The Tavern’s Official World Cup Series: Korea-Russia Preview

Well this is it guys. For the regulars at least, we have followed the ups and downs of the team and it’s players for yet another 4 year cycle. Unfortunately the road was pretty shitty. From the glory days of HMB KTY CJC HSH YSC LYP PJS SJG LWJ and the rest of the 2002 squad to the 2010 WC qualification cycle where we went undefeated, we could proudly and unquestionably assert: we ARE the top team in Asia and a force to be reckoned with globally. Just one cycle ago we smashed all opposition including our archrival Japan – with relative ease, going undefeated throughout the qualification. Japan could not beat us for 6-7 straight years.

After 2010 things looked so promising. 21 year old double dragon they could develop into true world class players, PJY had fully established himself as Asia’s only competent striker, and a well fought loss vs the beast that is Uruguay (if it wasn’t for the idiocy of LDG and JSR we might’ve pulled a better result) made things looked promising.

Fast forward to 2014 and you have to shake your head in shame, trying to repress all memories of the dark ages. We’re now quite the laughingstock. CKR started losing to Asian minnows and got robbed of an AC title. CKH reduced our reputation to absolute shit. The national team lost all organization and identity and it still hasn’t recovered. The defense still does not exist. The Double Dragon combo stagnated as LCY took an injury/got stuck in the championship and Ki just stopped caring altogether. Once a midfielder famous for long passes and long range goals, he doesn’t do any of those anymore and only attempts backpasses. It makes me seriously worried for SHMs development, knowing that it is not that easy for a player to hit their true potential.

Worst of all while our reputation has been shattered Japan’s has steadily risen. My first year of college (just a couple months ago) I was eating with a friend who introduced me to one of his friends who also happened to be a football fan – the guy asked me what my favorite team was to which I replied Korea. He said he didn’t know much about us but then said the following words- “you know who’s really good? Japan” which sparked a discussion on how good Japan was. You can only imagine how hard I had to repress myself from doing something violent.

I could list so much more grievances but ain’t nobody got time fo dat. And now’s not the time for it either.

That being said, I’m basing this entirely off the doom and gloom of the last couple of weeks. It is very possible that we will get our shit together by Russia. I have faith in our countrymen. And so should you.

So: let’s discuss!


South Korea

Korea doesn’t know anything other than 4231 and has been playing the same formation for forever. Unfortunately it hasn’t really been working recently, especially considering that KJC isn’t really a 10 and all he does is go forward too far. To make it worse a lot of players are coming off injury or a season of benchwarming. Unlike the Olympics, Koo and Ki – the duo that led Korea to bronze – are playing horrifically at the moment. The defense keeps messing up, even though the lineup is essentially the same. Think about it – YSY KYK HSH KCS played SO well during the Olympics but YSY KYK HJH LY, which is an upgrade on paper, has been playing even worse. Either the level of opposition is much higher, the players are terrifically off form, or as most of us probably suspect, both.

Team play, not just individual play, has deteriorated. The transition between offense and defense doesn’t exist. Too many backpasses and loafing around the pitch that allows opposition to get back into formation / counterattack with ease, respectively. Furthermore, there is no leadership and no communication, especially on the part of Jung Sung Ryong, the most passive goalkeeper the KNT has ever seen.

There are three causes for optimism, however:

1). Son Heung Min and Lee Chung Yong, who have clearly been our best players for a while now. Time and time again we’ve seen that our true strengths lie out wide.

2). Back when we played Russia in November, Hong Jeong Ho and Kim Young Kwon had a pretty easy time vs. the Russian attackers, even when paired with Park Joo Ho and Shin Kwang Hoon, neither of whom particularly impressed that game. Remember that Russia’s 2 goals came from a Jung Sung Ryong butterfingers moment (a tame shot that squirmed under Jung Sung Ryong, Jae described it) and a set piece where the Russian goalscorer simply outjumped our players. If Jung doesn’t screw up vs Russia I don’t think we should see any major blunders. However, given how fast the Brazuca flies (this ball is way too fast, btw, it’s worse than the Jabulani [or so I’ve heard, Jae says otherwise]) and given Jung’s complete lack of reflexes… I have a gut feeling Kim Seung Kyu would be better suited than Jung. But I also have a feeling that HMB will stick to Jung, to be discussed soon.

3). Pre-WC counts for nothing in the WC. Also, the match forecast is supposed to be 84 degrees (Fahrenheit), which I’m sure will play to our advantage somewhat. Remember that the entire Russian squad plays in the Russian league.

I personally want to see this lineup. Note, however, this applies if Park Joo Ho can play like he does at Mainz AND Koo still plays like utter crap– I still have yet to see PJH play well in a KNT shirt and I’m still hoping Koo finds his form.

In any case, I hope we don’t press too hard / press too hard up the pitch, because when Russia hits us with a counter we will get screwed for sure. To me, we should do what we usually do, trying to control the game with passes but staying farther back and more spread out than usual. If the two above conditions are met (PJH finds form, Koo is still out of it), should Russia go full out attack with a high defensive line, my ideal system would have Son Heung Min and Lee Chung Yong staying higher up the pitch (to long ball to them as soon as we get the ball back), with PJY just behind to make a run on the counter, while PJH and HKY cover for the middle as well as the reduced tracking back of the two wingers. If Russia play more conservatively, I would have HKY and PJH still stay further back to offer support for KSY, who will play centrally slightly higher up the pitch to spray long passes (ground or aerial) to the wingers who will be trying to make runs behind the defense.

I think this kind of 4-3-3 can work. The trio of Park, Son, and Lee are more than talented enough the produce a goal. We might as well throw more bodies into the defensive mix, and allow the front three to do their thing.

However HMB is a man known for believing in his players- think what effect benching would have on KJC and JSR. their confidence would be shattered like none other. He isn’t the type to make any drastic changes either. So right  now I’m just hoping Koo snaps out of it and fully expecting the good ol’ usual 4-2-3-1. And you all know what that lineup is by now.

In this case, we MUST have Koo and Ki TRACK BACK as their lack of defensive contribution has cost us quite a bit recently. As I said earlier, “I hope we don’t press too hard / press too hard up the pitch, because when Russia hits us with a counter we will get screwed for sure. To me, we should do what we usually do, trying to control the game with passes but staying farther back and more spread out than usual.” I noticed during the Italy-England game that the players were more spread out throughout the pitch, whereas when we play we tend to be more clumped together playing short passes instead. This is something we should emulate.

Instead of this, where we have a huge gaping hole of empty space in the middle many teams have successfully exploited…

Something like this:

Moreover, HMB needs to stop trying to play the incisive-pass-hope-for-goal method and play on the counter. We have three players perfectly suited for the counterattack method (SHM PJY LCY) and we honestly suck at splitting apart defenses. And without a doubt, our most reliable method of scoring goals is giving SHM space to shoot. The best way to do it is counterattacking, or drawing defenders away from him.

But I guess all we can do is hope whatever HMB does works well.

Jae’s 5 Tactical Things To Watch For

Jumping in once again to talk some things I’ll be watching for.

  1. Ki Sung-Yueng’s defensive positioning: Ki made more of an effort to track back against Ghana, but his defensive positioning was poor, resulting in big spaces being left open in the middle. Ki will need to be smarter against Russia.
  2. Courage on the ball: Korea lacks a player with the vision and passing ability to split a defense open with a pass, so it will fall to the wingers, likely Son Heung-Min and Lee Chung-Yong to draw the defenders out through their dribbling. Lately though they’ve been reluctant to do so, preferring instead to pass. Both will need to assume more responsibility in attack.
  3. Compact on defense: Korea has often left far too much space between the midfield and defensive lines, allowing opposition attackers space in between. Against Ghana, Korea sacrificed compactness and discipline in favor of aggressive pressing, which didn’t work out too well.
  4. Ki or Han providing extra offense: Russia will drop nine men behind the ball, often falling into a 4-5-1 when defending. Korea can’t rely on the front four (plus the fullbacks) to break through that kind of defensive line. One of either Ki Sung-Yueng or Han Kook-Young will need to go up to help.
  5. The defensive line: Jinseok has already discussed it, but it will be interesting to see how Korea positions itself. Hong prefers a higher line, but Korea hasn’t had the pace to play it effectively. However, the defense hasn’t shown the focus and/or discipline to play a deeper line that invites pressure either.


Russia is a fairly strong team that can’t be underestimated. They are a very fluid team that doesn’t have a rigid tactical system / starting XI. From the little that I’ve watched of them I’d say the base is a 4-3-3 with a little bit of 4-4-2 mixed in, which on paper is like us but more varied. They do not have the technical ability as we do, but are direct, somewhat physical, and can counter pretty well.

Back in November, this was their lineup (and our semi-experimental one):

Now, captain Shirokov is injured (Denisov has taken the captaincy in his absence), and some news reports say Alan Dzagoev or possibly Yuri Zhirkov is supposed to take his place. My personal prediction would be Kombarov – Ignashevich – Berezutski – Yeshchenko for defense (fairly certain on this one), Denisov, Fayzulin, and __ in midfield, and Samedov, Kokorin, and ___ in attack. The entire plays in the Russian league, so I don’t really know much about them. However, this does not mean they are pushovers. Back in November both teams played awful games but they came out on top.

One Korean news site predicts this:

But given they put Kim Chang Soo over Lee Yong it has lost all credibility.

Since our friendly with them, they’ve beaten Armenia, Slovakia, and Morocco (conceding no goals), and drew with Norway. They must be feeling pretty good coming into our match, while our players are certainly low on confidence. Russia probably knows as well, unless they beat us they will have a very difficult time making it into the RO16. Both teams will be playing to their fullest ability, unlike in November. Should be fun.


My prediction is 2-1 us, with Russia scoring first and us responding through PJY and SHM. And no matter how crappy the road to Brazil, the recent friendlies, and the individual players have been, I still believe in the players because they represent our country. They should be able to respond when the actual WC game comes around.


Quick update: Veteran defender Berezutski is reportedly injured as well, though he has a chance of recovering in time vs us:

About Jinseok 260 Articles
Diehard Korean football fan.


      • it doesn’t have to do with fighting. it’s tactical. russia is very good defensively and korea doesn’t have a clicking offense, so if russia scores first, i just don’t see korea making a comeback on them. i can see korea coming back against algeria (possibly), but i don’t think this korea team is really built to come from behind. that’s all i mean. i think korea can beat russia, just not if russia scores first.

      • At the end of the day, when there’s nuthin else (& nuthin more that can b done), there’s hope. Any given Sunday, er, Wednesday! 🙂

  1. TYVM, very informative read, lots to chew over. Depressing that we don’t have an awesome distributor who can pick apart a defense. Personally, I’m not really a fan of long passes unless its on a fast break. During regular course of play, it has too much of a “hope & a prayer” feel to it, a hint of “hail mary”.

    Ideally, I’m looking for a surgical through pass, awareness of teammates’ positioning & intuitive anticipation of movement. But, we don’t have the surgical guys for this u say, nor enuff time playing together to develop anticipation. So instead, we got “here’s the ball in the air in ur general vicinity, go get it b4 the other guy & do sumthin w/ it!” :

    Also, u said the nu ball, the “brazuca”, is really fast? Would this lead to higher scores in general? Or just sloppier play until players acclimated to the accelerated pace? Higher scores might b what gets soccer over the hump in the U.S.! :). & eventual faster play, also better for US market XD

    As to our SKNT, all I have to say is… 힘 내! 대한민국 화이팅!! (hope I spelled that right, ur lol). Oh, & 러시아 주겨! >:D

    • Oh, & not to get too political, but we probly got most of Eastern Europe on our side.

      I remember a Lithuanian friend of mine mentioned they really didn’t like Russia, didn’t trust’em, cuz of history/invasions. That Poles felt this way too, pretty much every1 in that nabe. @ the time, I was like “???”, but after Ukraine, I’m like “!!!”. Maybe he had a pt. 😮

      Keep in mind, I’m against govts, not people! Tho it might b controversial here, this also applies to Japan & Japanese. Ive had Japanese American friends, & try visiting Hawaii, meet sum Hawaiian Yonsei, & c if u can hate’em. 1 lady gave me yellow ginger lei flowers, just cuz! History is real, problems remain, but borderline bigotry against individuals? I dunno man, not cool. K, rant over.

      So, anyway, we can expect most of E. Europe to b, if not necessarily rooting for us, than @least rooting against Russia, so we got company 😉

    • first, korea isn’t employing a long ball strategy. however, even if they were, long balls are not a hope and prayer strategy. the 2002 korea team utilized the long ball effectively. heck, this year’s italy relies on long balls. unfortunately for korea, the difference between korea and italy is that italy has pirlo (the awesome distributor you speak of) to distribute those long balls. it comes down to accuracy of the pass, speed of the pass recipient for long ball play to not simply be a hope and prayer.

      • Ah, k, gotcha. I guess I was approaching this from a viewer’s perspective, where a game of long balls was just frustrating; rarely results, often turnovers.

        I remember reading sum where that the prob w/ Kim Shin Wook was that when he was on the field, ALL the team would do was kick long balls hoping it’d hit his redwood head, & go into the net. Didn’t really work out that way :/ & That Choi Kang Hee did long balls too much of the time, that it was an antiquated way of playing (which rang really true to my viewer’s mind)

        I can certainly appreciate long balls as 1 tool in ur arsenal, a change of pace/diff look to keep opposition on its toes, just not as an M.O. Thankfully, u say that long balls won’t b SK’s lead approach

        Didn’t Ki once say he idolized Gerrard, who’s regarded as a terrific mid-to-long distance distributor? Wish that’d worked out 🙁

        • yea, for korea, if wookie is in, it would be a hope and prayer situation. you are right to bring up ki. he’s been disappointing. for that matter gerrard was disappointing, but i think it’s not his fault and rather the tactics that employed gerrard in that place (gerrard had to share too much instead of letting him be more like pirlo in the back). i think you’re onto something though. i thought ki should be used a little more like pirlo, but it’s difficult when korea’s defense is nothing remotely like italy’s.

      • Italy isn’t really a long ball team either (at least against England). If you look at Pirlo’s pass stats on StatsZone only 7 of his 108 passes are considered long (I think 15+ yards). As a team Italy attempted 600 passes, of which only 25 were considered long. The players he passed to the most were De Rossi, Verratti, Marchisio, and Chiellini. Really, Italy played very much the way Korea does. Move the ball from side-to-side as they advance trying to open up the defense. Pirlo and Verratti combined well with each other. Verratti was always available for Pirlo to pass too if he got pressured, and then Verratti would give the ball back with Pirlo in space to play more decisive passes.

        Balotelli only got the ball when he dropped deeper (and wide) or when crosses came in from the wings. Italy did not play long balls up to Balotelli because it’s highly unlikely he’d win too many aerial duals against Cahill and Jagielka.

        • i didn’t know there was a technical measurement for it to be considered a long ball. going by my eyes, pirlo had several long passes, whether they were technical long balls or not. and i don’t think the long ball strategy is necessarily towards the strikers. i noticed pirlo with long passes to the wing to open up play to set up possible crosses. perhaps i’m not remember correctly, but i seem to remember italy playing many passes that weren’t so short. but perhaps i’m also too used to thinking of short passes as the tiki taka of spain rather than less than 15 yards. lol

    • Long-balls aren’t really a problem if the strategy is effectively tailored to the players involved. The two Madrid teams are prime examples of this. Atletico used the long ball to Diego Costa, who has the strength and energy to run the channels, hold the ball, and play in his teammates as they came out. Real used the long ball to Ronaldo, Benzema, and Bale, who have the speed and technical ability to attack spaces left by opposition defenses. Both worked because they had players who had the intelligence to spot those openings and the ability to execute it.

      The “surgical through ball” doesn’t happen because the only player to that is Ki Sung-Yueng, but his position is far too deep for it to happen. Also, Korea’s attacking players rarely make those attacking runs behind the defense. The frustrating thing about this team is that they have had enough time playing together to develop anticipation. Son Heung-Min is the only one who has not been involved with this group of players for a significant amount of time. The problem is that the passing tempo is too one-dimensional, it’s too slow. It’s too easy for defenses to organize themselves to close dangerous passing lanes and to adjust to Korea’s ball movement.

      Not sure where Jinseok developed his opinion on the Brazuca, but from what I’ve read it’s better than the Jubalani in terms of it’s predictability. Honestly though, the ball will have little impact in the big picture.

    • You don’t need to know names. As long as they can identify the opposition and know they’re style of play, you’ll be fine. You don’t get any bonus points for being able to call them by name.

      This whole thing is overblown because Korean media found one Russian journalist who could only name Hong MB, Park JS, and Ahn JH of all Korean players (and none of the current squad).

      • Wasn’t aware of your last paragraph honestly. If it doesn’t bother you that after 2002 we are still a bunch of no names, I guess it is what is.

        • For the sake of argument, what exactly has Korea done in the last 10 years to warrant the world’s attention? 4th in 2002? None of that team is still playing, and much of the world discounts that achievement anyway because of poor refereeing against Italy and Spain. 3rd in 2011 Asian Cup? No one watches that outside of Asia. Bronze at 2012 Olympics? Not important enough for the top, it’s a youth event. Good for checking out promising players, but not much else.

          We may not like it because we’re Koreans and we’re fans, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to suddenly love and respect our players. The simple truth is they haven’t earned it. They haven’t earned the right to be known all over the world by everyone. Just like the Russian players haven’t either.

          Korean players want to be ‘big names’? They need to deliver on the big stage. At the World Cup, in the Champions League, for the big teams in the big leagues. No one gives a toss if Lee Chung-Yong is a good player for Bolton. They’ll take note when he’s a great player for Chelsea or City or Barcelona. They’ll take note when he’s turning defenders inside-out at the World Cup.

          It doesn’t bother me at all that Fabio Capello doesn’t know our players’ names. It bothers me that none of our players have pushed on from playing at the mid-lower table clubs. It bothers me that only Son HM was playing in the Champions League last season. It bothers me (apologies if this feels directed at you) that there seems to be a section of people who feel that our players are entitled to the love and adulation they receive in Korea when many of them don’t deserve it. Phew, rant over.

          • Oh don’t get me wrong…we essentially are at agreement. My initial post was mostly cynicism. If you read my subsequent posts below, I did say there is naiveté to believe managers who say they respect us when they really don’t. Its like they have the same thing to say….’there are no weak teams…we respect them all…yada yada yada’

            I will root on regardless but as long as our players remain weak minded in the hands of a seriously inept football federation, we will continue to be a rudderless ship in a vast ocean.

          • Oh, sorry didn’t read the other post. Yeah, Capello talks like that because he’s a professional, and that’s what professionals do. “Every team is strong, there are no weak opponents. We’re taking it one game at a time. We’ll do our best, and I think we can do well. Blah, blah, blah.” Yup.

    • i don’t get what’s so terrible or even ignorant about this. i mean, i would think it’s pretty hard to memorize all the names. like jae said, you only really need to know the numbers and their faces. and all i saw in capello’s comments was respect…

      • Well the NT players would probably disagree with you since we are ‘supposedly’ well represented in the Euro leagues. But yet are still no names to many at the top. I myself was only half joking about being upset about it but I imagine there’d be many others who’d take it as pot shot. We want to be recognized and have been at it for over a decade now but are still basically spinning our wheels in that regard.

        Hell even Ki isn’t really recognized and he actually plays. lol But you guys know where I stand on Ki…he’s overrated. Sad state of affairs for us. I see our program taking a continued dive. Maybe the spanish kyopos can help us out.

        Like I said though. Merely being cynical and half joking about it but honestly, your comment about Capello respecting us with blanket statements and polite standard language seems mighty naive to me.

        • nah, not naive. i think you’re all reading too much into it. of course, it’s just standard talk. but it doesn’t make it any less true. as jae said above, if i was team russia, i don’t know if i’d know many korean players on the current squad. similarly, i wouldn’t be able to know any russian names. however, i actually think he does know the names, and i think it’s naive to think that capello, even if he knows the names and pretends he doesn’t isn’t fully aware of which players to cover and plan against… by name. i saw that you said you were just being cynical. i get it, i just think it’s not a big deal. it would be an insult if any of the koreans were stars and capello said that.

          • sorry, when i said all, i was referring to anyone who read too much into it. also, no worries, aslkjdhj, there’s no beef. friendly disagreement, which neither of us are particularly upset. lol.

  2. In the end, if we know their names, they know ours, they are famous in the world, or we are… none of that matters. Come game time, it just matters who plays better. No time to focus on anything else. Kick some @$$ 대한민국!

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