Korean Football Blog

한국 축구 블로그

World Cup Is Coming!

Posted by Seamus Walsh on June 7, 2010

The World Cup is taking place in South Africa in only a few days time, and what an event it shall be. I personally cannot wait, I should be revising for my final ever university exam, which unfortunately is held on the same day as the first day of the World Cup. Despite that, here I am, dreaming of the feast of football that is to come!

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika

Well, it’s taken me long enough to get around to writing this post, but I wanted to wait until the final warm up games against Japan, Belarus and Spain were out of the way, rather than writing a few same-same posts after each match. I’ll deal with them only briefly, because to be honest, they don’t have that much importance, and at this late stage there’s really very little information that can be gained from them: they’re not representative of tournament football, the coaches sample different tactics and try and get a last look at different players. They’ve historically been a very poor guide to a team’s form in the World Cup.

The Warm Up Games

First up was the match against Japan, which South Korea won 2-0 in Japan. The scorers were Park Ji-sung early on – a very classy goal – and Park Chu-young from the penalty spot at the death. By all accounts it was a well-deserved victory, and good to see Park Chu-young back and scoring. It was a fairly strong lineup throughout the match, but no significant developments in that front apart form the use of Jung Sung-ryong as goalkeeper for the whole match. More on that soon. Highlights below:

Next was the game against Belarus, which ended up being a 1-0 defeat. As I said before, you can’t really read too much into these games, and I just hope that this result encourages the Korean team not to be too complacent going into an evenly balanced World Cup group. Again, coach Huh Jung-moo put out a reasonable strength squad, but there was some rotation of players. I think this is a positive sign for the strength in depth of Korea’s squad outside of the few key players – everyone seems to be able to pull their weight and fit into the setup, which is good. Lee Woon-jae was back in goal, and Kim Dong-jin and Cha Du-ri both started. Some commentators feel that this poor result may have been as a result of the squad not having completely acclimatised to the high altitude at that early stage. Highlights below:

Finally, the big one, the 1-0 loss to Spain. First thing I will say on this is that losing 1-0 to arguably the best team in the world is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s arguably a better result for Korea than it is for Spain, but again, we shouldn’t try and take too much away from these games. The two teams would have set different priorities for this match, with Spain wanting to try out some of their fringe players and players who had been out with injuries to see how reliable they looked for the tournament, and Korea more willing to use the match as a yardstick – as a way of seeing how their squad measured up to the best in the world. That said, Spain in no way fielded a weak side, and it’s for that reason that I say Korea should be pleased with this result and take confidence from the fact that it was a game that seemed like ti could have gone either way going into the World Cup. The fact that Korea were so hard to break down, even for a team with the likes of Fabregas, Iniesta and Villa, bodes well for the match against Argentina. Korea’s defense has been inconsistent, but I hope they band together as a team against the tougher sides to shut them out and combine this with sharp counter attacking as we know they can. This article has some interesting player ratings for the game. Highlights below:

So, what do I make of all this? Well, I think it’s been pretty solid preparation – nothing overly impressive or special, but consistent enough, and the results have all been pretty decent apart from the loss to Belarus, although perhaps that was down to not being used to the high altitude. Looked much better against Spain, though, and gave them a real run for their money.

The Players

The most interesting points that I’ve picked up on are in the competition for places in the starting lineup. I’ve been very impressed and somewhat surprised by the two main goalkeepers, the veteran Lee Woon-jae and his deputy, Jung Sung-ryong. Neither has played outside of the K-League before, but that in no way means they’re not talented.

Lee is an interesting figure – short for a goalkeeper, but has incredible athleticism for someone of his age. He won’t be the only goalkeeper over 35 playing in the tournament, however, and so I don’t expect his age will be counted against him too much when it comes to making the final selections for the starting eleven. He’s experienced with well over 100 caps, and this experience really does tell in front of a back four that’s relatively inexperienced, except perhaps for Lee Young-pyo if he plays. Lee commands the penalty area, is a great leader in defense and knows what he’s doing. He’s an excellent shot stopper, and has a particular flair for dealing with long shots and crosses, thanks to his great athleticism. On the negative side, I’ve always had doubts about his handling. He prefers to punch or beat the ball away. Yes, he can make great saves, but sometimes as a defender you’d rather he held onto the ball more. Despite this, when he does punch and hit the ball away, it rarely seems to end up in a dangerous position, and I think Huh Jung-moo will feel confident that Lee is the right goalkeeper to help his team achieve their targets for this World Cup.

Behind him in the pecking order, though, is the young (25) Jung Sung-ryong. He may be relatively inexperienced, but he’s tall, athletic, and does like to catch and hold onto the ball. I’d never really seen much of him until the build up to this World Cup, and I was lucky enough to have seen him up close in the game against Ecuador a few weeks ago. My assessment of his performance then and ever since is overwhelmingly positive, and has even led me at times to speculate whether he might actually take the number one spot in the World Cup. Now all the war up games have been played and the first match is in just a few days time I can’t see this happening, simply because Lee’s experience is so necessary, and Huh won’t want to take any risks. That said, he’s perhaps an even more naturally talented keeper than Lee, and I fully expect him to be installed as the national side’s number one following the World Cup, and I expect he’ll retain that position for some time to come. At 190cms tall he also breaks the curse of Korean goalkeepers, who have been considered too short for the top clubs before. A move to a European club in the near future, then? I think it’s too soon to tell, and who knows whether any European clubs would realistically have their eye on the number two goalkeeper for South Korea at this stage. But if he keeps performing the way he has, who knows.

South Korea's promising young goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong wil be hoping to break into the team soon

The other main positions that I think Huh has been testing the players to try and fill are at right and left back, one fo the two centre midfielders, and perhaps the partner for Park Chu-Young. The places that I think have been almost certainly decided for some time are goalkeeper: Lee Woon-jae; the two centre backs, although losing Kwak to injury has meant a rethink there, meaning the partnership will probably be Lee Jung-soo and Cho Yong-hyung; Park Ji-sung on the left of midfield, Lee Chung-yong on the right and Ki Sung-yong in the middle, and Park Chu-young up front.

At left back, I’ve previously said that I expect both Kim Dong-jin and Lee Young-pyo to play a part in the World Cup, and I still think that will be the case. As for who will start, it’s not certain, but I think it will be Kim Dong-jin, although Lee seemed to have a very good game against Spain, which may have reversed the situation again! Too tough to call.

Right back is easier. In my opinion, Oh Beom-seok – the more technically able and sound player – will start, with Cha Du-ri used as an impact substitute for his pace, power and directness. Expect to see them both used during the tournament, however.

Huh has various options in whom he chooses to partner Ki Sung-yong in central midfield. Judging by his impressive performance against Spain I would say he’s probably tempted to go with Kim Jung-woo, who was also key to the victory over the Ivory Coast back in March. He’s also competing with the experienced holding midfielder Kim Nam-il – a personal favourite of mine who’s probably slightly too old to start matches at this level now – and perhaps even the 20 year old Kim Bo-kyung. Any of those players could fit in easily into the side, and again, expect to see them all at some stage, although I can’t imagine Kim Bo-kyung getting too much playing time, but it says a lot about what he’s capable of that he made the final squad over Shin Hyung-min, who impressed against Ecuador.

Ki Sung-yong - crucial to South Korea's World Cup ambitions

As for the partner for Park Chu-young, Monaco’s ace striker, if he’s fit it will surely be Lee Dong-gook. At the moment it looks like he’ll miss the opening game against Greece, which is a real shame. In his stead Huh could pick Yeom Ki-hun, the veteran Ahn Jung-hwan or the youngster Lee Seung-yeoul. From what I’ve seen of Yeom, he’s a decent player but he likes to stay too deep, and often too wide. With Korea’s star wingers I think it’s more important that Park Chu-young gets more support through the middle – he’s not at his best when he’s isolated, he’s just not that type of striker. Ahn is another veteran of 2002 who’s probably past his best, and shouldn’t expect to start any games, although he may be used as a substitute later on. I like the look of Lee Seung-yeol when I’ve seen him play for the national side, but I hope he doesn’t get too carried away with the reports of his talents and forget that he has to work incredibly hard for the sake of the team. He’s been used almost entirely as a substitute by Huh, so I see no reason why the coach would change this now. For the opening game against Greece my expectation is that Yeom will start up front with Park, and then be replaced by Lee later on. If things don’t work out like that, however, I would find it interesting to see one of the wingers moved into the middle – perhaps Park moving in from the left to play up front with Park Chu-young like he did with Rooney at times this season, and then either Yeom moving to the left where he can also play or bringing on another wide player to replace Yeom. Huh has options, this is the most important thing. I think it’s also important that one of the two central midfielders is willing to go forwards and help the attack – my preference being Ki Sung-yong. His range of passing is excellent, but at times he seems to want to lie deep to give himself more time on the ball. A player of his quality, however, needs to be more willing to get involved higher up the pitch to make things happen in front of goal when his team attacks – he needs to be more adventurous. I actually think he’s at his best when he plays like that.

The Group

I’m convinced, as most people are, that Argentina will win the group. There is no team among South Korea, Nigeria and Greece who can defend against the style of passing football that Argentina play. Plus, if 10 out of 11 players for Argentina can keep the opposition from scoring, then they only need to rely on a moment of magic from Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Aguero or Milito to grab a win. First place.

South Korea will hope they can stop Lionel Messi and co.

After that it gets more exciting, with the remaining three teams all fairly evenly matched. To my mind Greece are the weakest, and they were lucky to get through not only their qualifying group (in which they lost twice to Switzerland) but also their playoff against a well-organised and ultimately unlucky Ukrainian team. I expect Greece to finish bottom of the group.

That leaves South Korea and Greece. It really could go either way, but crucially perhaps Nigeria have just had star player John Obi MIkel, the Chelsea midfielder, ruled out of the entire competition through injury. Is their squad strong enough to cope with the loss of the heartbeat of their midfield? Will they be able to overcome the internal conflict and infighting that so often mires their international campaigns? I think they have more negatives against them than Korea do, despite having some excellent players. They far too often fail to gel as a team, and in attack I don’t think they offer enough. They have pace and power up front, but they don’t make it work as well as it looks like it should on paper. For that reason, and because I’m biased, I’m going for South Korea to come out on top and take the second qualification spot from their group.

Following that it gets harder to predict. Any team that gets out of their group will be high on confidence, but we’ll have to wait and see to know what their form will be like. If Korea do get out of the group in second place they face one of France, Mexico, South Africa and Uruguay. Tough, but thankfully not the toughest set of opponents they could have had. For what it’s worth (not a lot before the tournament even starts) I think Uruguay will win the group, and Mexico will take second place, meaning Korea will play Uruguay. Too tough to call… I think that’s a 50-50 game as things stand at the moment. I’ll make more predictions when I see what happens in the groups!

Make your own World Cup predictions here.

So, there we go, a guide to the World Cup from a South Korean perspective. Tell me what you think about their players, the group and their chances!

Advertisements

4 Responses to “World Cup Is Coming!”

  1. daeguowl said

    I have confidence in the Korean team’s ability to defend strongly and create chances through the midfield. However, I have serious misgivings about their ability to score the goals they’ll need to advance (as we saw in the Spain game). I hope I am wrong.

    • I know what you mean. The sad thing is, it doesn’t even seem to be down to lack of quality players. I think, as I said above, they need to get Ki driving forwards from the midfield. At the moment he’s still to keen to sit back and try and be creative from deep with his long passes. For the sake of the team, though, if he were to get forward and use his passing abilities to release players from within the final third, and also to have shots on goal, then I think they’d be a much stronger attacking force.

      Par Chu-young needs to find a rhythm again after missing so much of the season, and the fact that he can’t play or train with Lee Dong-gook yet is another hindrance.

      I just hope Huh gets his tactics right.

  2. South Korea beats lackluster Greece 2-0 (AP)…

    I found your entry interesting to I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  3. […] WordPress.org « World Cup Is Coming! […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: