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Writers' Chat: Poland vs South Korea

After decent results in Shin Tae-yong's special winter training camp, Korea's World Cup preparations continue with matches against Northern Ireland and Poland during the March international break. To find out more about the Poland team that will face Korea in the early hours of Wednesday 28th (Korean Time), Steve Price spoke to Tom Wood. Tom is an expert on football in eastern Europe and contributes to futbolgrad.com.

Match Review: South Korea vs Northern Ireland

South Korea lost two-one to Northern Ireland in their first friendly of the March international break. Despite the result, there were several positives for Korea to take away from Belfast.

Korea had 65% of the possession according to ESPN, and also had 15 shots on goal, although they only hit the target twice. They used penetrating passes from deep to find a way through (over) Northern Ireland's packed defense, and played some good attacking football, but as the match went on, Korea started to run out of ideas.

Korea also struggled to get Son Heung-min involved in the game. Northern Ireland said before the match that they had a plan to keep Son quiet, and that plan was effective. At Spurs, Son has more space because he is part of an attack full of dangerous players like Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Erik Lamela so the opposition's defense can't worry about him alone. Often star players don't have the same impact at international level as they do at club level, and a big part of that is because the opposition can afford to focus on shutting that player down. For Korea to do well, they need their other attacking talents to perform well to take that burden off Son. Against Northern Ireland, Lee Jae-sung looked like he can make that step up and Kwon Chang-hoon got Korea's only goal of the game, but Kim Shin-wook couldn't reproduce the form he has been showing in previous international friendlies.

Defensively, Korea made a few mistakes and paid for them once again. Northern Ireland weren't putting Korea's defense under that much pressure but still managed to score two goals. Defense was also a problem under Uli Stielike, partly due to Korea's top defenders not getting enough time on the pitch for their clubs. Jang Hyun-soo was one of those players who struggled to get a game for Guangzhou R&F before his transfer to Tokyo. He is playing regularly in the J.League now, but didn't have a great game against Northern Ireland, and he is currently bearing the brunt of the abuse from Korea's netizens over his performance (he is ranked sixth on Naver's search terms at the time of writing). He isn't the first Korean defender to be heavily criticized after a friendly, Kim Ju-young got a similar treatment after his two own goals against Russia.

It's easy to criticize Korea's defense but I rarely hear people offer up alternative back lines, so it would be great if some of the people who read this article comment or tweet who they think should make up Korea's back four (or back three if you choose your tactics based on what's in vogue at the moment). For me, I was a little disappointed not to see Kwon Kyung-won selected because he's looked decent most of the times I've seen him play, but, like Jang Hyun-soo last year, Kwon seems to have caught CSL-itus, and isn't likely to get enough playing time between now and June to justify his inclusion in the World Cup squad.

Next up for Korea is Poland, and a chance for Shin Tae-yong to try out some other options. Poland played Nigeria in a friendly earlier in the week, losing one-nil with Chelsea's Victor Moses getting the only goal of the game. I spoke to Tom Wood from futbolgrad.com to find out a bit more about the Poland national team.

Questions on the Poland National Team

Steve Price: Poland qualified quite easily and Group H, containing Japan, Colombia, and Senegal, isn't exactly the toughest group. How far can Poland go at Russia 2018?

Tom Wood: Poland’s form largely correlates with the form of their enigmatic striker Robert Lewandowski. Lewandowski is closing in on Michał Żewłakow’s all-time appearance record for his country as he continues to build his footballing legacy and cement his position as Poland’s greatest ever player. Poland’s group, whilst not showcasing any team at the forefront of world football, is relatively competitive. Japan are one of Asia’s top sides and Colombia overcame the absolute shark tank of a qualifying group in South America to qualify for Russia. They have massive fire power going forward, with James Rodriguez, Jackson Martinez, Radamel Falcao, Carlos Bacca and Juan Cuadrado all capable of being world class forwards on their day. Senegal again pose a massive threat to Poland with the likes of Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly, Moussa Sow and Idrissa Gueye playing for them. So, qualifying from the group will certainly be a lot harder for Poland than it may appear on the surface. But again, with an on-form Robert Lewandowski at the helm, anything is possible.

Steve: Poland are currently ranked sixth in the world. Do Poland warrant their high FIFA ranking?

Tom: Poland’s ranking of 6th in the world is particularly high. Instantly it seems rather easy to dismiss the feats of the national team, however more than often there isn’t smoke without fire. Quite clearly Poland have had to have been at least somewhat convincing to reach such heights. Yes, there are clear and very apparent problems with FIFA’s ranking system, but unfortunately, it’s here to stay, and the Polish national team, despite claims of over-achievement, have reaped the benefits and have a very high position in the rankings.

Steve: Apart from Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski, are there any other Polish players we should keep our eyes on? 

Tom: Lewandowski is clearly the team’s stand out performer, however a number of other similar names do appear in the team’s line-up. Jakub "Kuba" Błaszczykowski has proven to be a pillar of consistency at right midfield/ full back from his time spent at Borussia Dortmund, Fiorentina and now Wolfsburg. Hull City have Kamil Grosicki to thank for some excellent performances for the Tigers, and the Pole’s great form should naturally transfer to the national team. Napoli’s Piotr Zieliński has also proven his pedigree in Serie A for a number of seasons now, and is in very high demand across the continent, Liverpool it’s been said have been after his signature. Two names that were seen to be up and coming stars in EURO 2016, Andreas Milik and Grzegorz Krychowiak have stagnated since France 2 years ago. Milik’s move to Napoli has been marred by regular injuries and Kychowiak’s transfer from Sevilla to PSG saw himself completely isolated from the first team squad. It’s certain that both players possess the ability to change the course of a game, however if Milik remains injury ridden, and Kychowiak’s relationship with current manager Alan Pardew at West Brom continues to be heated, Poland won’t reap the benefits at the World Cup.

Steve: How are Poland likely to approach this match? What formation or style might they use?

Tom: Poland are managed by Adam Nawałka, who as a footballer notably plied his trade for Wisła Kraków domestically. Under Nawałka gone are the days of counter attacking and defensive football, his Poland side looking to press whenever they can with attacking wingbacks meaning that they pose a very dangerous attacking threat. Depending on whether Milik is fit as a second striker, Poland will probably look to use a 4-2-2-2 formation, or a 4-2-3-1 formation. Either way, Poland will be a dangerous prospect and even without their star striker are a very drilled and regimented squad.

Korea take on Poland at 3:45 a.m. Wednesday 28th March (Korean Time)

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