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K League Coach: Korea vs Bosnia and Herzegovina Analysis

K League Coach: South Korea vs Bosnia and Herzegovina Friendly Analysis
After a good performance saw the Korean national team beat Honduras 3-0, Shin Tae-yong had another opportunity to prepare his squad for the rapidly approaching World Cup with a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina. We examine how the manager decided to approach the game, and what it means for the summer tournament.
(Image via The KFA)

Game Information

Team: Korean National Team
Opposition: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Date: June 1st 2018
Competition: International Friendly
Number of report: 3

Match Overview

Bosnia and Herzegovina offered the strongest challenge of all the friendlies in the build-up to the World Cup. Manager Shin Tae-yong decided to use this game to try a different strategy to the one used against Honduras yet their opponents managed to edge the tie in terms of both the quality of chances created and dictating the tempo, running out deserved winners.

Line Up

Shin opted to employ a three center back system. There would be two full backs tasked with recovering into the back line and also provide width in attack. Two center midfielders sat in front of the three center backs to offer protection. One central attacking midfielder was used to ensure the two midfielders did not get overrun, whilst also joining the front two for attacks and high pressing moments.

The Intention

Unless you have been on the practice field all week and in the changing room before a game it is impossible to say for certain what a coach was hoping to see during the game. However, Shin's personnel selection gives an insight into his thinking.

The selection of Ki at the heart of the back three was unexpected by the majority of Korea fans. We can assume it was an attempt by Shin to help Korea play out from the back more successfully. The team had previously often resorted to long inaccurate balls from the back when a forward passing option didn't immediately offer itself. With Ki it may be that Shin was trying to help the team retain possession, find better forward passes and deal with the possibility of Bosnia and Herzegovina playing a high pressing system.

By playing Lee Yong and Kim Min-woo out wide it was clear that the role of these wide men would involved falling back to join the defensive line as both are experienced players who have fulfilled similar duties before.

By including Lee Jae-sung behind the front two, Shin signalled his intent to continue using a high pressing system that had been used against Honduras and the second half against Poland.

Attacking Shape

The starting formation meant that when defenders or holding midfielders were in possession, they had a large number of forward passing options. However, rotation within these roles was reduced when compared to the formations used against Honduras. Due to the large defensive responsibilities of the full backs they were not able to freely rotate with other attacking players, as Lee Seung-woo, Hwang, Son and Moon had been free to in the second half of the previous game. This was down to a fear of a turnover and being caught out, leaving the back three exposed.

Right sided center back, Yun, plays wide
Ki advances with the ball with the back three spread

Defensive Shape

The defensive set up saw Korea still apply a high press system. Lee Jae-sung was tasked with stepping up to join the front two, either centrally or in wide areas to apply pressure to the Bosnia back line. Lee was also asked to drop into midfield if an initial high press was not possible. Finally, when facing attacks from wide areas, the full back would step up to confront the Bosnian in possession while the opposite full back dropped in on the far side to support a back four behind the pressing full back. This is a very responsive system and takes great communication along with quick decision making to ensure no gaps are left open. If executed well it can smother an opponents attack quickly. If incorrectly executed it can leave huge gaps between defenders as they shift, which can be easily exploited at an international level.

Lee pressing out side and opposite full back tucking in


Issues began to crop up very early on. As shown below, the positioning of the Bosnian front three meant Korea were often using three men to mark one central striker. It also left them with two 1vs1 scenarios in wide areas. When Bosnia were able to beat the initial press, usually by playing to one full back, dropping it back and switching to the other, one of their midfield three would pull away from the two Korean holders and create overloads on the flanks

Korean shape meant defenders were often poorly allocated to deal with the Bosnian movement
This was a key factor in the lead up to the opening goal. Bosnia were able to create a 3vs2 out wide and get in behind the full back. The central defender was reluctant to come so far wide resulting in a free crossing opportunity.

This 3 vs 2 out wide ended with Bosnia taking the lead
The back three also had issues when Bosnia attacked or with runners centrally. Executing a back three system requires excellent communication and movement to close gaps and deal with potential threats. Unsurprisingly for a defence with a central midfielder at the heart of it, Korea had a hard time coping. This occurred at lest three times in the first half, with the third incident resulting in the 2nd Bosnian goal.

Ki's discomfort at center back also played a hand in the final goal of the night. With his center back partner contesting a direct ball, Ki fails to close the gap and once it is clear that the Bosnian attacker has won the ball Ki initially goes to press, then changes his mind and backs away. This results in another free cross that was magnificently finished on the volley for a wonderful goal.

One of the positives to come out the shape was the fact that Korea were once again successful in pressing the opposition high up the field. On several occasions Korea forced Bosnia into giving the ball away or taking it off them in in dangers areas. Korea were rewarded for their hard work when one of these turnovers ended up with Korea equalizing shortly after Bosnia went ahead.

The plan to use Ki as a way of helping the defence retain possession seemed to work in part. Ki was able to pick out a couple of great forward passes and was also willing to receive the ball under some pressure and find a away of retaining it for the team rather than simply sending it high and forward


Two objectives of the system were achieved. Ki helped retain possession at the back rather then resorting to long balls when pressed, and the high pressing system that worked well against Honduras continued. However, the shape was exposed by Bosnia when they created wide overloads, and the three defenders chosen struggled with any attacks centrally and runners getting by them.

Moving Forward

  • Though Ki was effective in half of his role, is this the best use of his abilities? Would the team be better off with Ki in midfield picking out passes into the final third instead of playing so deep? With Bosnia sitting deeper the longer the game went on, Ki almost became irrelevant. 
  • Ki is clearly not ready to play center back at a World Cup. With so many injuries and tactical changes is this a system that Korea can confidently use in a major tournament?
  • Delivery from wide areas was once again poor. Often crosses failed to beat the first man, sailed into the goalkeepers arms or ended up behind the goal. When playing with attacking full backs, the quality of deliveries from wide is vital.
  • It seems that the high press system is what Korea will go for against Sweden and Mexico. The players have shown they can execute the press and are able to capitalize on the turnovers.
  • The Bosnia game also asks if Shin actually knows his best team? Experimenting in such major ways so close to a major tournament rather than fine tuning a system and deciding on a few final spots may suggest he hasn't settled on a plan yet.
  • With two friendlies to go before the Sweden game, it may be in the teams interest to focus on one system and ensure everyone is comfortable with it before the tournament starts.
If you want to hear more thoughts on Korean's tactical decisions ahead of the World Cup you can now follow the K League Coach on Twitter

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