Tactics Talk: South Korea vs Ghana

In this ‘Tactics Talk’ post, we’ll breakdown Ghana’s four goals.

Goal 1 – Jordan Ayew 11′

Individual errors are the big culprit here. Kim Chang-Soo’s back pass is horrible, but the team doesn’t do very well to recover as there is time for them to do so.

ghana goal 0aAlright, the back pass. Yes, it was poor. Underweight and put in a dangerous position. But strangely, it looks like Kwak Tae-Hwi takes a step backwards just as Kim Chang-Soo passes the ball. This little hesitation by Kwak as he tries to recover allows Asamoah Gyan time to step in and steal the ball.

ghana goal 0bAnd yet, the team has time to recover the situation. Kwak is already behind the ball, and Kim Young-Gwon is in a semi-decent covering position.

ghana goal 0cA few seconds later, and the pass from Gyan has found the run of Andre Ayew. Kim Young-Gwon does the correct thing by going to the near post which is where Ayew takes the ball. Yoon Suk-Young does the correct thing by going to the far post to defend.

ghana goal 1Here we can get a good view of the moment right before the pass. And from this view there is little danger. Yoon Suk-Young has gotten himself between the goal/ball and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Jung Sung-Ryong is in a good position to defend the near post, and Kim Young-Gwon is blocking the shot to the far post. The bigger problem is the group of three in the middle. That would be Kim Chang-Soo, Han Kook-Young, and Ki Sung-Yueng. I’ve written quite a bit about Korea’s positional indiscipline, and this would seem to be yet another example of it. The players seemingly have panicked (when it wasn’t needed) and just run for the ball.

ghana goal 1bThe result is that there is no one to cover/pick up the ball, once Ayew’s pass eludes everyone (including it’s intended target KPB). Ultimately, the team is a little unfortunate as the shot takes a deflection off of Ki Sung-Yueng and goes over Jung Sung-Ryong. Ultimately, a series of individual errors leads to the chance: poor back pass (Kim CS), poor reading of the pass (Kwak TH), and poor defensive positioning (Ki SY and Han KY).

Goal 2 – Asamoah Gyan 44′

Again, individual errors cost the team. Was there a foul on Kwak Tae-Hwi? Didn’t look like it to me. But once Kwak went down and Gyan got the ball, it was all about the striker’s class. Kim Young-Gwon did as well as he could as if he went for the ball and missed he could have, A) gotten sent off and/or B) made the chance even easier for Gyan (one-on-one with keeper).ghana goal 2Maybe Jung Sung-Ryong could be a step to the left? Hard to say (I’ve never really been a keeper), but on the face of things it’s hard to fault him too much. Gyan has the ball in a central position, so Jung too must be in a relatively central position.

Goal 3 – Jordan Ayew 53′

This goal is the result of a poor defensive job by Korea as a whole. Individually there are errors, mainly from the midfield in Han Kook-Young, Ki Sung-Yueng, and Son Heung-Min. The first is too aggressive in his pursuit, the second takes a poor covering position, and the third fails to track back. Again, we’ll go move-by-move to see how it unfolds.

ghana goal 3aIt starts with (I believe) Park Chu-Young losing the ball just outside the Ghana box. It and of itself, it’s not a huge issue, as it’s a fairly common occurrence. A potentially more significant issue is the big space between the forward line and the deeper midfield line. By visual approximation, it looks like there’s at least 15 yards between those two lines. More than enough space for Ghana to control the ball, look up, and find a forward pass.

ghana goal 3bIronically (slightly) though, Ghana picks a poor pass, and Korea presses it back towards the Ghana box (not shown). But even with this extra time Korea has not gotten into a good defensive shape. You can see how stretched the midfield is with Son (the highest point at the middle-left) about15+ yards away from Ki (the lowest point at middle-right). Additionally there is quite a lot of space between Ki and Han Kook-Young, and it’s through this space that the pass goes through.

ghana goal 3cAfter a defensive challenge, the ball ends up heading out to the Ghana left. The more important thing in this image is Korea’s terrible shape. Hong Jeong-Ho has gone very far forward in an attempt to challenge for the ball. Was it necessary? Not really, and as a result the team’s shape is very poor.

ghana goal 3dSurprisingly Ghana does not take the open pass into lots of space (vacated by Hong Jeong-Ho), and the player instead opts to dribble before switching the play to the right.

ghana goal 3eGhana’s decision to switch the play has allowed Korea some time (nine seconds since the prior image) to get some semblance of shape. However, there is a large space on the left for the player to aim for (which he does). This comes from the switch between Lee Yong and Han Kook-Young. If you look back at the earlier image (image 4) you would see that Lee Yong had stepped up to challenge the Ghana player on the ball. Han Kook-Young raced back to fill that hole. Here they are in the process of switching back to their normal positions.

ghana goal 3fThe ball has arrived on the left, and Lee Yong is there to challenge. Unfortunately, he is easily beaten and the Ghana attacker moves into a dangerous position just outside the box. This prompts the Korean players to react (the blue arrows). Four player converge on the ball carrier in an attempt to stop him. But before any of them can reach him and do anything, he simply lays it back. The player in the blue circle is Son Heung-Min who has not properly tracked back. Son should be a further 7-8 yards deeper in Korea’s half.

ghana goal 3gHere we can see the result of Korea’s overaggressive convergence on the ball. A huge space has opened up in the middle-right of Korea’s defense. Ki Sung-Yueng (just outside the arc) has gone too far, and Son Heung-Min (bottom-left) has not come back.

ghana goal 3hKi attempts to get back in position, but it is too late. Ayew gets his shot cleanly away with plenty of time. Could Jung have saved this one? Possibly, but again it’d be harsh (in my opinion) to really criticize him for it. Both centerbacks are right in between him and the ball, so he probably picks it up a bit late. Plus, it looked to me like it may have taken a small deflection on the way through, possibly altering the flight of the ball.

Goal 4 – Jordan Ayew 89′

ghana goal 4aIn this match, Hong Myeong-Bo instructed the team to be more aggressive on defense, which translated to pressing higher and harder up the pitch. When goal 4 came around Hong had switched the team to a 4-1-4-1 formation. In image 1 you can see the midfield four and Lee Keun-Ho as the lone striker. I’m not sure what Hong was trying to accomplish at this point in the game, still having his players press high up. Lee Keun-Ho obviously can’t press the whole defense on his own, so it doesn’t do much (unless the point is to allow the rest of the team to rest a bit and reset).

ghana goal 4bA few seconds later, and we once again see problems with Korea’s defensive shape, this time from the midfield. Here we can see the shape is lost (or badly bent) and the spacing is poor. What happened (between images) is the Ghana player started to dribble. Ki Sung-Yueng stepped up to challenge, but was easily beaten. As a result Ji Dong-Won dropped deeper to cover and Kim Bo-Kyung shifted to cover as well. The latter two didn’t really need to move as Han Kook-Young was there to cover anyway, but an unfamiliarity with the system may the reason. Because of the shift, there is lots of space down the flank, which is where the pass goes.

ghana goal 4dIn image 3 we start to see the stretching of the defensive lines again. Kim Bo-Kyung is racing back which has stretched the midfield line. Park Joo-Ho, in an attempt to cover for Kim Bo-Kyung, has stepped up which is stretching the back line. It also leaves space for the runner to make (and stay onside).

ghana goal 4eImage 4 is really the last relevant picture. The midfield defensive line is completely gone. It wasn’t a problem with this goal, but it’s a problem in theory. The defensive line is stretched too, but that was largely unavoidable (I suppose if the unit was a well-greased machine Lee Yong could have moved up to cover the attacker while Hong Jeong-Ho moved forward to cover the space).

ghana goal 4fThe final image shows the goal being scored. This image though does not (because it simply can’t) show the two issues. The first being that Kim Young-Gwon does nothing to prevent the cross from coming in, and the second being that Hong Jeong-Ho does not fully track the ball. Why does Kim Young-Gwon not try and block the cross? Possibly fatigue? I’m not sure. Why does Hong Jeong-Ho not track the runner? Possibly some lingering pain (which he says he has) from his injury? Possibly thinks Jung Sung-Ryong will get the ball? Possibly forgets that Ayew has made the blind-side run? Again, I can’t say for certain, but those two ultimately allowed the goal.

Goal conclusions

Of the four conceded, goal number three is the only one that really concerns me. While there are issues with the others (which we will discuss in a bit), goal three is the one that really shows some defensive issues.

Ghana’s general strategy shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. They’re a direct side who is happy to play on the break. Hong’s decision to have his players press aggressively on defense kind of plays into their hands. Counterpressing can be an effective strategy, but managers and players need to be intelligent on when to use it, and when they need to get back into an organized, disciplined, and compact shape. You could see in the frame-by-frame how Ghana took advantage of the spaces opened up by Korean players moving out of position, whether to press or to cover someone who is pressing.

I’ve mentioned this several times already, but one of my main concerns about Han Kook-Young is his overaggressive nature when pursuing the ball. He’s a destroyer, I get it, but he’s needs to be a more intelligent destroyer. On goal 3, I can understand why he felt the need to really go for the ball/attacker once he got by Lee Yong, but really it wasn’t necessary. Hong Jeong-Ho was already sliding over to that side, and since Ghana was playing a lone striker, Kim Young-Gwon had him covered.

The other side effect of Han, again something I’ve mentioned before, is that when a team has a roaming player like that, another player must cover the space he leaves open. Unfortunately for Korea that player is Ki Sung-Yueng. Ki is a player who is capable of doing that job, but right now (or at least in this game) he seemed like the pressure was getting to him a bit. Defensively he seemed too anxious, too eager to do the job, and ultimately he was culpable for two of the goals.

Finally, with regards to goal 3, we come to Son Heung-Min. I’ve been a proponent of him staying higher on the pitch during defensive moves, and I still believe he should. But, if he does that, again, someone must compensate for him not tracking back. Had he tracked back, Son may have been in an ideal spot to either block the shot or possibly intercept it.

Other issues

The “brain farts” just keep happening. Mental mistakes are difficult to explain, as there is no outside evidence of why they happen. Did Kim Chang-Soo just not see Gyan? Did he think Gyan wouldn’t chase down the ball? Did he just underweight the pass? Unless Kim explains what happened it’s impossible to know. On this issue, the more worrying thing is that these always happen. At least once or twice a game. I said in my post-match report that this is an issue that’s easily fixable, and in theory it is, but the fact that this is a trend in the team makes me wonder just how easy it is.

Next, just how aggressive should Korea be on defense? It’s Hong’s preferred method of defending, and when it works, it’s fantastic. But questions must be asked about how well Korea are implementing the strategy and whether this group of players is capable of executing it. Do they have the athleticism, workrate, and determination to cover for the holes opened during the aggressive pressing? Initial returns seem to indicate the answer is ‘no’, at least for right now.

Finally, let’s talk about Jung Sung-Ryong. The comments section on this board (and I’m sure on BSK, ROK, Twitter, and everywhere else) has been in a bit of a debate on Jung. Personally I think he’s a solid, slightly above average keeper. And nothing that happened in this game changed that. I do think that he should start this World Cup as I don’t completely have faith in Kim Seung-Gyu or Lee Bum-Young, but do think that it may be time to put Jung’s international career to pasture after the World Cup.

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


  1. Kim Chang Soo just loves to back pass don’t he? This guy made me want to scratch somebody’s eyes out. Nice one Coach Hong….you should’ve included Mr. Clean on this trip. Why you didnt include Cha is almost as bad as Klinsman leaving out Donovan.

    Horrible horrible call.

  2. So do you think these mistakes can be corrected before our first game with Russia? Because I was really hoping that we would at least come out of our group this year.

  3. Those pics by the way are fantastic. Really tell the tale here. Its discouraging though that Hong has done nothing to fix our out of position problems. Theres no discipline amongst our players clearly.

    Just running around with their chicken heads cut off.

  4. Great analysis. I know it might take a little more time, but if you could label or number the players and/or the arrows/lines or something to help us track what you are talking about on the images could make your analysis even more awesome. I agree with your last paragraph on Jung for the most part. The only caveat being that they are actually better or have higher potential than Jung. You would think there would be someone even slightly better than Jung, but we have really yet to have seen any Korea GK that great. Korea’s produced a great striker (Cha Bum Kun), a great midfielder (Park Ji Sung), a great defender (Hong Myong Bo), but never a great goalie… One of these days, I hope…

    • Lee Woon Jae was close to becoming one, I love that goalie, he beat Japan on PKs in 2007 Asian Cup and it was a very epic game……..

      • Sorry. I understand why Koreans love him for some of his saves during 2002, but he was thoroughly overrated and not remotely close to being a great goalie. He had swag and leadership though, and Korea could use that in the defensive part of the field.

    • I suppose a key would be helpful. I did names for the Greece one, I’ll try and remember to do that next time. Sometimes they’re difficult to read if there are many players close together.

    • A great striker, midfielder, defender & GK, all in the same generation, born w/in like 5 yrs of each other….a guy can dream, right? :p

  5. Hong MB’s pep talk in the locker room before Russia is going to be epic. Wish I was a fly on the wall for that…

  6. Hey guys, is there a metric in soccer similar to baseball’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement)? For those who may not b familiar w/ the acronym, quick & dirty defin.: How many more wins a player gets u above what a scrub straight outta the minors could get u, 10 runs roughly = to 1 win. A beast like Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout might get u 8-10+ WAR, avg. MLB starter 1-2 WAR or something.

    Calculating such a metric would ofc b a b*tch, but it was managed sumhow in baseball, so how about soccer/futbol? & btw, it’s a shockingly accurate/real-world-applicable metric in mlb, very reliable for projections 😮

    • Would be a serious bitch considering all the different parameters the two different sports present. Especially the number of games disparity. I like what youre thinking though. Very interesting.

    • it’s a lot easier to do in baseball, but soccer isn’t turn based like baseball or football so it’s more difficult than those two, and basketball has less variables. hockey is the most similar perhaps, but they don’t really have a statistic like that except the +- way of gauging, which basketball sometimes measures, but that doesn’t work well with soccer. i’m sure statisticians could figure something out though.

    • Ah, that’s a shame. I know there r plenty of stats kept, straight up 1’s like goals scored, what % of shots r goals, assists. Then stuff like % passes completed, distance run/intensive runs (100m dash? Vertical? Combine!:))

      U’d think sum finance, mathematics/statistician or programming guy/gal crazy bout futbol would create sum kinda “unifying theory” for grading players (& I’m not talking goal.com or FIFA game ratings garbage, so stupid/subjective)

      & considering how much $$ is now involved worldwide, multi-billions, there could b a real opportunity here if sum1 got the formula right, sumthin markedly better/more accurate than whatever exists currently. I suck @ math, so I’m screwed 🙁

      • I believe there are more advanced metrics, but they are difficult for the average person to do because the data isn’t readily available. Companies like Opta I imagine have more advanced metrics that they sell to clubs/large media companies (like Sky).

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