tamari, but the loss of Kim Min Jae is a monumental one. I guess Jordan never played extra time, but I think we still have the quality and the depth to beat them. On paper, even our “B team” should be capable of securing a win. But of course we have no right to say that after a 2-2 draw in the group stage.

What I want to see this time:

First, Cho Gue Sung should be coming off the bench rather than being in the starting XI. At this point, it is evidently clear that he is not in top form and that he is best suited as someone who can come off the bench when we are chasing a goal and we need a plan B (crosses). Remember that in the group stage match, Jordan played very offensively against us and have quality attacking players. They held a high backline, pressed us hard, and won like 90% of aerial and ground duels against us (ok that may be an exaggeration but I bet I’m not far off). They were clearly aware that we make errors when building out from the back too, and now that problem is only going to get worse because Kim Min Jae is out. There’s no question they will do what worked SO well last time, ESPECIALLY in the absence of KMJ – relentlessly press our midfield and defensive line.

So aside from hoping that we don’t crumple to their attack, and absolutely making sure that our DM, regardless of whether it’s PYW or PJS, properly shields our defense, what else can we do? Exploit the high line that comes with pressing our back line so hard of course. Hwang Hee Chan and Son Heung Min are world class at making runs behind the defense. In the first match, Cho Gue Sung was the higher up CF compared to Son Heung Min, who often dropped deeper to help in midfield, and as I’ve stated numerous times, CGS is not the kind of guy you want to be chasing through balls behind a high backline. We saw him being ineffective doing this against Jordan and against Australia too. That job is best performed, and the backline best exploited, by SHM or HHC.

I strongly believe that we must play a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1, or a 4-4-2 with the same personnel and done correctly (explained more later, but you guys probably know what I mean already, I’ve discussed it so often). Something like

——————- SHM/HHC ————
– SHM/HHC – LJS/HHS —- HIB —– LKI
——————– PJS/PYW
— SYW —- KYK ———— JSH —- KTH

Whoever starts on the left (SHM/HHC) would of course be more advanced, LKI would drift more inward and help in the midfield buildup, and we would REALLY need the DM and CMs to be on their A game to help out in packing the midfield and driving the ball upfield to fight the press. Or we could just long ball into space for either SHM and/or HHC to run into. And if we still are level or trailing, we would put in Cho Gue Sung and put Lee Kang In on the left.

You could also morph that lineup into a 4-4-2 of HHC and SHM up top, the same midfield personnel just rotated, and the same backline. Remember – a 4-4-2 itself is fine if executed well, it just can’t be a crazy all out attack that leaves way too much space in the middle completely empty. Speaking of which we of course need to fix the midfield hole which was our biggest Achilles’ heel in the group stages. I’ve talked about this issue pretty much every article so I’m not going to go into it any further, but fortunately, Klinsmann is aware of this – you can tell through his substitutions. So the absolute worst case would be to do the exact same thing we did against Jordan in the group stage. If that happens my assessment of Klinsmann would tank to rock bottom. Surely he has learned his lesson since then (and evidence suggests that he has).

In an ideal world we could field a lineup of Jeong Woo Young, Oh Hyeon Gyu, Yang Hyun Jun – Hong Hyeon Seok, Park Jin Seop, Lee Soon Min – Ulsan Hyundai backline. These guys are quality and should be able to win on paper. But alas, we need all the firepower we can muster – because even with our first team, it turns out we can dominate the entire first half and register 0 shots on target (which was the case vs Australia).

Finally, can our defense please focus? We lost our marker against Australia, conceding to LITERALLY the only attacking pattern Australia knows (wide –> cross –> shoot). We lost a runner against Saudi Arabia (although admittedly that one was lucky on their end and hard to block). We completely lost our marker against Jordan’s second goal and left him in acres of space to shoot. We did the same against Malaysia several times… yeah it’s a real problem. In the absence of Kim Min Jae I am very worried that this will be an even bigger issue.

For reference: our highlights against Jordan the first time around

The shockingly simple way that any team can beat Japan:

I don’t want to harp on Japan’s loss too much when we still have a long way to go ourselves and when the Japanese players themselves are so down – don’t forget that in Europe the Japanese and Korean footballers are often very close friends and help each other out a lot. I would never direct any negativity or gloating towards the athletes themselves who I respect very much and it makes me a little uncomfortable even putting this in a Tavern post, but 1) everyone in the Korean media is talking about this and 2) there are toxic fans who think Japan is infallible and some truly ignorant commentators covering the Asian Cup not knowing anything basic about Asian history but worshipping Japan for their friendly match results. So with these factors in mind, I’ll justify commenting briefly about the Iran v Japan game in this post.

As the title of this section implies, getting the better of Japan is easy. You don’t try to control the game like Germany or Spain – you’re gonna get counterattacked and probably lose. Instead, you look towards to the tried and true Korean method of beating Japan, something that worked for us for decades – 뻥축구, literally translated as “long kick football.” It often gets a bad rap in Korean media as a more “basic” or “simplistic” way of playing, but during a time when Japan was routinely beating us 3-0 in friendlies and the East Asian Cup (the one where you only play domestic players not European based players), we beat them by playing this style through Kim Shin Wook, a 1.96m tall classic target man. And in this game Kim Shin Wook – a fairly limited player aside from his insane heigh – scored a hattrick. I seriously didn’t think I’d ever see the Wookie score a hat trick in my life. But then he did against Japan. And in every single game Japan played this Asian Cup this weakness reared its head for all the world to see.

Against Iran, I thought it was so ironic how Japan would kick the ball around 15-20 times with intricate passing and movement between players, and after all that they may or may not get a good chance out of it. Iran on the other hand literally just had to lob the ball forward, have someone inevitably win the second ball, then cross – in just three moves they would get a good chance. SO simple – sometimes simplicity is best, perhaps? Turns out that if you’re an attacker facing Japan, all you have to do is have your back against them and just fight it out physically – they can’t do much against physicality. To all the toxic fans who keep saying Itakura Ko and Tomiyasu Takehiro are better than Kim Min Jae: I said it before and I’ll say it with definitive proof – that’s just straight up delusional. They’re very good, but they’re not world class Kim Min Jae good.

I wrote this as update to my “Why Korea Can and Will Beat Japan to win the Asian Cup” post which initially published before the tournament started:

How did Iraq pull it off? Looking at the highlights the answer is really simple – Japan still SUCKS physically. They literally played 뻥축구 to Aymen Hussein and he won every aerial duel. They even struggled really hard against Vietnam’s Đình Bắc who’s only 5 foot 10. I was totally wrong about the Japanese CBs being better in the air now (there’s a bit on that below where I hypothesized that with the emergence of Tomiyasu and especially Itakura, they would be better physically and aerially but it turns out that Itakura is shockingly weak). It turns out Taniguchi, Itakura, Sugawara, and Ito, even though they’re tall, still suck at the physical aspect of the game. Also wow Zion Suzuki is a massive black hole for Japan. Every single game he makes an error that costs them a goal. Thank god we have really good GK depth (our third GK Song BK is one of the best in the J League and Japanese teams routinely play Korean goalkeepers). So it turns out that the formula for beating Japan is shockingly simple – hoof the ball up forward, get a tall/physical guy to win the ball, drop it down to the midfield where your more physically commanding guys will win 90% of duels, and shoot at or cross towards Suzuki for an error to come out. Iraq truly shut down Japan with Japan only mustering 2 shots on target with some very impressive defensive cohesion and forcing Japan to just play around their defensive in the typical U shape a la Barcelona. Remember that one time we beat Japan 4-1 with Kim Shin Wook scoring a hat trick? Looks like some things never change.

In that post I also went over how Japan has incredible depth of good players to the point where they can field a B team thats minimally weaker than their A team, but has zero star power, no ace who can turn a game around by seizing the decisive moments. Son Heung Min essentially single handedly saved us against Australia, and Lee Kang In saved us against Bahrain. Kim Min Jae saved us against Jordan. They have 20+ good players – we have a few WORLD CLASS players. And that showed against Iran, with a lot of Japanese media outlets bemoaning how the team lacks a Son Heung Min. Oh and I’m not even gonna get started on their goalkeeping troubles.

Jesse Lingard to FC Seoul!!!!!

I was shocked when I first heard the news and still kind of am. The K League is relatively underfunded compared to say Japan or China, and we have never been able to attract big big names from abroad whereas the J League gets guys like Andres Iniesta. This move will undoubtedly elevate the K League on the world stage to some degree, benefit the league’s attendance numbers, and hopefully help the K League attract more superstars in the future. I still remember when Jesse Lingard was coming through the ranks at Manchester United and was starting to get compared to Park Ji Sung, and I’m sure many Korean fans as well. He will be a very popular figure in Korea that’s for sure, and I’m so happy he chose FC Seoul as his next destination in his footballing journey on a 2+1 year contract. I now consider myself a fan of his (I recently just started following all his social media too). Why he chose Korea over much richer leagues e.g. Saudi Arabia or Turkey isn’t 100% certain but there are rumors that it may be business related (he has his clothing brand JLingz and is also involved in esports as well).

This is absolutely breaking news that deserves its own post, but there just isn’t enough information at the moment to warrant its own post. He hasn’t even officially signed yet, but he is in Korea right now. So we will be posting more on this later. But man am I excited to see Lingard in action in the K League. The 2024 season is going to be a historic one – and I am willing to bet Lingard will tear up the league and top the scoring/assist charts.

Final thoughts:

The long awaited trophy is finally within reach, and we absolutely have the means to achieve it. We just need to continue improving our game and maintaining our mentality. As fans, let’s stay positive and cheer on our team until the end. No more of this “I hope we lose now so Klinsmann gets fired” bs. We can win this.

About Jinseok 259 Articles
Diehard Korean football fan. https://www.taegukwarriors.com/jinseoks-story/

11 Comments

  1. Few of their starters are out including tamari. I’ll go 4-3-3 with this lineup:

    Heechan / Son / LKI
    LJS / PJS / HIB
    SYW / KYK / JSH / KTH

  2. LFG!!!!

    One thing I did want to mention is just how bad Lee Ki Je was in the Jordan game. Al Tamari was cooking him and he didn’t even hustle.

    Having Hwang Hee Chan is going to be huge, our unsung hero.

    Let’s score early and have a rested Kim Min Jae for the final

  3. Best writeup of the KNT and Jordan match preview in the universe. Thanks also for the insight on how to beat the Japanese national team. I think our defense would have their hands full with Japan’s nifty passing in the final third, though.

    • thank you for your kind words. I agree with you, and I think Iran is better suited for beating Japan in general than we are. Especially since Cho Gue Sung is so off form right now. Defensively tighter and stronger physically. But I still know we have what it takes to beat them and while a part of me winces at the prospect of losing to Japan in the finals, it would’ve made my 2024 to beat them in the Asian Cup final

  4. Klinsmann is not good. Even the commenators I was listening to via Paramount+ were like, (I paraphrase) “It seemed like Klinsmann didn’t have any ideas to solve Jordan, and it seemed like he still couldn’t figure out who S. Korea was, which you can’t be in that situation when you’re already in the semifinals.” So basically, they’re imply that he was lacking identity and ideas. Ugh. Klinsmanns is like the least German coach there is. Feels like lot of emotions and gut feelings and not much well thought out plans. But… most of us who are familiar with Klinsmann could have told the KFA that. SMH.

  5. I guess they thought they won the final when they got past Australia in QF and saw Japan lost ㅠㅠ easily our worst loss since Algeria in 2014

  6. South Korea’s squad and German coach didn’t think Jordan may play like that and can pull off an stunning win, never did Japan side Iran can like that after seeing they analyzed their play with Syria and losing their best player. And that’s the beauty of football compared to any other sport in the world. Unpredictability!

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