Going into today’s QF match against Nigeria, the odds were truly stacked against us. The refs kept screwing us over every single game, we had our backup striker injured (so our starting FWD Lee Young Jun had to play every game full 90), we consistently got less rest than our opponents, our star attacking players Bae Jun Ho and Kang Seong Jin were either not in form or coming back from injury, and the spectre of 2019 must’ve placed a good amount of pressure on our players. As fans we also couldn’t help but think that our 2019 was far stronger than this team – without star offensive power like Lee Kang In and Oh Se Hun we often struggled to create and score. Yet despite all odds our incredible defense held on, and a carbon copy of our third goal vs Ecuador (Lee Seung Won left sided corner assist to Choi Seok Hyun who headed the ball into the far post upper 90) in the first half of extra time sealed our win vs Nigeria. It was our only shot on target too. A truly incredible feat and one for the record books as Korea makes the semifinals of the U20 two tournaments in a row. Our next opponent is Italy – FWIW Nigeria beat them 2-0 in the group stage, but Italy will have one more day of rest than us. As usual.
On the match itself:
Nigeria, a dynamic team that beat the likes of Italy and Argentina 2-0 (only losing to Brazil in the group stage), felt a little more subdued this game. As if they were afraid of our counterattacks their CBs sat fairly deep and in the entirety of the first 90 minutes we had 0 shots on goal with slightly lower possession than them. I hate to be stereotypical but it’s true – they were fast and strong and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a handful of them were not under 20 years old. What impressed me about them was how often their CMs would intercept our passes (maybe we were just poor on that front). They were certainly more threatening but fortunately their chances weren’t very good ones either.
Our offense, as it has been most of the tournament, has been quite frustrating. Kim Yong Hak was pretty quiet today (esp compared to his heroics in the group stages), Kang Seong Jin continued to not contribute much, and even Bae Jun Ho, who produced a real masterclass against Ecuador, felt subdued and unable to do much today. But we were running on less rest against a stronger, more fit (likely older) team who set out in the first place to not concede.
The CM line of Kang Sang Yoon and Lee Seung Won is truly solid. They are great at holding possession and driving the ball forward.
Lots of debate about CF Lee Young Jun though. One one hand, he is fantastic holding up the ball and has a good header in him. His movement on the goal vs Ecuador was excellent. But on the other hand he is very slow, can’t dribble, and doesn’t have a strong shot. When we play against a team that defends tightly, he can’t do much.
The highlight of this generation is certainly the CBs. Kim Ji Soo is a real talent. Choi Seok Hyun is looking like a top notch CB as well. There are some concerns about his height (178 cm) which is on the short end for a CB, but he has never had issues with aerial duels and his headed goals certainly speak for themselves. There have been suggestions for him to potentially play DM but either way, he can hopefully find success, ideally European success going forward. With his exploits this tournament you’d think he’d surely get scouted, or at least promoted to the Ulsan Hyundai first team.
It’s unfortunate though that in any U20 tournament you can never guarantee that it will translate to senior/professional success. Looking at our 2019 squad only Lee Kang In made it to the European top leagues; looking at Ukraine’s title winning squad, only Andriy Lunin of Real Madrid is playing outside of Ukraine (ok there’s one guy in Sweden and one guy in Azerbaijan but you get the point).
Also: seriously what’s up with the refs this tournament?
Apparently this was a PK vs Ecuador
And apparently this one was a yellow. Not to mention the single worst PK call I’ve seen in a while against France. The one against Honduras I can see being called.
Below is an interview in which coach Kim Eun Jung gets uncharacteristically emotional. He has truly done a fantastic job so far.
A brief bit on Ecuador: I actually didn’t get to watch the first half. I watched the second where we played almost the entire 45′ with 10 men behind the ball with only Lee Young Jun up front to hold up the ball if we wanted to commit to a counter. I already posted most of the goals above so here are the overall highlights. From what I’ve observed and from comments about the match as a whole, shoutout to Bae Jun Ho whose range of passing and silky touch on that 2nd goal were pure class, as well as Park Chang Woo our RB – he had a bad game vs France but became truly valuable to the team as the tournament went on with some really good offensive plays.
That’s another thing worth discussing – our FBs are very offensive… probably explains why our opponents always get by on the wings. But fortunately our CBs are really on top of it and have blocked nearly every shot that comes their way.
Next match against Italy is June 8th at 2 PM PST 5 PM EST. They will get 5 days of rest; we will get 4.
We conclude this post with a little of bit of context from Steve Han:
Edit: Now that Uruguay has beaten the USA for the final semifinal spot, I noticed the following: