After an intense 120+ minute match against the Saudis in the RO16, we now face Australia in the quarterfinal. Let’s look at the important talking points prior to the game, the reasons we can beat them, and things we should watch out for.
An assessment of Australia’s play style:
In all the prior Tavern previews I’ve been scouting out our opponents before the matches just for fun. Now that I’ve moved to previewing Australia, I’m finding that they seem to me a comparatively simpler team to understand. Look at pretty much all of their goals from this tournament. The formula is very simple – get the ball out wide and cross into the box. Aziz Behich and Craig Goodwin or Jordan Bos (who’s a LB converted into a LW) on the left, and Gethin Jones and Martin Boyle on the right stay relatively wide on the attack to swing the ball into the path of Mitchell Duke, arguably their most in-form player Jackson Irvine, or Martin Boyle (who seems to cut inside at times into the box). They are probably the strongest team in Asia when it comes to physicality – and that’s why these attacking patterns tend to work.
There’s a very well known fact about the Socceroos that even I peripherally know about: they consistently play better against stronger teams (e.g. Argentina, Denmark) but look less convincing relatively speaking against weaker teams who sit back and counter, running behind their slow defense. Australia seems to thrive when they sit back and counter. Being a team without super technically gifted players like us or Japan – none of their players play in a top 5 league with a lot of them playing in the English Championship, Scottish Premier League, or the 2. Bundesliga – they struggle pretty hard to break down the all out turtling defense seen so often in Asia (but still manage to win most of the time).
All these seem to be pretty well known facts in the Australian media. This is an excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald in which they outline 4 reasons why Australia can beat South Korea, and I must say they are pretty compelling reasons – huge kudos to them for having a pretty good understanding of our mentality going into this game particularly with respect to the Korean public’s perception of Klinsmann. But I will say that personally, the perception of Klinsmann is getting better especially after the RO16 match vs Saudi Arabia.
Arnold has faced criticism for Australia’s ineffective attack and lack of midfield functionality, and it seems to be bothering him but those issues, while unresolved, don’t really apply for this match. It’s only when facing a lower-ranked team who sit back in a deep defensive block that the Socceroos struggle to get going. South Korea probably won’t do that. Klinsmann, too, is being hammered for their rather blunt approach in the final third, which is less excusable when you consider the high level of their players in club football compared to Australia’s squad of battlers, who mostly ply their trade in second and third-tier European leagues.
Korea had 58 per cent of possession against Saudi Arabia. If, as expected, they again have most of the ball in the quarter-final, that puts the Socceroos in comfortable territory: they can go back to the game model that worked so well for them at the World Cup, a careful balance of counterattacking pragmatism and front-foot pressing.
They still need to do better with their passing, and limit the needless turnovers which went unpunished in their earlier matches, because a team like Korea could make them pay with a single attack. But all things considered, this is the sort of match where Arnold’s Socceroos do their best work.Vince Rugari, The Sydney Morning Herald
The fatigue issue
It’s a big talking point and perhaps a sore point for us that this tournament is scheduled such that Australia gets 4-5 days between games (acc to one Korean Youtuber it’s around 120 hours) while we get 2-3 days (around 70 hours). That’s the biggest discrepancy between rest time of any matchup in the entire tournament, and they literally will get around 72.5 more hours than us to recharge. Not to mention that our game went to extra time, which is why I was so hopeful we could wrap up the game against Saudi Arabia within 90 minutes. Perhaps some responsibility falls on Klinsmann as he didn’t rotate at all in the group stage, but in Klinsmann’s words, fatigue and managing stamina is a part of being an athlete. And it’s well known he prioritizes fitness in training above all else. So let’s hope it pays off. Let’s win this game and if we do, maybe rest our starting XI against the semifinal against the winner of Jordan vs Tajikistan? We seem to have learned our lesson from the group stages and shouldn’t struggle so hard against Jordan the next time around if they advance.
Things we could do to counter Australia’s strengths and exploit weaknesses
Keep the 3/5 back lineup and bring back Park Yong Woo: this may be slightly unpopular to those of you who weren’t a fan of the lineup against Saudi Arabia, but I think it is a feasible idea against Australia. First of all, we need strong, tall guys in the box to defend against Duke and Irvine. Second the midfield of Hwang In Beom and Lee Jae Sung just will not cut it against the overwhelming power of the Australian press. They looked defensively and physically fragile against Malaysia and Saudi Arabia – they’d get shredded against Australia, I’d reckon without someone like Park Yong Woo or Park Jin Seop. I’d favor Park Yong Woo as he has better aerial ability. And finally, Australia always seems to struggle a bit more against teams that pack the defense – so while we’re more exhausted than them coming off less rest, why not soak up the pressure for a bit and try to counter? Assuming that this time we will have Hwang Hee Chan and do it much more effectively.
But a 4-3-3 vs 4-2-3-1 isn’t a bad idea either as long as Park Yong Woo is utilized properly, Hwang In Beom doesn’t push up so hard, and adhere to some of those concepts above. We need the coverage in the midfield because if we play as we did in the group stage and left all that space totally empty, I bet Jackson Irvine would have a field day against us. We would need to play a slightly more defensive game and try to goad the back line higher so our attackers can do their thing. HIB and PYW can shield a low block from our back 4, we can clear the crosses, and quickly recover the ball to get it to HHC or SHM. At the very least it’s clear that going all out attack as we did in the group stages would be a terrible idea. But as long as Lee Kang In, Son Heung Min, and Hwang Hee Chan are on the field together, I trust we can get something done.
We need to improve our counterattacking game, and the key man is Hwang Hee Chan: Remember how we discussed that Saudi Arabia plays with a super high line and therefore the logical thing would be to have HHC and SHM run in behind? Well it turns out HHC wasn’t quite fit to play 90′, and Son being the lone counterattacker was ineffective because there was no one pushing up the field to support him. But this time, if Hwang is fit, he should be a real menace to the Australian backline alongside SHM. Their defense is relatively slow and struggled at times against the smaller, more agile Indonesian attackers who did manage to create chances this way (but didn’t have it in them to finish those chances off). If Indonesia gave them trouble, imagine how they’d deal with Hwang and Son. Hwang was a major attacking force against Saudi Arabia with several great runs behind the defense (things I thought Son would be able to do too but maybe not as well) and getting on the end of through balls. He is after all consistently our most effective attacking outlet in most KNT games.
Cho Gue Sung will have a role, but should he start? Cho and Hwang are probably the only two who could in theory hold their own physically against Australia’s defenders. If Australia pack the box and play defensively, which compared to Saudi Arabia they certainly will, without Cho Gue Sung we wouldn’t be able to do anything. And on corner kicks, we would absolutely need all the physicality and height we can get. Having diverse attacking routes is key. Son Heung Min for sure would just get snuffed out quickly by Souttar and Rowles. CGS not so much. CGS will definitely prove to be effective when the others aren’t. So the question of whether he starts or not really comes down to if he can up his form. He struggled at times even in the air against the group stage opponents. If the Saudi goal boosted his confidence to the point where our staff thinks he can start he should, but if not he wouldn’t be very effective. I suspect our plan A should be fielding fast guys like HHC and SHM and if ineffective bringing on CGS later on.
Focus! Australia frequently scores from Jackson Irvine making a late run into the box. We have a habit of losing concentration and failing to mark somebody. We cannot afford to do this tomorrow. And guys like Harry Souttar, famed for his physical strength, are major threats on set pieces – and we know that we are not the best at defending set pieces.
My lineup prediction: honestly anything that has Hwang Hee Chan, Son Heung Min, and Lee Kang In starting, with either a back 5 or a back 4 that plays Park Yong Woo strategically (probably difficult though) is OK with me. It’s the principles and personnel that count, not the exact lineup.
So to summarize, while there are clear advantages the Australians have in this matchup – from fatigue and better rest to the physical advantage, there are reasons we can win this too. As always, there’s the quality of our individual players. Hwang Hee Chan and Son Heung Min should be able to score some goals from open play, and Kim Min Jae and Jung Seung Hyun should be capable of repelling the crosses Australia will inevitably send our way. We’re the technically more gifted side with world class speedsters and linebreakers who can take advantage of Australia’s relatively slow backline. And Klinsmann is showing that he is great at substitutions and has tactical flexibility to move away from the 4-4-2, which is a big positive. Also, this is not your 2010’s Australia side – as much as I am wary of this RO8 matchup and as much as we should respect this team, if there was ever a time to beat Australia in a competitive match / knockout stage it’d be now, when they’re relatively weaker than they were in the past. So let’s go get our revenge for losing the crown back in 2015.