World Cup – The First Two Games
Posted by Seamus Walsh on June 18, 2010
Well, it’s about time I chimed in on Korea’s World Cup exploits – I wanted to make sure I actually had something worth saying that wasn’t completely self evident before I wrote a new post on what’s been going on in South Africa.
Firstly, I love the World Cup! This one is no exception – some people have been complaining about the lack of goals so far. Personally, I think that was mostly because it was the first round of games and nobody wanted to lose. Now that there are teams who need wins we’re starting to see more open, attacking football. I also think it has something to do with the fact that there’s a much smaller difference in quality across al the 32 teams this times round. In previous competitions there were always some teams who never looked like they had a hope of winning a game, or even scoring sometimes. This time however Switzerland have beaten favourites Spain, North Korea made life very difficult for Brazil, Chile have played some of the best football and some of the pre-tournament favourites suddenly don’t look quite so secure. When you look at it like that, there are no easy groups, and some teams seemed to be worrying that with one mistake they could slip up and find themselves way of the pace – just look at France. In that particular case, however, I think the smart money was on them being awful. I predicted in my previous post that Uruguay would win the group, with Mexico coming second, and it looks like that may well be what happens.
Now, on to Korea!
They started the tournament immensely well, beating Greece 2-0. Admittedly, Greece were terrible, but South Korea still produced plenty of chances and played some flowing, attacking football. They really should have scored more – they had so many chances, but yet again their finishing let them down. This is beginning to become an all-too-familiar trend for Korea. At this level you have to take your chances. As it was, that had little impact on the game and they always looked comfortable. This is promising, because when Greece played Nigeria today, once they started to try and attack and pressure the Nigerians Nigeria struggled, and Greece went on to claim their first ever World Cup victory. Certainly, South Korea played much much better against Greece than Nigeria, which bodes well for their encounter on Tuesday.
Interestingly in the opening match, goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong started ahead of the experienced Lee Woon-jae. Again, I’ve written about this before, annoyingly predicting that Lee would be the one to start. What this shows is that manager Huh Jung-moo is brave enough to put his faith in the relatively inexperienced, but highly talented, Jung, over the ever-present Lee. Also in the last post I speculated that perhaps Jung would be moving to a bigger club abroad some time in the near future. I hope he does, because he seems like an honest, hard-working player, and I do think he’s good enough. His performances so far have been good, and he’s made some outstanding saves, although he could perhaps have done a little bit better for Argentina’s second goal today. Now that he’s cemented his place as Korea’s number one goalkeeper, however, I thoroughly expect him to maintain his position and continue his run of good form – he can only get better.
Also of note is that Cha Du-ri started the game against Greece at right back, being preferred for that match over Oh Beom-seok. Huh clearly went for that option with the intention of playing out-and-out attacking football against the weakest team in the group, and evidently it paid off. Against Argentina, the strongest team and one of the favourites to lift the trophy, however, he went for the safer option of Oh. Like I always say, Oh is the technically better player, but I do think he’s slightly lacking in pace and power, and offers far less than Cha going forwards. That was in evidence against Argentina, who really showed where Korea’s weak links are in their team, but more on that later. One final thing to say about Cha is… he’s a robot.
Another thing worth mentioning from that match is that Park Ji-sung scored an excellent goal. He showed his true class and quality with that one. He sometimes gets criticised for not being able to create or score enough goals, and that he’s biggest contribution is simply to run around making life difficult for the opposition. True, he does make life difficult for the opposition, and he’s often used at Man Utd as a safer option out wide to disrupt the opposition wing play and provide a simple but effective option in attack, but just because he’s often instructed to play that way doesn’t mean that’s all he’s capable of. Over the last couple of seasons he’s been demonstrating that more and more, and this performance was just another example.
As for the Argentina match, it was quite predictable, really. With the first game successfully navigated Argentina were always going to be more intent on attacking and showing what they’re capable of. Unfortunately for Korea, I felt they got their tactics wrong in the first half. Right from kick-off they set themselves out to do nothing but defend, showing Argentina far too much respect. The inevitable happened, and soon enough they were 2-0 behind. Up until that point Korea had not been able to keep the ball, with each player taking far too long before making a pass. Argentina were tireless off the ball, led by Tevez, and hussled and harried Korea to get the ball back. Korea couldn’t get going, and in fairness, they never looked like they really wanted to. That’s the sort of lack of self-belief that costs you in tournament football, and Korea paid the price today. That said, Lee Chung-yong stole the ball from Demichelsis and finished superbly to halve the deficit going in to half time, and how they needed it. This gave the Koreans renewed hope, and they began the second half with vigor, looking to pass the ball around and try and attack the Argentines. They played well for about 20 minutes, and in fact Yeom Ki-hun should have scored an equaliser, but fired his shot frustratingly wide, opting to use his favoured left foot instead of the right, which would have been more suited to that situation. After that miss Argentina visibly seemed to realise that Korea were not necessarily the pushovers they had though based on the first half performance, and they began to attack again. It was too much for a Korea side who had just witnessed the best chance they were ever likely to get go painfully wide, and late on they conceded two more goals; one an unlucky one, a tap in for Higuain as the ball came back off the post, and the other a fine passing move that very few teams would have been able to stop.
Argentina have shown recently that no matter how potent they can be in attack, they are still far from the finished article in defence. They lack some pace, cohesion and concentration, and Korea should have been more willing to exploit this right from the start. It was almost an inevitability that Argentina would score, so Korea should have been looking to hold them off as much as possible, but to really have a go at the Argentina defence when they had the ball. Hopefully Huh will have learnt from this. Korea’s natural style is to attack, and when they do they can really frighten opponents. It’s effective, too, and they’ve taken some impressive scalps of late. I hope they bear this in mind going into their final game against Nigeria. If we assume that Argentina will beat Greece – which I do, Greece have looked to be perhaps the worst team at the tournament so far – then Korea only need a draw against Nigeria to go through to the next round. However, in the first half of this game they were playing with the aim of stifling Argentina and not conceeding, and look where it got them. It’s not their natural game, and they’re a far better team when they go forwards. I hope to see plenty of bravery against Nigeria, and an attacking display to win them the place in the next round that they deserve – they are a better team than either Nigeria or Greece.
I mentioned previously that the Argentina game showed where Korea’s weak links are. In my opinion they are: Oh Beom-seok/Cha Du-ri and Yeom Ki-hun.
In the case of Oh and Yeom, they’re talented players, technically sound, but at this level they just lack that something extra that’s required to compete with the best. In Oh’s case it’s pace and power, as well as some extra creativity going forwards.
In Yeom’s case, again some pace, and I also think he fails too often to provide the killer pass or to make goal-scoring opportunities for himself. In the K-League he’s clearly an outstanding player, but I just don’t think he’s able to raise his game to the standard required. Compare that with Lee Chung-yong, who snapped up a wayward touch from the defender and finished superbly – making his own opportunity and taking it with aplomb – and then set up Yeom’s chance. On top of that, when he was presented with the best chance of the match today to equalise the game at 2-2 against Argentina, all he had to do was shoot across the keeper with his right foot. Instead he went for his favoured left, trying to curl the ball with the outside of his foot into the near post. It failed miserably, and that was the moment when Korea seemed to stop believing. There are some outstanding players, such as Arjen Robben, who somehow manage to dominate games at this level despite seeming to only ever want to use one foot. Yeom is not one of those players, and so it really is a disappointment that he only trusts one of his feet enough to take a shot with it. Hopefully Lee Dong-gook will be available to start the rest of Korea’s games in this tournament, as he came on as a late substitution today. Park Chu-young always seems to give a better performance when playing with Lee than with Yeom, and Lee also offers far more of a goal threat.
Cha Du-ri is an experienced player with plenty of pace, power and the will to attack and drive forwards. He has spent most of his career as a striker, however, but now finds himself competing for the right back spot. As a striker he simply didn’t score enough goals, and as a right back he lacks defensively. I’d also like to see him providing a few more dangerous crosses.
Despite that, that’s only two real weaknesses in two positions, and in general the Korean team is strong. Today against Argentina they were able to bring on the likes of Kim Nam-il and Lee Dong-gook, so things look pretty positive really.
I have also been impressed with Ki Sung-yeung and especially Lee Chung-yong so far. As always, Ki’s passing is excellent, as is his close control. He still needs to look to join the attacks more, though, instead of just being content to start them. Lee looks as lively as ever, scoring today, and he was also the only player who ever looked like he really wanted to run at the Argentine players. These two are essential to Korea’s progression in this tournament, but I was also pleased that Kim Nam-il came on for Ki Sung-yeung and looked full of energy. He made Korea’s midfield far more dynamic, and it’s always good to see that Plan B works as well.
So, predictions for the coming games. I think Korea will get the result they need against Nigeria and progress from the group in second palce. This would mean they play the first-placed team from Group A. With things as they stand, I can’t decide between Mexico and Uruguay, although I definitely think they will be the teams to go through. How would Korea fare against those teams? I can’t be sure, but it should be close. They all like to play attacking, passing football. Both Mexico and Uruguay have outstanding attackers, but I think Korea’s midfield is perhaps capable of more. Still too early to say – and honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make a prediction on that game with any certainty.