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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.

Park Ji-sung celebrates his fine goal against Greece

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.

Cha Du-ri as 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.

South Korea were overcome by Argentina's wealth of attacking talent

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.

Lee Chung-yong was Korea's brightest player and scored an excellent goal

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.

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Posted in Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Chung-yong, Match Review, Park Ji-sung, World Cup | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 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 »