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South Korea Humbled By Brazil in Front of Home Crowd in Seoul

South Korea was completely outclassed by Tite's Brazil last night in Seoul, losing in the end by a count of 5-1.  Without Kim Min-jae to steer the back line, the Taeguk Warriors looked without purpose in defense, and the five time champions made them pay at every turn.  How will the team respond ahead of the remaining friendlies this month?  KLU's Branko Belan looks reflects on the talking points following Paulo Bento's heaviest defeat since being appointed national team manager in 2018.
(Photo Credit: Channel News Asia)

A Brief Glimmer of Hope, Only For a Moment

Hwang Ui-jo's 31st minute equalizer was the only highlight of the night for South Korea. Photo Credit: The Korea Times
South Korea almost went down a goal just two minutes into the match when Thiago Silva rose well to head the ball home in front of a pair of defenders but the goal was chalked off for offside.  The South American giants kept coming and would nudge into the lead just minutes later when a deflection from Richarlison from Fred's initial shot ended up in the back of the net.  The home side looked intimidated in the early stages of the match, and despite raucous support from the home supporters, showed very little initiative going forward in the first quarter of an hour, choosing to play a bunker in defense with no evidence of counter-attacking play in the cards.

Korea were almost completely silent, for the first half hour of the match.  Long balls were inaccurate and main threats such as Hwang Hee-chan and Son Heung-min were having very little impact on proceedings.  That all changed in the 31st minute when Hwang finally had a good look in an offensive position, slipping an inside pass to Hwang Ui-jo, who turned Silva and fired home his 14th goal for his country to even the score.

The return to parity would not last long, however, as VAR ruled that Lee Yong fouled Alex Sandro in the box, and Neymar converted his 72nd goal for Brazil from the spot, just after Kim Seung-gyu had produced the save of the match to keep his side on level terms.  Brazil could have been two goals in front in the late stages of the first half, but Casemiro could not get a proper touch from close range, skying the ball over the bar.  Paulo Bento's men certainly were lucky to go to the break just a goal down after soaking up too much pressure in their defensive third.

A Systemic Collapse in the Second Half

Brazil picked up where they left off in the second half, as Kim Seung-gyu was forced into a save on 52 minutes, denying Lucas Paquetá with his boot.  The defense slowly began to unravel, as Kim Young-gwon was adjudged to have fouled Alex Sandro in the area, which was then confirmed by VAR once again, although the decision never was in question, and Neymar converted his second penalty of the night to put the match beyond reach at 3-1.

The defensive woes continued as Hwang In-beom gifted Philippe Coutinho with Brazil's fourth after a defensive turnover.  The fitness of the Korean players began to shred under the constant pressure of Brazil's pressing.  Case in point, Casemiro started the match last night and played seventy minutes at a very high tempo, after having played the UEFA Champions League final with Real Madrid just days earlier.  Gabriel Jesus beat four defenders before slotting home in injury time to add insult to injury, giving Paulo Bento his heaviest defeat and consecutive losses for the first time since becoming manager of the South Korean team back in 2018.

Changes Are Needed - and Fast

Paulo Bento will have a lot of questions to answer following Korea's poor performance against Brazil. Photo Credit: AFC
South Korea's defensive structure, or lack thereof, was completely exposed against Brazil in the absence of Kim Min-jae, whose importance to the squad is now more apparent than ever.  Lee Yong was responsible for the first penalty, and has run his course for the national team it seems; he just can't play at a high level for his country in the most important matches.  While the match against Brazil was just a friendly, it could mirror a sign of things to come once the World Cup rolls around as Paulo Bento's men will face Portugal, Ghana, and Uruguay in the group stage of this year's tournament.  Kim Young-gwon looked out of sorts for much of the night and committed a needless foul leading to Neymar's second penalty.

There were countless other defensive errors and several cases of possession lost too easily.  This is a result of Bento relying on the same aging players for far too long, and also brings into question the development of younger players in the national team setup.  One thing is for sure - changes should be forthcoming in the near future, otherwise Bento may have to be concerned with his status as South Korea manager moving forward.  A loss to the United Arab Emirates in the final qualifying match cost them first place in their qualifying group, and if the Brazil friendly is to be of any indication, there is a lot of work to be done in the run-up to Qatar.  Questions are aplenty following the shock performance against Brazil, and they need answers as soon as possible.  One can hope that the standard of play in the coming friendlies will improve, but that shall remain to be seen.

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