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The K League Coach: Korea Republic 2-0 China

South Korea sent themselves to the top of the table, in Group C of the 2019 Asian Cup, by comfortably overcoming rivals China by two goals to nil. The Reds showed an improved performance, compared to their previous group games, and now face Bahrain in the Round of 16.
(Image via inquirer.net)

Game Information

Team: Korea Republic
Opposition: China PR
Date: January 7th 2019
Competition: Asian Cup Group C, Round

Match Overview

An open, end to end, and at times, scrappy 1st half was perhaps the most entertaining Korean game of the tournament so far. Korea dealt with China's direct threat relatively well, and were able to find gaps between, and space behind, an inconsistent China press. Korea showed their game management skills by effectively shutting up shop and seeing the game out after their second goal.

Line Up

As expected Bento sent Korea out in a 4-2-3-1. Three changes were made to the starting line up with Son coming in as the number 10, while Jinsu and Moonhwan came in as full backs. This would be Moonhwans first start of the tournament.

Offensive Shape

The offensive shape changed slightly in response to China's higher defensive line and increased numbers in their press. Korea's full backs didn't push as high as previous game to ensure that the central defenders had passing options to build out around China's 4-1-4-1 block
China's 4-1-4-1 shape meant Korea's full backs dropped deeper to help in the build up phase
Once Korea had been able to work the ball around at the back and break past 1 of the bank of 4, it had a knock on effect of creating a lot of space for Son in the attacking midfield role. The deep sitting midfielder of China would step up to plug the gap, leaving Son in acres of space.
China's DM would step forward to plug gaps, leaving Son open
Korea were able to play through China's initial press on several occasions. Quick passing and movement off the ball, to drag China around the field, allowed Korea to break through the press and then directly attack the Chinese back line.
Again, Son is found in space behind China's midfield
Korea were then able to play a very direct attacking style, carrying the ball at speed towards the Chinese back line and finding runners in behind.
Son able to drive directly at the opposition defence
Such time and space on the ball, in midfield areas, had not been available in previous games. This increased the tempo of the game and saw Korea play much more direct football. Rather than having to circle the ball across the back, to shift a low block, Korea were able to get past a significant number of opponents earlier and then attack directly.
Space in behind meant Korea could look to slip runners in
There were times when China's press resulted in Korea defenders launching long balls forward, but on several occasions the technical ability of Korea's center backs and deep midfielders were able to come through and break the press.

Touch of quality

It was telling that the opening goal came through Son. His additional quality, movement and touch in tight spaces was clearly lacking in the previous games. His run into the box meant there was no need for Korea to throw another cross into the penalty area, and his tight close control drew in the challenge that resulted in the penalty. 

Defensive Structure

When China attacked Bento asked his wide men to double back and form a 4-4-1-1 shape. This meant Son was positioned slightly higher to try and lead a counter attack. Korea would press Chinese defenders and would confront high up the field often wining the ball back in the middle third.
Wide attackers dropped back to help defend
China looked to play a very direct game, either getting in behind Korea or challenging for second balls. Korea continued to allow Son to stay high and would rely on the other 8 outfielders to deal with the threat.
Son would remain further up field while Korea defended with 2 lines of 4
Whatever plans China made at half time were soon scuppered. Korea scored their second with a near post header from a corner kick and then immediately changed the tempo of the game, then gradually sitting back into a lower block. Initially, managing the game with ball retention, Korea stopped the game from being as frantic and high paced as it was in the opening half. They scarified getting runners forward in search for goals and began to slowly move their defensive line back, comfortably knowing that China would struggle to break them down.
Korea dropped their two lines of four deeper after going 2 goals ahead


  • China tried to stop defenders playing in to midfielders feet, but the movement in midfield pulled China's midfield press out of shape and opened up big spaces for Son.
  • The high tempo suited Korea, with defenders and defensive midfielders comfortable on the ball breaking the Chinese press.
  • However, once again, Korea dominated play but failed to create many clear goal scoring opportunities from open play, striking the post once and scoring from a corner and PK.
  • Bentos' Korea have looked organised and capable of controlling games, but reliant on individual moments of quality or set pieces to get on the score-sheet.
  • It may still be unclear who Korea's best starting full backs are.
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