We’re under 12 hours until our young Taegeuk Warriors play in the first FIFA men’s final in Korean history! A huge moment for them and quite frankly for us as fans as well. It’s not everyday we make the final so savor the moment. Head out to a bar with friends, watch at home with anxious anticipation, throw a watch party at your place, etc. Just make this a memorable moment.
Story time from the 2017 FIFA U20 Final. England had just beaten Venezuela 1-0 and I was on the subway back to Seoul. I saw a Venezuelan fan all decked out with a flag painted on her face and that burgundy red jersey worn proudly. I congratulated her on Venezuela’s run to the final and she said, “We’re just so happy to make the final. That’s enough for now.” Even if Korea loses tomorrow, remember the great moments that got us this far. Alright, enough negativity and expectation management, let’s get to the preview.
Ukraine have done very well to get this far and I had the pleasure of asking Vadim Furmanov to give us some insight on what we’re up against (huge h/t Tom Danicek). You can find Vadim on Twitter and see his writing @FutbolgradLive. Here’s what he had to say:
Ukraine have exceeded all expectations at this tournament. Manager Oleksandr Petrakov’s side have been ruthlessly efficient, if unspectacular.
Ukraine’s 5-4-1 (or alternatively a 3-4-2-1) is built upon defensive solidity. In six matches, the team have given up just 12 shots on goal and have succeeded at stifling the opposition. Behind the back three, goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, who spent last season on loan to Leganes from Real Madrid, has been excellent. His positioning, command of the box, and overall confidence is impressive for someone his age. He’s Ukraine’s player to watch, and is a big reason why this will be a very difficult team to break down.
Offensively, Ukraine will rely on quick counterattacks and will look to pounce on defensive errors. The lone goal against Italy came from an Italian give-away in the final third that Ukraine took advantage of immediately. The style of play often involves long balls played forward to attacking midfielders Serhiy Buletsa and Heorhiy Tsitaishvili. The Dynamo Kyiv duo are two of Ukraine’s more potent attacking threats, along with striker Danylo Sikan.
Sikan has effectively benched Vladyslav Supriaha, who coming into the tournament was considered Ukraine’s star man, but has been poor. Nevertheless, Supriaha’s hold-up play and aerial ability may be crucial off the bench.
On the flanks, right wing-back Yukhym Konoplya has also impressed, and gave the assist to Sikan for Ukraine’s winner against Italy. Ukraine have also been particularly dangerous from set pieces.
A major blow to Ukraine’s hopes is the suspension of center back Denys Popov, who was sent off against Italy in the semifinal. Popov has been an integral piece of Ukraine’s back three, and has also been a major threat on set pieces, with three goals. He will likely be replaced by Oleksandr Safronov, but there is no doubt that the defensive chemistry that has worked out so well has been altered.
It truly is anyone’s guess what head coach Chung Jungyong will decide to do with his starting lineup. Every change he’s made thus far has worked so I anticipate we might see more shuffling of players to fit what he’s analyzed about Ukraine’s play thus far.
Reading off what I’m getting from Vadim, we’re going to need to stretch the defense as much as we can to cause disorganization of formation. We should also attack Safronov in defense to test how ready for the occasion he is.
I do not think that our back line will change at all. However, hearing Vadim talk about Ukraine’s long ball and counterattacking strategy our back three will need to be sharp. Lee Jaeik needs to be aggressive in the air and Lee Jisol will need to be smart about positioning (this was his problem against Portugal). I have no worries about Kim Hyunwoo or Lee Gwangyeon.
Alright, I’m looking into the crystal ball and here’s my lineup prediction.
Korea Republic vs. Ukraine
Stadion Widzewa, Lodz, Poland
June 15, 12 PM EST, 1 AM KST (June 16)
Broadcast Info: FS1/FSGo (US), TSN/TSNGo (Canada), All KOREAN MAJOR NETWORKS.
I’m going to be taking questions at 11 AM EST on Twitter @mhwelch1211 and then live-tweeting. No predictions now, but maybe I’ll make one if I’m feeling it in the morning! One more sleep. Let’s get it!