A Good Start
With the end of June here, it seems like it’s time for an update on our Taeguk Warriors. June featured the first two matches of the final round of World Cup qualifying (there was also a friendly in May against Spain).
The less said about the friendly match the better. Spain thoroughly outplayed us, winning 4-1. Both teams really played a ‘B’ squad and seemed to be testing out fringe players (Spain for EURO and us for qualification).
The final round of qualification started in Qatar, where Korea fell behind the hosts early, but quickly leveled through Lee Keun-Ho. Kwak Tae-Hwi put us ahead in the second half, and then Kim Shin-Wook and Lee Keun-Ho wrapped up the victory in style. I didn’t watch this match as it was unfortunately A) at 2AM, B) I was sick, and C) my alarm failed to go off. I did of course watch the highlights (you can too, it’s below). Looking at the highlights, the goals were well taken, and it’s good to see other players getting on the score sheet not named Park Chu-Young or Koo Ja-Cheol. However, Qatar’s defense and keeper looked a bit shaky, and against better opposition we probably see most of those goals defended better. Still credit where it’s due, the guys took their chances and converted them.
The second qualifier was back in Korea (in Goyang), and against Lebanon. While Lebanon is not a rival, there certainly was a feeling of “revenge” about this game. It was against Lebanon, back in November 2011, that the whole debacle with Cho Kwang-Rae occurred. Lebanon beat us 2-1, costing Cho his job and throwing the KFA and national team into a frenzy.
This match saw a number of changes to the XI. Choi sent out the following line-up:
GK: Jung Sung-Ryeong; DEF: Oh Beom-Seok, Lee Jung-Soo, Kwak Tae-Hwi, Park Joo-Ho; MID: Ki Sung-Yong, Kim Bo-Kyung, Yeom Ki-Hun, Kim Jung-Woo, Lee Keun-Ho; FOR: Lee Dong-Gook
The formation was a bit of a 4-1-4-1 with Ki playing slightly deeper in midfield, and Yeom and Kim J.W. ahead. Kim B.K. was on the left and Lee K.H. on the right. Ki suffered an injury early in the game and was replaced by Koo Ja-Cheol. Korea played well, but lacked any real tactical focus in this writer’s opinion (which I’ll write more about later). Kim Bo-Kyung scored the opener, which like the Qatar match should have been saved by a better keeper. This keeper however, just managed to push the ball back and up onto the bottom side of the crossbar, and then it bounced down and over the line. Kim B.K’s second goal was well-taken though. On a break from a Lebanese corner, Kim broke quickly and finished well with a left-footed shot. Koo Ja-Cheol wrapped up the scoring later, after winning the ball outside the box with a driven shot into the top corner.
Some thoughts and notes from these two matches (but mainly the Lebanon match):
1) The team looks decent, and there seems to be a number of quality players coming through the ranks. A year or two ago the team seemed to rely heavily on it’s senior, European-based players, Park Ji-Sung, Park Chu-Young, Lee Chung-Yong for any attacking thoughts, but now it seems like there are several players ready to step up.
2) The team captain. When Choi was appointed Park Chu-Young was captain. But Choi seemed to have other thoughts as in his first match in charge, the armband was handed to defender Kwak Tae-Hwi (this was before Park’s military scandal). However, in these last two matches the armband was worn by Kwak’s defensive partner, Lee Jung-Soo. I’m assuming Choi is trying out different players to see who is ready to step up and take that leadership role.
3) Attacking wide players. Last year it was a lock. Park Ji-Sung on the left and Lee Chung-Yong on the right. Now, Park is retired and Lee recovering from injury. But, similar to point 1, many players are stepping up to stake their claim. With his two goal performance against Lebanon, Kim Bo-Kyung has made a big statement to start on the left. Lee Keun-Ho has delivered a few good showings as well to make a claim for the right. Style-wise both Kim B.K. and Lee K.H are a bit more direct than their predecessors, so I imagine the choices for the wide attackers will be based more on the system being played, as well as who is the center forward, rather than who is the “best” player.
4) The playing system. When watching the Lebanon match, I was struggling to really identify the tactics being employed by Choi. It didn’t seem to be very possession-based, nor did it feel very defensive or reactive. I realize there are many tactics in between those systems, but usually international sides seem to drift somewhere around those two camps. I feel that the team is good enough to play the way they did and beat many average sides, but would struggle against more experienced and higher-quality sides. I think the match against Iran in Tehran in October will be very enlightening on this matter.
The next competitive match for the senior squad will be in September, against Uzbekistan. Korea is currently topping the group with six points.
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