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Korea Qualify With 2-2 Draw With Nigeria

Posted by Seamus Walsh on June 24, 2010

According to BBC television coverage in the build-up to the World Cup Group B match between South Korea and Nigeria, 80% of South Koreans believed they would go through from their tough group. Undoubtedly this represents the rise in both expectations and achievement of this South Korean national side. Before this World Cup, South Korea had only ever advanced past the first round of the competition on one occasion when they co-hosted the tournament in 2002 and reached the semi-finals.

This time round the coach, Huh Jung-moo, the players and the Korean people were all confident that second place in their group was possible, although all knew it would be tough. Argentina were undoubtedly firm favourites to win the group, but behind them Nigeria, Greece and South Korea all seemed to be fairly evenly matched. This is how it proved, with all three losing to Argentina, but South Korea beating Greece, who in turn beat Nigeria.

It all came down to this final day, then, with the remaining two fixtures in the group being played out at the same time on Tuesday afternoon. Greece were looking to get a positive result against Argentina to further their hopes of qualification, although this always looked unlikely, despite the South Americans rotating some of their key players. With Nigeria and South Korea both anticipating that Greece would struggle against a revitalised Argentina, those two sides would have felt that their match was the second place decider; a winner-takes-all encounter.

South Korea vs Nigeria was a crucial and tough match for both sides

Korea just needed to do better than Greece, with Nigeria not having secured any points in their opening two games. This meant that in all likelihood a draw would do, but Nigeria would certainly come out fighting.

Nigeria is a team of pace and power, who up to that point had not really found their feet in this tournament. Korea had lost 4-1 to Argentina in their last game, but had always identified this as their most important match.

The lineup was a relatively familiar one:

Jung Sung-ryong

Cha Du-ri          Lee Jung-soo          Cho Yong-hyung          Lee Young-pyo

Ki Sung-yeung          Kim Jung-woo

Lee Chung-yong                                                                                Park Ji-sung

Yeom Ki-hun

Park Chu-young

I was dubious about this lineup for two reasons, both of which I have talked about extensively before. At the back, the selection of Cha Du-ri was the biggest surprise. Clearly Huh opted for him over Oh Beom-seok because he felt Cha would be able to cope with the power and pace of the Nigerians better. Unfortunately, Cha has played the majority of his career as a striker, and has only relatively recently converted to right back. His defensive positioning and reading of the game are clearly lacking, and a coach such as Huh should have known that the possession of attributes such as pace and power alone is not enough: they have to be applied correctly. Against Greece, who were a poor side that offered little in attack, Cha was the perfect option, because he could get forward as he pleased, using his surging runs to trouble the Greek defence and to create space for teammates to attack. Against Argentina Huh opted for Oh, the more defensive-minded of the two, and a good technical player. He didn’t have the best game against Argentina, and really struggled against their attacking players. In my opinion, however, this would have been the case for just about any right back in the tournament, and I don’t think Oh will be the last in this World Cup to suffer a the hands of the likes of Messi and Tevez.

But was that performance by Oh enough for him to lose his place against Nigeria? Only Huh can know what his state of mind was like after the Argentina match, but I was very surprised that in a game when the main goal was not to lose – a draw would have been enough to see them go through assuming Greece lost to Argentina – Huh selected the attack-orientated and defensively ill-equipped Cha to start. What Korea needed in that game was to play calm, safe and clever possession football. Yes, Cha made a couple of decent runs forward, troubling the Nigeria defence, but his own defensive performance was abysmal. He was completely at fault for the first goal, revealing his utter lack of defensive awareness at the worst possible time. Furthermore, because he was so keen to get forward he repeatedly left huge gaps at the back that the Nigerians constantly looked to exploit on the counter. He hasn’t built up an effective defensive partnership with the centre backs or the midfield, and so he never gave them the chance or direction to cover him when he bombed forward. If I was the coach I absolutely would have gone for Oh from the start, and possibly would have brought Cha on in the second half when the Nigerians were already showing signs of cracking under the pressure to try and kill the game off with attacking football.

Cha was at fault for Nigeria’s opening goal (The video has been flipped – sorry)

The other decision I was not entirely appreciative of was that to stick with Yeom Ki-hun up front. I still don’t think Yeom has enough quality to play at this level, although this was probably his best game of the World Cup so far. The biggest plus-point in playing Yeom is that he’s left footed – an evidently rare commodity in this Korean side. That said, he brought little to the side, and has still failed to form an effective working partnership with Park Chu-young. Yeom is not a natural goal-scorer, and because he has failed to become a proper supporting player for Park the team lacks a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch.

I have to assume that Huh would only have chosen Yeom over Lee Dong-gook if the latter was still not entirely fit. If that is the case, then I think he should have sacrificed a second striker altogether, and gone for a more standard five man midfield. I’ve always said I want to see Ki Sung-yeung playing further forwards were he can cause more damage, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to give him the freedom and encouragement to do so. I would have started with Kim Jung-woo and Kim Nam-il as holding midfielders, with Ki Sung-yeung given a freer, more attacking role ahead of them down the centre. It then would have been his responsibility to release Park Chu-young, Park Ji-sung and Lee Chung-yong to try and get behind the Nigeria defence and to create more cohesive attacks closer to the penalty area. There’s always the option to bring on another striker, be it Yeom, Lee Dong-gook or even young Lee Seung-yeoul, if it’s needed later on.

As it was, however, Huh eventually did bring Kim Nam-il on to play in this formation. It backfired pretty spectacularly and pretty quickly, however, as he needlessly gave away a penalty when Korea were looking quite comfortable. Following that, though, the midfield looked a lot more secure, and I hope Huh considers playing like that from the start against Uruguay, who are a better team than Nigeria. It would, however, mean Ki playing a little differently to what he’s used to.

He’s such an intelligent player, and his technique is superb. He has great control and rarely gives the ball away, as well as being able to shoot well from distance and play outstanding passes. In my opinion he’s perfectly suited to playing behind a striker. If you’re not too familiar with him, I would say his playing style is somewhat similar to the likes of Portugal’s Deco or Croatia’s Luka Modric, although he still has a way to go before he reaches that level of course.

At the moment he seems a bit unsure of himself in this side. He’s being used as an orthodox central midfielder, partnering Kim Jung-woo. As I’ve already said, technically he’s excellent. What he needs to do if he’s to play in this position at the highest level, however, is to assert himself on the game more. He shouldn’t wait for the ball to come to him, he should seek it out, and he should have the confidence to try things and to try and make things happen for the team. Huh needs to fill him with this confidence, and I think using an extra central midfielder to offer more defensive security would take some of the weight off Ki’s shoulders. With Kim Nam-il and Kim Jung-woo anchoring the midfield and playing simple passes out, Ki would get more of the ball in situations where he can play the passes he wants to. He might find he has less time on the ball, but he needs to be able to compete under that sort of pressure, and I believe he can.

Ki Sung-yeung could be deployed further forward to utilise his attacking threat

As I’ve already said I feel Yeom contributes very little by way of attacking potency, summed up by his dreadful miss against Argentina when he was presented with the perfect opportunity to equalise. Park chu-young is obviously the outstanding striker in the Korean squad, but too often against Nigeria he was left isolated and so had to come deep to try and get the ball. With a more creative, passing player behind him in Ki Sung-yeung, Park would surely be able to get better service of the type he wants; through balls that he can run on to in order to use his pace to beat defenders and get closer to goal. Ki would also spread the ball out wide a lot better and in more attacking positions, meaning Park Ji-sung and Lee Chung-yong could get forwards more and provide more crosses and also get closer to goal to support Park Chu-young.

Talking of Park Ji-sung, he has been by far Korea’s best player at this World Cup. He’s so important to the team. I was doubtful when he was first named as captain whether he would have the leadership qualities necessary for the role, but he has proved himself over and over again. He’s really grown into the role; he inspires the team with his attitude and drive, but also with the quality of his play. He fully commits himself in defence and attack. I do think, however, that it’s about time the likes of Lee Chung-yong and Ki followed Park’s example. Lee especially can be a devastating player. He has such pace and trickery, and he loves to run at defenders. He showed against Argentina that he can score as well, and you can see he’s desperate to be given more of the ball. They need to bring him into play a lot more, and he can really add something to the way they play.

Park Ji-sung has been South Korea's inspiration in the World Cup so far

In the Nigeria game, Kim Jung-woo in midfield looked out of his depth. He looked slow and fragile and was beaten far too often. It was him who allowed the Nigerian right back to get the cross in which set up their first goal. It was poor midfield play, and unfortunately it was not the only time he was beaten so easily in the game. I remain unconvinced by the central midfield pairing of Kim Jung-woo and Ki Sung-yeung, so I’m desperate to see the five-man midfield I talked about above. Park Chu-young scored one excellent free kick and came close a number of other times. He has shown enough in the games so far that he can play as a lone striker as long as the service is good enough. Korea’s strength is in midfield, and they need to play to this.

Kim Jung-woo struggled at times in midfield, and would be helped by the introduction of Kim Nam-il

In the end, the Koreans showed they have the defiant fighting spirit that was so crucial to their success in 2002, meaning they could hold on to the draw and progress to the next round. There are some defensive frailties, but they have not failed to score in any of their three matches so far. To me it seems that all the components are there, but at the moment the team is playing within itself, never quite playing as well as it is capable of.

They can beat Uruguay, who have been very impressive up to this point, but it may take more than they showed against Nigeria. More clinical finishing is needed, as is more protection for the defence. I believe part of the solution is to change the formation, and it looks like maybe Huh Jung-moo is coming round to my way of thinking after he did adopt that formation after 63 minutes against Nigeria. Uruguay are a hard working team, but so are Korea. Uruguay have a few genuinely outstanding players in attack, so Korea will have to be careful. I don’t think Korea will get away with a 1-0 win because I think Uruguay will certainly score. This means Korea need to have enough about them in attack to put at least two goals away. Whether or not they win the game I believe will ultimately come down to whether or not they can play their best football in attack they way they like without leaving the defence too exposed.

South Korea showed fighting spirit to secure the result they needed

The team I would pick to play against Uruguay is:

Jung Sung-ryong

Oh Beom-seok          Lee Jung-soo          Cho Yong-hyung          Lee Young-pyo

Kim Nam-il          Kim Jung-woo

Lee Chung-yong                    Ki Sung-yeung                       Park Ji-sung

Park Chu-young

I think it would also be necessary to bring on Cha Du-ri for Oh in the second half, and perhaps to bring on another striker and revert to a more conventional 4-4-2 formation.

Posted in Highlights, Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Chung-yong, Match Review, Park Chu-young, Park Ji-sung, World Cup | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

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!

Posted in Highlights, Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Chung-yong, Park Ji-sung, World Cup | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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 »