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Preview: South Korea vs Bolivia

The Taeguk Warriors continue their World Cup prep against an experimental Bolivian side that looks poised to sit back and defend. Having shut out Argentina, Chile, and Brazil in World Cup Qualifying, Bolivia have proven capable of going toe-to-toe the world's best and should offer the Korean attack a formidable challenge. To preview the match, I spoke with Sportsnet Editor and South American football expert Peter Galindo about Bolivia's strategy, young attackers, expectations for Lee Seungwoo, and much more. 

Ryan Asks, Peter Answers

Ryan Walters: Much like their opposition, Bolivia put out a rather experimental lineup against the USA last time out. Unsurprisingly the untested side lacked structure and cohesion and wound up losing 3-0 to the US' youth movement. While a friendly loss isn't that concerning, the 22 shots, 12 corner kicks, and 62% possession La Verde conceded surely is. What changes do you expect from manager César Farías to make the Korea match a more competitive one?

Peter Galindo: Ronald Raldes might be sacrificed as he started against the U.S. in order to earn his 100th cap. At 37, he definitely showed his age against a youthful U.S. attack. Goalkeeper Carlos Lampe might start so the back line has some experience to help guide them. Other than that, everything is up in the air as this is very much a Bolivia "C" team.

RW: Although the 3-0 loss likely stings a bit, Bolivia know they can keep up with the very best on their day having held clean sheets against Chile, Argentina, and Brazil in World Cup Qualifying. While there are caveats for those matches (a Messi-less Argentina, and playing at 11,900ft in the once-banned Estadio Hernando Siles against Neymar, Coutinho, and co.), the simple fact remains La Verde faced some of the world's best and keep them off the scoreboard. Do you expect Bolivia to set up in a similar defensive stance against the depleted Korean strike force, or will the continued experimentation take precedence?

PG: Bolivia can actually play some decent football when they attempt it. However, their confidence crumbles once they concede unless they're playing at home. Bolivia has only won two games outside of La Paz since 1993 (friendlies versus Nicaragua and South Africa), and they have not won any of their last 54 away qualifiers. I expect 10 men to be thrown behind the ball, pressure to be absorbed and the odd counter-attack when the opportunity presents itself.

RW: On the other side of the pitch, Bolivia have been held scoreless in three of their past five and looked all out of sorts against the USA last time out. Who are Bolivian fans hoping will step up to fill the goal scoring void?

PG: Twenty-one-year-old winger Ronaldo Sanchez is one player who could be quite dangerous. He's currently at Oriente Petrolero, as are most of these players, and has had a very impressive 2018 so far. Sanchez has recorded five goals and four assists in 18 appearances in all competitions. He was very impressive on the big stage in Copa Libertadores qualifiers as well. He is a typical pacy winger with strong dribbling and a quick release with his shot. Sanchez didn't have any opportunities against the U.S. because they dominated possession, but if he's in open space, South Korea should be wary.

RW: Score Prediction?

PG: I say South Korea wins comfortably. South Korea 3-0 Bolivia.

Peter Asks, Ryan Answers

Peter Galindo: South Korea switched to a 3-5-2 for the Bosnia and Herzegovina match and it didn’t really come off. Would you anticipate Shin to stick with it or was it purely experimental?

Ryan Walters: After things went well with a four man back line against Honduras, I think Shin wanted to test out a similar high pressing system with more space for the wingbacks. However, the lack of communication between the CBs and inability to quickly cover gaps left acres of space for the Bosnia and Herzegovina attackers to run into. In theory experienced wingbacks like Kim Minwoo and Lee Yong should have been in those spaces smothering the opposition, or at least getting cover from one of the three CBs. In reality, Korea failed to even adequately defend and hung keeper Kim Seunggyu out to dry time and again. Aside from simply not having the personnel to run a three man backline, the amount of rotations and shuttling needed is decidedly more complicated than things need to be at the back. Korea have played well with a more standard four man back line, so hopefully Shin's experiments there are done until they're on the plane back from Russia.

PG: Lee Seung-woo looked exceptional in the win over Honduras and he appeared to be missed versus Bosnia and Herzegovina. Could he slide back into the XI because his dynamism really makes a difference to the Korean attack.

RW: I fully expect him to be back in the Starting XI after sitting for the majority of the Bosnia and Herzegovina match. Lee's willingness to run directly at defenders and create chances from the center of the pitch is something Korea will sorely need in Russia if they're to take any of the pressure off Son Heungmin up top. Shin's decision to play the young Hellas Verona attacker in the middle also paid dividends with Lee's vision and ability to pick out his teammates. If Lee, Son, and Hwang Heechan can rotate and link up as well as they did against Honduras in the Bolivia match, then the youngster will likely find himself on the pitch when Korea kick off their World Cup against Sweden.

PG: Since Bolivia will likely try to sit back & cede possession, is South Korea used to breaking down stubborn defences or do you think it’ll pose a problem for them?

RW: A team ready to cede possession and challenge the Korean attackers to come at them is exactly what they need right now. The midfield and attacking lines have done well in buildup play and getting the ball into dangerous areas, but still haven't proven capable of creating nearly as many chances as they should. Regularly settling for shots outside the box or having one player (usually Son) try to do everything on their own has made life easy for opposing defenses. With La Verde seemingly set to sit back, this should challenge the Korean attackers to get a bit more creative finding space and making the most of the chances they get. If the 22 shots the U.S. got against Bolivia last time out is any indicator, then Korea will have plenty of opportunities to get it right.

PG: Score Prediction?

RW: South Korea 2-0 Bolivia

Thanks again to Peter Galindo for joining us to preview this international friendly. Peter is a soccer writer and Editor for Sportsnet in Canada and co-host of The Peruvian Waltz, a podcast and website covering the Peruvian Primera División and Peruvian National Team in English. 

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