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East Asian Cup: South Korea vs North Korea Writers' Chat

In the second set of matches of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship, South Korea take on North Korea. Neither team got off to a winning start, with South Korea drawing 2-2 against China and North Korea losing 1-0 to a last-minute goal against Japan on Saturday. K-League United's Steve Price and Matt Binns discuss Tuesday's match between the two Koreas.

Steve Asks, Matt Answers

Steve Price: What is North Korea's form like going into the tournament and what are they hoping to get out of it? 

Matt Binns: With the likes of Japan and the Republic of Korea in the competition, any ambitions of taking the trophy should probably be tempered somewhat. All three of the other nations boast domestic leagues with teams that feature in the AFC Champions’ League, whilst DPR Korea has players gathered from their little known Highest Class Football League, dominated by military outfit April 25, and a handful from Japan’s second tier. The gulf in class between the pool of talent available should be stark, but as we saw against Japan, they were capable of causing a headache. I would imagine a strong and respectable showing on the pitch in all three games, plus a point or three to cheer about, would be considered a good tournament by the manager.

SP: North Korea were unlucky not to get anything out of the Japan game. Which North Korean players particularly impressed you in that match? 

MB: There were a number of good individual performances that stood out during the match. Right back Sim Hyo-jin had a solid game, being involved in a number of counter attacks and helping to provide some opportunities, yet still getting back to help his defence out. I felt centre back Ri Yong-chol played well, getting to loose balls first and clearing to remove the pressure from his defence. I was also impressed with midfielder Ri Yong-jik who was involved in a number of counter attacks. Finally, while he had a relatively quiet game against Japan, I still feel striker Kim Yu-song should be monitored considering the goal scoring form he is in. He looks like a forward capable of causing problems for weaker centre backs, which could be an issue for South Korea.


SP: What system are North Korea likely to use against South Korea?  

MB: I would imagine that tactically DPR Korea will set up in a similar manner to how they did against Japan, with five men across the back when without the ball, looking to counter attack when in possession. In fact, Jørn Anderson’s men ceded 66% of the possession to Japan, yet were disciplined enough to limit the Samurai Blue to just eight shots, four of which were on target. This is in comparison to North Korea’s 12 attempts, with 6 directed on target. Based on the Japan encounter, they tended not to dive in as well, staying on their feet thereby keeping their shape and rigidity, choosing to cut out passes and wait for mistakes rather than dive in.


SP: Nobody knows much about North Korea. How's their foreign coach getting on there? Has he changed how they play?

MB: Despite their counter-attacking display against Japan, DPR Korea had actually been playing with an emphasis on committing men forward coming into this game. Anderson’s appointment in May 2016 saw him become the first foreign manager of a North Korean side since 1991. The former Norwegian international took control of a side that had been stuttering form wise, with goals seemingly drying up in the process. His first year in charge saw his side just lose once, in a friendly to Vietnam, yet storm through qualification for this tournament with three wins, five goals and zero conceded. However, the willingness to let his team attack nearly damaged their path to qualification for the Asian Cup with a defensively naive performance against Lebanon that saw them lose 5-0, but two resounding 4-1 victories over Malaysia has seen them reposition themselves to progress with just one game remaining. It is good to see the manager use the tournament to try a different approach.

Matt's Prediction: South 1 - North 1

Matt Asks, Steve Answers

Matt Binns: It certainly didn’t go to plan for the Republic of Korea, conceding two goals to a Chinese side they were expected to beat. What went wrong for Shin Tae-yong’s men?

Steve Price: Defensively, there were again a few lapses in concentration, which seem to have been plaguing South Korea for the past couple of years. Offensively, they lacked flair and imagination, especially in the second half. Once China equalised, South Korea never really looked like scoring, and didn't get the ball forward quickly. In the end, they resorted to long-range efforts to try and find a winner. China's performance shows its easy for supposedly weaker teams to set themselves up to get a result from South Korea.

MB: Kim Shin-wook managed to find the net and an assist. Yet, it seemed not everyone was initially pleased with his selection and some commenters felt he could have contributed more. What was your take on his performance and do you think he should start against North Korea?

SP: His knock-downs worked in the first half because China were quite attacking and left some space at the back for Kim Shin-wook to knock the ball down into, but later on, China shut-up shop and this space disappeared. I think the criticism isn't about the Wookie, but more about what he represents, which is the uninspired 'hoof-it-to-the-big-man' approach that appeared at several times during the match. He had a decent performance but I wouldn't play him against North Korea because these matches represent a chance to do something a bit different and so South Korea should work on playing decent football instead.

MB: Which players stood out for you and were there any individual performances that went under the radar that should be mentioned?

SP: Lee Jae-sung had a good game, despite starting on the wing. On the whole though, Korea didn't really get playing well as a team. Shin Tae-yong criticised his defence, saying they 'looked sluggish as a unit', but I'd say the whole team looked a bit sluggish, and some of the blame for that has to fall on the manager.

MB: DPR Korea played a five man back line for most of the game against Japan, sitting back and waiting to counter. With this group of players, how will Shin Tae-yong look to break down such a tight defence?

SP: Often, South Korea rely on a bit of Son Heung-min magic to break down the opposition in such circumstances, leading to him being closely man-marked out of the game and fans then criticising him for not winning the match by himself. South Korea need to try something different because playing route-one football into Kim Shin-wook will suit North Korea very nicely. I'd like to see a bit more of an attacking formation with Lee Chang-min and Yun Il-lok starting. Yun is very inconsistent, but he offers another dimension to what has so far been a very one-dimensional South Korea side.

Steve's Prediction: South 2 - North 0

South Korea take on North Korea at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday December 12th at the Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo. 

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