If Tuesday night’s victory against South Africa was about grit, today’s victory over Argentina was about putting on a show. With the Round of 16 in our grasp, the young Taegeuk Warriors went out onto the pitch and grabbed their place with aplomb. On a perfect night in Tychy, Korea Republic came out deserved 2-1 winners over group leader Argentina. Just like 2 years ago in Korea, we simply had just the right amount of class to pull off this win. Two years ago we got a sparkling run and goal from Lee Seungwoo; today, a virtuoso performance from Lee Kangin.
Head coach Chung Jungyong reverted to the back three formation that struggled against Portugal but there were some key tactical and personnel changes. Replacing Go Jaehyeon in the CDM role has been Jeong Hojin, who has been great in this role. For the second straight match, Lee Kangin was moved farther forward, now given a free role deserving of his “No. 10”. Finally, Kim Jungmin was moved farther forward and paired in midfield with Cho Youngwook. All of these moves worked.
When I watched this match just now knowing the result, I wanted to get a feeling for why we had won. What was happening so differently from the first two matches? How had we become so comfortably dominant? The answer, quite simply, was the play of Lee Kangin. Against Portugal, he was played far too deep, receiving the ball near his own box with Portuguese players all around him and limited options. Against South Africa, the difficult conditions and intense play of South Africa somewhat stifled his magic. Today? It was as if he was playing a different game from the Argentinians. He was messing with them, showing off ridiculous tekkers to keep possession and then flashing a wry smile to the camera. He knew he was the best player on the pitch, and so did his teammates. Eventually, so did the Argentinians.
It took time to find a goal, but nearing the stroke of halftime Kim Jungmin (or was it Cho Youngwook?) released Lee Kangin down the left flank. He took a look up, saw Oh Sehun’s run, lined up the cross, and put it on a platter for the lanky striker. 1-0 going into the half and Korea were through to the Round of 16.
The second half started much the same as the first, with both teams energetic but Argentina seeing a bit more of the ball now. Eventually, the counter attacking work that coach Chung had been talking about came to fruition. It was so quick and there was so much good in there. Quick release pass out of defense off an interception, Oh Sehun cushions it down at midfield for Kangin Lee, and then right away Cho Youngwook is released into acres of space. He holds the ball up brilliantly at the edge of the box as support arrives and then Lee Kangin gets the ball back. Right away, he attempts a delicate chip over the top for Cho Youngwook that just doesn’t come off. Who’s there to charge at the 50/50 clearance? Jeong Hojin. He drives into the box after nutmegging a defender, and squares the ball to Cho Youngwook, who roofs the goal. It was just great football all around.
Lee Kangin went off to raucous cheers late, both goal scorers were given a rest on the bench with the match put to bed, and only a late consolation goal by Argentina took some gloss off this match.
But really, we should be incredibly happy with this performance. The offense showed what it could do when fully unleashed and the back three held resolute when called upon.
On Tuesday, I talked about how this match would show us where the ceiling for this squad was. Well, it turns out the sky is the limit for our young Taegeuk Warriors in Poland. Next up: a Round of 16 Haniljeon. Are you ready for it?