Tactics Talk: Beating Greece

Given the recent love I got about my analysis, I guess I should put out another tactics piece. So, here a bit about how I (an armchair regista) would instruct the team to play the Greeks!

First off some notes about Greece.

  • Greece is not a possession-based team, so Korea should prepare a Plan A where they dominate possession (in the 60-40 range I would say). In Greece’s last seven matches they had the following possession: 38-48-65-44-58-50-46. And this would be against ‘giants’ like Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Latvia, and Slovakia (apologies to fans of those nations).
  • Greece will happily score a goal and then sit on that lead.
  • Greece is what I will describe as, opportunistic scorers. Meaning they will rarely create any flowing moves of brilliance, but will take their chances well should the defense slip up or give up a number of set pieces.

Generally speaking, Korea should press high, something Hong is a fan of. The key though is that the pressing must be coordinated. Something that Barca and now Bayern do extremely well. It doesn’t work if the lone striker is running all over the place trying to close off the center backs, if no one in the midfield is closing down. Essentially the whole team, short of the two center backs, must step up and close down their area. The idea is to force Greece into the longer passes downfield where the defense has the numbers to collect the ball in better positions.

football formations

In the above diagram you can see a rough idea of how the team will be responsible for certain areas/players. The front three of Park Chu-Young, Son Heung-Min, and Lee Chung-Yong must press the back line of Greece. The midfield three of Koo Ja-Cheol, Ki Sung-Yueng, and Han Kook-Young, along with the two fullbacks (Kim Jin-Su and Lee Yong) press Greece’s midfield three and wider forwards. The two centerbacks, Hong Jeong-Ho and Kim Young-Gwon keep tabs on the Greece center forward. The idea is not to let the Greek players settle on the ball where they can pick up their heads and look for an easy pass. Few of the Greek players are comfortable on the ball, under pressure, so unsettling them should be the key. The most important job will fall to Koo Ja-Cheol, who will need to sit on Greece’s deep central midfielder, likely Giorgos Karagounis or Kostas Katsouranis. With the fulcrum of their team constantly under pressure, Greece will likely resort to long balls towards Giorgios Samaras.

Defending the long ball
football formations

In diagram 2, we look at a theoretical response to a long ball played to Giorgio Samaras. Lee Yong likely won’t win too many aerial duels with Samaras, so the important thing will be to close off the (easy) passing outlets, and again, to pressure. Lee Yong concedes the duel, but sticks close to Samaras, not allowing him space to control and turn. Hong Jeong-Ho, the near center back, shields the knock-on or through ball towards the center forward. Kim Seung-Gyu is ready to sprint off his line as well. Han Kook-Young comes from his midfield position, as does Lee Chung-Yong to press and not allow Samaras an easy hold up job (they also deny simple passing lines to the fullback or center midfielder). On the far side, Kim Jin-Su is ready to deny the space for Salpingidis to run into.

Greece breaks the press
football formations

Should Greece break through the press and get possession in the Korea half, Korea should, as is the norm, drop into a 4-4-2 shape. The change I would advocate is for Koo Ja-Cheol to drop a deeper and his left, thus allowing Son Heung-Min, the team’s greatest counterattacking threat to stay higher. This would ask a lot of Koo, but his stamina and workrate would allow for it. The other reason for this is that the presence of two quick attackers may force Greece to keep more players back and not commit as many to their attack.

The key defensive thing will be communication amongst the backline (and possibly Han Kook-Young). Both Samaras and Salpingidis will pinch in more centrally in this case, so Hong and Kim will need to know who they are picking up and where the three Greek attackers are.

Counterattacking from deep
football formations

If Korea counters from deep in their half, speed of thought and action will be key. And this will fall to Ki. This is an area where I’ve been critical of Ki in the past as he seems to have just one speed (or he only uses one speed). Greece is very strong defensively, so hitting them in their transition will be an important tool. The attacking move is based on how Son and Park make their runs. The first move, which I will call a ‘mirror run’, has Son and Park making similar runs. The difference is that Son makes his run from a little deeper and goes wider. Park on the other hand starts higher and goes more vertical. The idea is to force the centerbacks apart and open space in the middle. This move also opens space on the flanks for the wide midfielder to exploit (opposite to the direction of the runs). I diagrammed the runs to go to the left to both exploit Son’s natural instinct to cut in from the left, and to allow Lee Chung-Yong, the natural wide player, space to go into. Finally, Koo Ja-Cheol is allowed to run from deep into a central attacking position, something he excels at.

The second run (in red) has Park and Son make opposite direction runs. This maximizes the space in the middle and offers two options. One is that again Koo and Lee can run into the space, and Ki can pass it too them with balls over the top. The second option is that, should the Greek midfielders drop deep or stay deeper, Ki will have space to dribble up the middle and then play a defense splitting pass or take a shot from distance.

Counterattacking from midfield
football formations

Should Korea keep Greece from getting deep into our half (which they largely should). Korea’s counter should look a bit different, and be more patient. Greece will already be set up deep, so long passes will be pointless. Ki will need to be his usual self, and just pass-and-receive to keep the ball moving and Greece on the back foot. This is the trickiest part, and there isn’t a simple way to diagram this or instruct players how to break down compact defenses. Greece will eventually get 10 men behind the ball, and Korea will need to be patient and creative in breaking them down. Movement will be key as well as aggression.

This is were Park Chu-Young should offer something that Kim Shin-Wook cannot. That is movement off the ball. Park will need to be constantly moving, in and out of the centerbacks, trying to find a moment when they aren’t watching him or give him a meter of space to work in. Son Heung-Min will also need to be on the move, and not just sitting on the touchline waiting for the ball. Son will also need to be more aggressive than he usually, or at least lately, is. Son will need to run and dribble at defenders to either shoot, make space for others, or draw fouls.

The third way is of course, change of pace. Something that Korea is not very good at. The midfielders must realize that you cannot tiki-taka your way into the goal. It doesn’t work. See Barcelona’s losses to Chelsea and Inter. There has to be a moment when you up the tempo or change the attack. You can pass it around outside the box, but once you get close it has to be faster. Give and go, one-twos, add your jazz word here. You can’t beat international sides in second gear.

The wild Card: Set Pieces
Set pieces will be a challenge, so if possible (duh moment coming up) Korea should avoid conceding them. Greece is, for me, more dangerous from set pieces than from open play. Korea won’t be able to match up individually with Greece in set pieces, so I suppose an aggressive zonal marking system would be best. One where players are instructed to attack the ball coming into their zone (rather than waiting for it to come to their head).


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


  1. Problem is, even,with the national team SHM doesnt stay up and counter. Rather he drops deep and defends when,he should be staying up right by the CBs

  2. Jae, just know that I was the first to give you props. Dropping my mike… now. See how I made your skill about me? 😉

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