Tavern Kickaround: Holding pattern amidst hope and pessimism

Tony Grande and Shin Tae-Yong / Yonhap News

The waiting is the hardest part, according to the late Tom Petty. This is the part of any tournament that can be a bit anxious inducing, seeing the results coming in from the other vital opening group matches, from Russia’s demolition of Saudia Arabia’s defense to witnessing plucky Iceland punch above their weight, holding the mighty Argentina and Lionel Messi at bay. Both these games are in some abstract way instructive to team Korea in their pursuit to…how do I put this delicately...not go out of the tournament in spectacular fashion.

Saudi Arabia didn’t represent Asia particularly well. Russia, not expected to go far in their home tournament, exposed their Middle Eastern counterparts, getting 5 goals past them in the tournament opener. Korea’s defense undoubtedly took notice, as the specter of Algeria 4 years ago in Brazil continues hovers over preparations. And yet, as self identified underdogs in Group F, Korea can take heart in the courageous ultra defending of Iceland today.  It doesn’t do a world of good for my bracket ambitions, but Iceland overcame the South American onslaught, worked cohesively not only as a team, but as a total unit to do the miraculous – holding on to a 1:1 draw including a gutsy penalty save (that ordinarily would have been a sure fire goal by a one Lionel Messi).  In the World Cup, always expect the unexpected to happen.

Monday will be the ultimate test to see if Shin Tae-Yong actually can pull the rabbit out of his proverbial magic hat as Korea faces Sweden. If you didn’t get that reference – the closed door friendly with Senegal last week has all been, according to Shin, a smoke and mirrors attempt to unsettle Sweden’s prep for the game. It didn’t work apparently.

Who didn’t see that coming?

Here at the Tavern we’re getting ready for a quasi World Cup view party – but at 8am EST on Monday, it’ll be a small but vocal gathering. Over in Koreatown in L.A., the 5am Pacific kickoff time won’t be particularly welcome time for a public view party gathering. AND YET, I’m sure in some quarters, it’ll still be lit. We have a sparse section for World Cup Korea view parties – however IF Korea manages a positive result with Sweden, the chances and the stakes gets real -and I expect more last minute impromptu view parties to get on the public dock around the US and around the world. If you know of public Korea view parties, look for the page/tab in the Tavern for the 2018 World Cup and in the comment section, let us know what events you know of around the world where Tavern goers can congregate to watch together.  (just in: there’s apparently a 6000 capacity size church in L.A. hosting a 5am Korea World Cup watch party. Bloody early for a service, but you were looking for lit – this church will suddenly turn into CLUB KOREA if they score and/or win).

Taking a moment to catch my own breath, I’ve been laying relatively low, witnessing other Tavern contributors -particularly Namu Yoon (behind the scenes) along with Michael Welch and Tim Lee working hard in establishing a Patreon campaign to raise money for taegukwarriors.com future operations.  And many Tavern goers have stepped right up, donating right away to the campaign. I’ve been at a complete loss for words since the launch, seeing the number of people willing enough to help out with their hard earned money.  It’s very humbling and almost surreal to see the appreciation that’s coming back to the Tavern. It’s not a decision we took lightly to start a more robust crowdfunding campaign (with the exception of some limited crowdfunding in the years past to simply cover web hosting costs), all the writers over the years have been toiling with their time and effort – pro bono. All this time, I had been wishing I could repay them for their efforts, but we continued to make this a passion project. It still is, but the paradigm has now shifted. There is money raised – which speaks volumes about the long hours core Tavern writers like Jae Chee, Tim Lee, Jinseok Yang along with the new contributors like Michael Welch, Chi Soo and Kevin Kim (and all the many writers who have contributed / collaborated with us in the past including Takeuchi, Nicole Chung, Evelyn Kim, Tom Marcantonio, Lex Nande, Steve Price, and Steve Han) – all that have collectively built this community.  Without yammering further, I’d like to personally thank everyone who put in more than their 2 cents to the Tavern Patreon campaign. As a Korean who still struggles with the language and the culture that is familiar yet still still apart from me, I remember that I started this journey alone. Yet, after all these years since starting this project in 2012 – with football as a common unifier that bridges the diaspora, I feel more connected than ever … and that means more to me than you can possibly know. From our open Tavern house to yours, where ever in the world you are in, my most humble and sincere 고맙습니다


Ok, emotional time over, let’s talk Korean football support —it’s a broader tent than I imagined – more so when I encounter folks like David Fam who hails from Singapore. He’s a student now studying abroad in Europe, but he supports the KNT as one of a few bright lights representing Asian football on the international stage.  He sent me this essay outlining why Red Devil supporters shouldn’t be so pessimistic about Korea’s chances of advancing from the group. It’s a countervailing opinion piece, good to consider as I prepare glasses of soju for Monday. Check it out below:

Back Our Boys!: Reasons to be Optimistic this Summer
We have good attackers. Apart from the obvious choice in our talisman, Son Heung Min, there seems to be a general impression that we have a weak squad but I am of belief that is not the case and there are a number of players that can make the step up this summer. Hwang Hee Chan has just come off a great season in Salzburg in which he scored the goal that saw off a strong Lazio team to make the Europa League semi finals. ‘Korean Messi’, Lee Seung Woo, may be slight in size but his talent is limitless. A La Masia graduate, Lee is a player that has drawn comparison to Lionel Messi on numerous occasions due to his small frame but possesses an uncanny ability to dribble. He made only 14 appearances for Hellas Verona in the Italian top flight which In his first few appearances for the national team he has looked impressive, fearless on the ball and most importantly, always looking to penetrate the last line of defence of the opposition. Seung- woo has pace to burn as well and will be looking to give Mexican,Swedish and German full backs headaches.
Stars are born at the World Cup
Previous World Cups have seen young stars propel their reputation with great performances. Some examples would be James Rodriguez in 2014, Thomas Muller in 2010 and a player that will be familiar to us all, Park Ji Sung in 2002. I believe it is the thrill of playing at a World Cup and the immense desire to win for their country is what improves the performances of so many players. There are a number of players in our squad that do not really get the opportunity to showcase their talent on the biggest stage and so may find the need to use the World Cup to earn a move to Europe. Players like Lee Jae Sung and Moon Seon-Min certainly do have the talent to make an impact.
Shin Tae-Yong is not Uli Stielike
Mr Shin is currently under pressure due to recent friendly results but to me I believe he should be given the benefit of the doubt simply for the fact that his name is not Uli Stielike. We all witnessed the absolute shambles that was Uli’s managerial reign and I recall a period in which we were all crying out for a certain Shin Tae Yong to manage the NT. I for one am just grateful that Uli is no longer at the helm as with him we would not even be playing at the world cup! Friendly results are not cause for panic Many fans cause for concern comes from the fact that in the last six games we have only beaten a weak Honduras side but friendlies are never indicative of what’s to come in a world cup! I would like to shed some light on 2014 quarter finalists Costa Rica. In the friendlies leading up to the world cup in 2014, Costa Rica lost to Japan and drew with Ireland. Hardly impressive results at all. Friendlies are opportunities for the manager to test his tactics and to find out his best eleven and that is exactly what is happening with South Korea at the moment. It is not unusual for a manager to be undecided in his tactics in the build up to the World Cup. Shin Tae-Yong also watches the players everyday in training and should make the decisions that benefit the team the most. Our opponents are beatable When the draw for the group stages took place, an infamous picture of Shin Tae-Yong looking like he wanted the ground to open up circulated. Most fans seem to share his belief that it is a drawn conclusion that we will be knocked out. I am more optimistic.
Winnable games
Both Sweden and Mexico are very much beatable in my eyes. Sweden, apart from a solid defence and a top playmaker in Emil Forsberg look rather toothless in attack without Zlatan Ibrahimovic and so I do expect SK to dominate the game possession wise especially with Ki Sung-Yeung dictating play. Mexico are a stronger prospect than Sweden for sure. Their key player Hirving Lozano has just played an excellent season at PSV and their squad is vastly experienced. However, defender Diego Reyes of FC Porto has been ruled out. There are a few candidates to replace Reyes in Mexico’s defence but I cannot imagine Juan Carlos Osorio looking past 143 capped Rafa Marquez. Marquez, a Champions League winner is now 39 and known to be rather slow. Son, Hwang and Lee Seung Woo will cause a lot of issues for the Mexican defence due to their blistering pace.
We are the underdogs
The General consensus surrounding Group F is that South Korea is by far the weakest side and are expected to finish bottom of the group. This can only work in our favour with the pressure being on our opponents in every single game. Three results in Europe highlights this. City losing to Liverpool, Salzburg eliminating Lazio and Roma shocking the world by beating Barcelona. Adopting the role of the Underdog can only work to our advantage. Anything can happen at the World Cup We only need to look at 2014 for proof. Freak results in the Netherlands thrashing Spain 5 goals to nil and Brazil being humbled by Germany in the semis. The world cup has always been the perfect stage for an underdog to rise from the shadows. We have witnessed perceived weaker teams like Colombia and Uruguay find success at the World Cup and with the attacking players at our disposal I see no reason why we cannot be one of them. 
Let’s shed this pessimism and look at the positives. The most exciting sporting tournament is about to begin. Let’s back our boys.

-David Fam


Tony Grande and Shin Tae-Yong / Yonhap News

Extra time:

Tavern goer and Patreon contributor Lionel Lee asked a damn good question: does the Spanish assistant coaches have any real influence over Shin Tae-Yong?  We mused about this on a Tavern podcast recording last night – we’ll get that posted up on Apple itunes real soon – but while on air my thoughts were that the assistant coaches, in particular Tony Grande (who worked under Del Bosque at Real Madrid and the Spanish National team) were advising Shin well in the Colombia friendly last November, registering a 2-0 win with a 4-4-2 formation; however there was speculation that Shin has sought to wriggle out of Grande’s advice in the experimental tuneups of late. I asked journalist Steve Han his thoughts on the matter and this is what he had to say:

I think they’re more or less serving as consultants for Shin. No one outside the coaching staff would know how much influence they have on decisions, but Shin seems to be working really closely with them.

I actually think Shin deserves some credit for even bringing them on, because Stielike was opposed to the idea of expanding his staff, because in his own words, he didn’t want to deal with “too many opinions.”

Gives you an idea on why Cha Du-ri left the job under Stielike, only to come back when Shin replaced him (Uli Stielike was sacked almost exactly a year ago). Cha left because he said he felt like he didn’t really have a role (under Stielike).

-Steve Han

There you go. Hopefully, Shin is taking proper advisement on the sidelines, and there’s that perspective that supports that narrative.

Life beckons, so I’m ending the roundup early. Quickly though, good news of a sort, United 2026 (Mexico, Canada and the US) winning the bid to host the World Cup (despite Trump nearly sinking the bid with his tweets threatening countries who vote for Morocco’s bid) – in 8 years the spectacle will return to North America.  Tavern goers in this hemisphere will have a better chance to witness the KNT (barring a massive collapse in qualifying). We’ll be back for more on Sweden, a podcast and musings on Korea in the 2018 World Cup. All eyes will be on the team Monday.  We at the Tavern has been through 2 World Cup cycles and to quote the Grateful Dead, it’s been a long strange trip. Chal ga-yo and see you soon.

About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner


  1. Wsup Tavern Crew,

    I was trying to leave a link for another LA watch party in the watch party post but it looks like the comment section has been closed.

    I help run the Koreatown Supporters Group for LAFC and we (TSG- Tigers Supporters Group) will be hosting watch parties for all Korea group games.

    We’ll be at Biergarten (206 N. western ave) for Sweden. Would love to link up with any Tavern fans there!

    Check our IG for updates: https://www.instagram.com/lafc_tsg/

    -TSG Josh

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