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K League Coach World Cup Analysis: Korea 1-2 Mexico

World Cup Analysis: Korea 1-2 Mexico
Korea suffered their second successive defeat of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia by falling to a 2-1 loss against Group F leaders Mexico. A Son Heungmin screamer in the dying embers gave the Taeguk Warriors a glimmer of hope but the Spurs forward's strike wasn't enough to cancel out goals from Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez. The K League Coach was on hand to dissect what went wrong for Shin Tae-yong's team.
(Image via Associated Press)

Game Information

Team: Korean National Team
Opposition: Mexico
Date: June 23rd 2018
Competition: World Cup Round 2
Number of report: 6

Match Overview

A challenging game against a strong Mexico team saw Korea fail to register their first point of the World Cup. Mexico were able to impose their style of play on the game, and despite a late goal from Son Heung-min, Mexico were good value for their victory.

Line Up

The inclusion of Moon Seon-min on the right side of midfield came as a surprise. Replacing Kim Shin-wook and chosen over the more technically gifted Lee Seung-woo, it was perhaps Moon's pace and work-rate that lead to his inclusion. Shin Tae-yong would have hoped to see Moon to track deep, following the runs of Gallardo down the flank and to quickly transition from defensive positions to a more attacking role.

Defensive Structure

Though on paper a 4-4-2, Korea organised into a mix between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 when out of possession. The whole team would drop, usually trying to form a block just inside the Mexican half. Hwang Hee-chan was allowed to push higher up alongside the front two and try and block passing lanes from the Mexican back line. On the opposite flank, Moon was asked to drop deeper and track the movement of Gallardo on Korea's right-hand side

Offensive Shape

Korea had very few opportunities to build organised attacks. After turnovers, the man in possession would usually quickly look to play in behind the Mexican defence and use the pace of Son and Hwang to chase down long balls. This had some degree of success as Son was on occasion able to create shooting opportunities for himself. The few occasions Korea were in control of possession they held the two centre midfielders back and allowed full-backs to get forward and support play from wide areas.

A reoccurring issue for Korea has been delivery of crosses from out wide. The standard of the cross has been poor and this continued to be an issue against Mexico. Counter-attacks and play in the final third were often broke down due to the accuracy of the pass. Korea's attacking issues were summed up when Son was able to create a shooting chance for himself from one counter-attack, but the original ball that was played was behind his run and cost him a much better opportunity. Korea have attacking talent but the strategies and service into the attacking players have not always brought out the best in them. Finding full-backs who can provide better service is something that Korea must address moving forward.

Transitional Moments

It was in moments of transition after Mexico won the ball that Korea really struggled. Despite Mexico dominating possession, it was split second mistakes as the ball turned over that Korea were caught out. The first goal can be traced back to a Korean corner; as Mexico pressed the ball after they cleared the corner they won the ball and broke on Korea's right. As the defensive line backed off the Korean central midfielder decided to step up and stop the play at the source. With the team moving in two different directions this left a huge gap between the midfield and defensive line, and left a Mexican midfielder wide open to receive a simple pass.

A Korean central defender then decided to step up alone and was beaten one-on-one Now, with Mexico charging down the middle of the field, the Korea defence had no protection and could not get organised. As the through-ball was played the full-back could not orientate his body correctly and missed his clearance allowing Mexico through. From here, Mexico were able to bring men forward and eventually earned themselves a penalty.

The decision to press was not a mistake in itself but the uncoordinated manner in which Korea did so was. Pressing responses need to be team-wide to ensure large areas of space don't emerge.

The second goal also contained a poor error in the moment of transition. Korea were in the build-up phase of an attack when the ball is turned over. The Korean midfielder decided to dive in and make a challenge from a poor position. He failed to recognise that if he did not win the ball Mexico would break with three against two and with the entire half to run into. Quickly assessing situations in transition is a key component to winning games at an elite level.

For a team to be able to make coordinated pressing decisions takes a lot of work and familiarity. It could be argued that the constant changes of shape, strategy and personal over the last few months have not helped prepare the Korean team for these moments.


  • Korea struggled in transitional moments. Against Sweden, the deep defensive strategy meant players could not capitalise on transitional moments and get forward to attack. This time it was when Korea lost the ball that uncoordinated decisions were made. Teams of the quality of Mexico punish these errors.
  • Service from crosses and final penetrating passes often lacked quality and lead to turnovers or lost opportunities.
  • Constant changes to the team seem to have left the players unfamiliar and unprepared to execute a particular plan.
  • In the opening two games, Korea have failed to play a system that helps maximize the threat of their attacking players.

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