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Review of Korea's International Friendlies Against Russia And Morocco

Korea started off their World Cup preparations with two poor performances and two defeats. And what must worry fans is that the lapses in defensive concentration that we saw in the last few games of the Stielike era seem to have returned, with seven goals conceded in two matches. If Korea wants to get past the group stage then they will need to be solid at the back. 
(image via espnfc.com.au)


Back in 2002, South Korea conceded just one goal in the group stage, and three in total (excluding the third place play-off). The good news is that Shin Tae-yong’s side kept two clean sheets when it actually mattered (against Iran and Uzbekistan). The bad news is that Korea has so few on-form defenders at the moment. Without the emergence of Jeonbuk’s Kim Min-jae, Korea would be in real trouble. The number of defenders who according to fans should ‘never play for the national team again’ is probably greater than the number of Korean fans who showed up to the match in Switzerland.

Kim Ju-young bore the brunt of the Korean netizens’ ire, staying at the top of Naver’s frequently searched terms and receiving a lot of abuse after his two own goals in two minutes against Russia. Fans shouldn’t be so harsh on him for making some unlucky mistakes in a friendly match. The abuse he got was such that his confidence could be permanently damaged.


Three-Four-Fail

A lot of the goals came from defensive mistakes, but tactics were also to blame. 3-4-3 doesn’t work well without a strong holding midfielder who is good at winning the ball and breaking up opponents’ attacks. Kim Bo-kyung isn’t that guy so pairing him with Ki Seung-yung was a recipe for disaster. For 3-4-3 to work, Korea needs a Kante to Ki Seung-yung’s Fabregas. The formation also requires that the wing backs are top class, in both an attacking and defensive sense. From the full-back position, Lee Chung-yong had plenty of time to look up and thread some nice through-balls to Korea’s attacking players, picking up a couple of assists along the way, but defensively he is not the answer. 
Sacking Won't Solve Anything

There are plenty of reasons why Shin Tae-yong shouldn’t be the national team coach, him being perceived as Kim Ho-gon’s choice for example, or his poor tactics and man-management, but fans shouldn’t judge him solely on the back of the results of two friendlies. In fact, they shouldn’t judge any manager on the basis of their first two friendlies, especially when they don’t have a full squad to choose from. Changing Shin Tae-yong won’t suddenly turn Korea into world champions, there are too many structural issues holding the Korean game back, and there’s no easy fix. Korea’s problems in the two friendlies shows the risk of relying on foreign-based players to compensate for a domestic league that is chronically mis-managed. A strong K-League is needed to provide the depth that the national team needs in order to compete at a higher level.

Need To Learn From Mistakes

Friendly matches are about getting to know players’ personalities, like whether Kim Ju-young has the resilience to bounce back from his mistakes, and how players act when they go a goal or two down. They are about players learning each others’ styles so that they can combine effectively as a unit. And they are about managers trying different systems to see what works and what doesn’t. Shin Tae-yong would have learned a lot about what doesn’t work, and fans shouldn’t judge him on this. They should judge him on whether he can learn from his mistakes and improve the national team over a longer period of time. There’s no need for KNT fans to panic just yet, time is not ‘running out’ so to speak. After all, the World Cup qualifying stages are still not yet finished. Also, Korea are (somehow) in the World Cup, and fans of Australia, the USA, Chile, the Netherlands, and a whole host of others would happily swap Korea’s current situation for theirs. That in itself is something worth celebrating when you consider a large portion of Korea’s first choice eleven have barely played football over the last twelve months.

Get Behind The Team

One thing the Korean national team does need is a confidence boost. Fans should also remember the biblical quote, “Let he who is without sin cast the first yeot.” Until fans start supporting their domestic league in large numbers, anything Korea achieves at the World Cup is a bonus, not a right, and they shouldn’t try to destroy a player’s career if he has one bad match.

Long-Term Plan Needed

Of course, there also needs to be change at the top of Korea’s footballing administration, but fans need to do their part too. Patience, from all quarters, is also needed when it comes to managers. It takes time to build a team, and in international football, that timescale is stretched by the long gaps between fixtures. Unless the KFA find a quality replacement who they are willing to back for the next 5 years without any knee-jerk reactions after a defeat (even if Korea perform badly at the World Cup), then there’s no point in changing the coach. As for Shin Tae-yong, he shouldn’t be judged solely on these two friendlies, but he has to show that he has learned from them next time around.

1 comment

  1. Don't defend Shin! He's 4 games without a win. He is not a WC level manager. Even Stielike could have gotten two draws against Asian opposition to qualify us to the WC. SHIN OUT HOGON OUT!

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