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Archive for May, 2010

South Korea – Ecuador: Star Performance – Ki Sung-yeung

Posted by Seamus Walsh on May 23, 2010

I know I’m a bit late, but I’ve been busy this whole week. Anyways, last Sunday – 16 May – I was in Seoul to watch South Korea beat Ecuador 2-0. It was a very satisfying match, and the result even more so. Although Ecuador only fielded their domestic players – understandable considering they failed to qualify for the World Cup and so now need to find ways of improving for the next qualifying campaign – they were a tough side, with plenty of pace and power. South Korea played well and created plenty of chances.

Match highlights:

Although none of the European based players played the entire match, their contribution was particularly impressive.

The starting lineup for the match was:

Jung Sung-ryong

Oh Beom-seok          Cho Yong-hyung          Kwak Tae-hwi          Kim Dong-jin

Kim Jae-sung          Ki Sung-yueng          Shin Hyung-min          Park Ji-sung

Lee Dong-gook          Yeom Ki-Hun

Substitutions made:

Lee Chung-yong for Cho Yong-hyung (46)

Cha Du-ri for Park Ji-sung (46)

Hwang Jae-won for Oh Beom-seok (46)

Lee Seung-yeoul for Lee Dong-gook (66)

Koo Ja-cheol for Ki Sung-yeung (73)

Kim Bo-kyung for Yeom Ki-hun (81)

Just to clear it up a bit then, this was the lineup at the start of the second half:

Jung Sung-ryong

Cha Du-ri          Hwang-Jae-won          Kwak Tae-hwi          Kim Dong-jin

Kim Jae-sung          Ki Sung-yueng          Shin Hyung-min          Lee Chung-yong

Lee Dong-gook          Yeom Ki-Hun

The other substitutions were all straight swaps.

As the title of the post shows, Ki Sung-yueng in the centre of the midfield was absolutely dominant, but before I get on to his performance, let me run through a few of the other noticeable contributions.

The outstanding South Korean fans

Jung Sung-ryong in goal was excellent, I don’t think he made a mistake all game. For a goalkeeper he’s still young at 25, and I don’t expect him to start in the World Cup. However, it is very reassuring for coach Huh Jung-moo to have an understudy to Lee Woon-jae that he can trust and he knows is capable of top performances.

Kim Dong-jin played the whole game instead of Lee Young-pyo. As I’ve said before, I expect them both to play parts in the World Cup campaign, but I take this as an indicator that Kim is now the more likely to start. Following the friendly against the Ivory Coast I commented that I would have liked to have seen Kim in action as Lee played the whole of that match. Well, now that i’ve had my wish answered, I can safely say that Kim was one of the best players on the pitch. He rarely gave the ball away and provided good support to Park Ji-sung and then Lee Chung-yong, allowing them to go forward and create chances in attack. furthermore, once park went off at the start of the second half, Kim was handed the captain’s armband. A steady performance, and one I think that puts him into pole position for the starting place at left back for the world Cup.

I could say almost exactly the same about Oh Beom-seok at right back. With the inexperienced Kim Jae-sung ahead of him, he used his experience to control the right hand side of the pitch. He was always available when Kim Jae-sung got into trouble, and he provided a number of good crosses. A safe pair of hands, and I think this makes him likely to play a large part in the World Cup. I think he will almost certainly start the game against Greece, and probably will against Nigeria. Against Argentina, however, the pace of Angel Di Maria on the left might lead Huh to opt for Cha Du-ri instead.

Cha came on at the start of the second half and did what he does best – getting forward at pace and worrying the defence. He didn’t control the wide channel like Oh did, but a couple of good important tackles in defence and numerous surging runs forward showed why he is still in contention for a starting place. Technically I don’t think he’s quite as good as Oh, but he’s farm more dynamic, and offers more of a threat in attack. We shall have to wait and see how Huh uses these two when the World Cup finally begins, but one other thing to take into consideration is that Lee Chung-yong will be starting on the right, and he’s a potent attacking force on his own. Because of this Huh might go for the safe option of Oh rather than Cha, saving the latter for later on in matches when the opposition defence is getting tired.

Speaking of Lee Chung-yong he pushed Ki Sung-yeung very close indeed for the Star Performance tag. The only thing going against him was that he only played half the match, although this is because he’s played a long hard season with Bolton, whereas Ki hasn’t been playing much lately. Lee is going to be absolutely crucial for Korea in this World Cup. His pace, trickery and all-round attacking threat were all on display in this match, and the Ecuadorians were visibly frightened of him when he got the ball, eventually resorting to trying to bring him down by any means. He scored late on in the match, picking the ball up wide on the right, dribbling inside, exchanging passes and eventually finished well. This summed up his match.

Lee Chung-yong

Lastly, Lee Dong-gook had an excellent game up front, I would have expected him to partner Park Chu-young in the World Cup, although Park missed this game due to injury. It doesn’t seem to be too serious however, as I watched him warming up with the other players before kick off, and his movement seemed to be fine. Lee, on the other hand, was injured during the match, and it looks like he may miss some or all of the World Cup now. If he does, it will be a major blow to the squad, although Lee Keun-ho has impressed me over the last year or so. The three centre backs who played all had very good games on the whole. None of them are certainties to start the World Cup, but this isn’t a criticism necessarily, more a comment that finally the central defenders seem to be raising their performance levels. There’s a lot of competition for those two spots in the starting lineup now, which is a good thing. In central midfield also, Shin Hyung-min, a youngster at only 23, was outstanding in the holding role. He formed an outstanding partnership with Ki Sung-yeung, playing in front of the defence, breaking up Ecuador’s attacks and playing accurate, simple passes. He has now possibly put himself in contention for the starting places in the World Cup. If I were Huh Jung-moo, I’d use him in the final two friendlies before South Africa to test whether this was a one-off performance or whether he looks like he can maintain this level. If he can, the success and balance of his partnership with Ki should mean he starts in south Africa.

Lee Dong-gook: Rejuvenated

Now, as for Ki himself, I was very curious to see how he performed after he seems to have been overlooked somewhat at Celtic since Neil Lennon was named as manager. Well, if anything it seems to have helped him. He looked fresh and determined to show what he can do. I watched closely every time he got the ball and made a mental not of every time he made a mistake. The result: Once. For the whole match, he only made one mistake – a slightly overhit pass to Lee Chung-yong which went out for a throw. Apart from that he won every tackle, every header, and didn’t give the ball away a single time. He showed a superb range of passing, coming deep to play simple passes to keep the game flowing, playing long balls forwards for the pacy front four to run on to, and through balls that cut through the Ecuador defence.

His positioning was faultless – always in the right place at the right time in defence, and when South Korea had the ball Ki was always in a position to receive a pass. When he did, he showed good control, going on a few excellent runs – he was never tackled, and he was also the creative force driving the Koreans on.

Tactically speaking, the front four – the two wingers and two strikers – showed why Korea must not be written off in the World Cup. They moved with pace, made great runs to avoid their markers, and switched positions constantly, making it even more difficult for the Ecuador defence. With four players ahead of him doing this, Ki had no shortage of passing options, and his accuracy and vision meant that the chances to score kept on coming for South Korea. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the most important player for this side in the World Cup. He may not be making the headlines or scoring the most goals, but his overall contribution to the team goes beyond what any other player offers. Not to mention the fact that the attackers would not be as effective without him either.

South Korean celebrations

A good performance, and it looks like lots of players are coming good at the right time. The K-League has a much shorter season than most leagues in Europe or South America, and so it could definitely be in Korea’s favour that some of their players based in Korea are playing so well. the fitness and freshness of players could be one of the key factors in this World Cup, with a number of teams having key players who have played maybe fifty games this season already. Huh now needs to find the right balance in his final squad and team selections.

Posted in Highlights, Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Chung-yong, Match Review, Star Performance, World Cup | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »