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Preview: South Korea vs Honduras, South Korea vs Bosnia and Herzegovina

The K League takes a break for a few weeks for the World Cup. But before South Korea head off to Russia, they have two friendly matches lined up. First is a match against Honduras on Monday 28th June in Daegu, followed by a game against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Jeonju on Friday 1st June. Steve Price previews these matches with help from Matt Binns and Bosnian football expert Tarik Ajanović.

South Korea Squad News

Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. In defense, Kim Min-jae will miss the World Cup. His main defensive partner Jang Hyun-soo will be fit for Russia, but not for these two friendlies so Korea will line up with a new defensive partnership against Honduras. Many fans expect that to be Kim Young-gwon and Kwon Kyung-won, but Shin Tae-yong might try some other options in these friendlies, with perhaps Jeju United's Oh Ban-suk making his national team debut.

Shin Tae-yong will check left back Kim Jin-soo's fitness before the team departs for Russia, but Kim Jin-soo won't be available for these matches, so there will be a new left back as well.

In midfield, Kwon Chang-hoon's injury is a massive blow to Korea. Veterans Lee Geun-ho and Yeom Ki-hoon will also miss the World Cup, so there will be a lot of attention on who will play on the wing for Korea. The loss of Lee and Yeom could boost Lee Chung-yong's chances of earning a spot in the final 23-man roster as he would be one of the experienced heads in the team, but at the same time he has barely played for Crystal Palace this season. Shin Tae-yong will likely want to see how he performs before he makes a final decision. But at the same time, these friendlies could be Hellas Verona midfielder Lee Seung-woo's chance to prove he is ready to play for the full national team.

What to Expect

A month ago, South Korea's formation seemed pretty much set at 4-4-2, but the injuries since then have led Shin Tae-yong to hint at some new tactics, and possibly a new formation. Here's what Shin told Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday:

"Swedish media report that we're going with 4-4-2, but if that's what they want to believe, I have nothing to say," Shin told reporters at the National Football Center (NFC) in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. "But I must say we're also preparing other things. We can come up with new tactics."

This could mean a return to a back three, especially as there are a large number of defenders on the roster. Korea have played best recently with a back-four, but at the same time, tactical flexibility is also required at the top level. I wouldn't be surprised if Korea do experiment with a back three in one of these friendlies and try out 4-4-2 for the other match.

Korea's attacking strategy now relies even more on getting the best out of Son Heung-min. With Lee Geun-ho's injury, Incheon United's Moon Seon-min might be given a chance in one of the games to see if he can strike up a good partnership with the Tottenham Hotspur star to give Shin Tae-yong another option apart from Hwang Hee-chan and Kim Shin-wook.

Special Preview by Matt Binns

Enthusiasm for this Korean team feels at an all time low given their unconvincing qualifying campaign, the incredibly tough group draw and the ever mounting list of injuries, with the recent loss of the highly talented Dijon midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon being the final blow. That said, with little expectation should come little pressure to excel, and hopefully Shin Tae-yong will see this as an opportunity to encourage his team to play some positive football. These friendlies provide the ideal chance to show that and try and garner some support from an apathetic nation.

From the various formations Shin Tae-yong has trialled since taking over at the helm, the most promising still seems to have been the 4-4-2 used at against Colombia in a friendly and also on two occasions in the EAFF E-1 East Asian Championships. It is often portrayed as simplistic, but every player seemed to know what they were doing on those occasions, and having a competent back four rather than a questionable back three was far more preferable. It probably still won’t keep the likes of Germany out mind, but should at least limit the damage.

Given the mounting injuries, I don’t think there will be too many surprises in the starting eleven. As always, I hope to see a strong showing from Lee Jae-sung as he is fantastic player who deserves recognition well beyond Asia. Lee Seung-woo is the obvious wildcard. I still do not approve of his selection as I feel he does not have the professional minutes and is still quite a raw talent, but he is here now and will now likely be in the final 23 man squad. He has shown in the Korean youth squads though that he has the spark to light up a match. If he is to justify his place on the plane, he needs to prove himself in these two friendlies.

The Adversaries

Both Honduras and Bosnia and Herzegovina were at Brazil 2014, but neither side will be at the World Cup this summer.

Korea were lucky not to play Honduras last November in the World Cup qualification playoffs. Honduras finished fourth in the CONCACAF final group stage, and lost 3-1 on aggregate to Australia in the playoffs. They are decent opponents for Korea, even if their players are relatively unknown outside of North America.

Bosnia and Herzegovina finished in third place behind Belgium and Greece in UEFA qualification group H. A surprise defeat to Cyprus and an inability to beat Greece at home cost Bosnia a chance to reach the 2018 World Cup. Captain Edin Džeko and Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanić are the names that fans are most likely to recognize from the squad that will face Korea.

Special Preview: Bosnia and Herzegovina

By sports consultant Tarik Ajanović

Bosnia & Herzegovina are very much a team in a state of internal transition, still searching for the right tactical approach with their new manager, Robert Prosinečki. While it is absolutely clear that the more prominent players led by Edin Džeko and Miralem Pjanić will remain in their positions with their usual playing styles, this Bosnian team is going through a minor change of generations opening a whole new set of possibilities for the younger players to stake their claim. 

This is most evidenced by the recent international retirements of four players from the starting line up – Vedad Ibišević – a  Hertha BSC poacher, Haris Medunjanin – a luxury midfielder from Philadelphia Union and Senad Lulić – an energetic left winger from Lazio. Bosnian fans are still skeptical regarding their replacements, something that is going to be a challenge for the manager.

Since taking over as the national team manager in January, Robert Prosinečki, once famed for his lucid and sometimes too-good-to-be-true passes (something Portsmouth FC fans would know), has been trying to introduce an attacking style based on a hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1 approach with good organisation in the back, committed midfield with a lot of passing skill and two fast wingers cutting inside and assisting the main star of the team, Edin Džeko. 

Although this approach is very much known to the Bosnian players, the team as a whole is still struggling to find the right rhythm since Miralem Pjanić cannot exactly replace Zvjezdan Misimović and his natural connection with Džeko since the Misimović's retirement from professional football back in January 2017. 

Also, Emir Spahić's retirement has left a gaping hole in their defence with none of the players being able to replace his dynamic but sometimes overly aggressive approach to defending. In the 5 matches so far under Prosinečki, the Bosnians have recorded a 1-0 win over Bulgaria, two goalless draws with USA and Senegal and a single-goal defeat against Mexico. However, it should be noted that the matches against USA and Mexico were essentially played with B/C sides featuring mostly domestic players.

The Bosnian team will miss two important players for their friendly fixtures against Montenegro and South Korea – Asmir Begović and Sead Kolašinac. The rest of the players from the squad are available, albeit somewhat unmotivated and already with their minds on vacation so the main Bosnian weakness is predominantly in their level of physical and mental fatigue.

Although Kolašinac's injury was not a surprise for the manager, Begović's request to miss this match due to family issues was a bit of a disappointment making this his 5th missed match in a row due to a mix of availability issues for the US tour and the agreement with the manager to miss the previous two matches. However, taking into account that his recent form had been a bit unreliable, perhaps Ibrahim Šehić's motivation to prove himself once more will be a better asset for these two games. The former Qarabağ goalkeeper was released by his club earlier this week following his decision not to renew his contract but his decent performances for the national team and in the Champions League are likely to help him attract some interest over the course of these two matches. He does not have the qualities of a top goalkeeper but is committed enough and a decent replacement for Begović. 

Defence is generally considered as the weakest part of the Bosnian team. The first candidate for the left-back position is Eldar Čivić, a starter from the U-21 national team who has some skill in attacking runs and who has managed to start in 9 matches on loan to the Slovakian outfit Spartak Trnava after a rather weak first part of the season with Sparta Prague in Czech Republic. The second candidate for that spot is Bojan Nastić from Genk in Belgium who has previously played for Serbian youth teams. Ervin Zukanović is also capable of playing as a left-back but the manager seems really keen to expand the pool of players around the team so that does not seem too likely. The second full-back is probably going to be Darko Todorović, another U-21 stalwart and one of the rare players from the domestic championship in this team. Very motivated and with his breakthrough season behind him, Todorović has managed to keep the attention of the manager since the first match on the US tour. The centre-back responsibility will most likely be given to Toni Šunjić and Ognjen Vranješ, but a duo of Ervin Zukanović and Ermin Bičakčić could be an option as well in order to play rested players without any real change in quality. The actual choice will depend on the match against Montenegro. 

The Bosnian midfield has several interesting options and with the South Korean match coming so close after the friendly against Montenegro, secondary options are most likely going to be tested here. The established wingers, Haris Duljević and Edin Višća, could be replaced with the likes of Goran Zakarić on the left wing and Kenan Kodro on the right since these players have relatively successful seasons behind them and will be looking forward to a chance to get the manager's attention. The main needed quality here remains the ability to cross the ball as well as to contribute as much as possible in front of the goal so Džeko or any other striker is not really alone in front of the goal. 

Miralem Pjanić is expected to get his playing time as a starter but he is rather jaded after so many challenges at Juventus so Deni Milošević could show his skills after a decent season in Turkey for Konyaspor as a substitute. It should be noted that the Bosnian fans' expectations of Pjanić sometimes do not align with his performances on the pitch as he is played more as a regular playmaker than a more build-up midfielder like at Juventus so putting too much responsiblity in him does not always suit the team. An interesting option here is also Elvis Sarić, currently without a club after leaving FK Sarajevo, who has the manager's trust for his committed level of play so he is expected to try to link the play as deep-lying quasi-playmaker but who is also capable of stopping the opposition. He was one of the few players to survive the cut following the US tour. 

The defensive role is usually held by Muhamed Bešić, recently brought to life by a loan spell at Middlesbrough from Everton which is surely good news for the manager. However, with the squad tinkering expected to take place, Cimirot could be a starter here leading the generation of newer players ready to challenge the more established players in the team for their roles.

With the manager's plans for only one striker, several players will be hoping to get a chance to showcase their skills with Riad Bajić being the first pick for a substitution although Smail Prevljak will be hoping for another chance as well after a very good season on loan at Mattersburg from Red Bull Salzburg. Obviously, Edin Džeko is expected to start in this match and his performances for Roma this season have been nothing short of phenomenal, amassing 24 goals and 6 assists once again proving that a rumoured decision not to move to Chelsea during the winter break had been the right choice at that time. With still a few good years in him, Džeko is a big inspiration to all other players in the team but, with the departure of Ibišević from the team, the gap is quality is even greater now on the bench so a lot of collective hard work on behalf of the whole team will be needed in order to replace a player like him, either tactically in a single game or strategically down the line when he eventually moves on to the next stage of his career.

Key Dates

May 28th - South Korea vs Honduras (in Daegu)

June 1st - South Korea vs Bosnia and Herzegovina (in Jeonju)

June 3rd - 23-man squad announced

June 7th - South Korea vs Bolivia (in Austria)

June 11th - South Korea vs Senegal (in Austria)

June 12th - South Korea arrive in St. Petersburg

June 18th - South Korea play first World Cup match against Sweden

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