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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 – 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.

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