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Cause For Concern Following Lackluster Showing Against Cameroon

South Korea posted a minimal 1-0 victory over Cameroon in their final tuneup match ahead of the World Cup in Qatar in November but the overall quality of the performance left a lot to be desired.  Questions regarding Paulo Bento's tactics and use of his players have many wondering whether the Taeguk Warriors are capable of a good showing at this year's tournament.  What adjustments will be made in the next two months?  Will the team be fully healthy once proceedings get underway?  KLU's Branko Belan examines some key considerations following a pair of less than stellar showings.
(Photo Credit: KFA)

Son on the Board Again

The first half of the match was predictable, as South Korea enjoyed the lion's share of possession but did little in terms of creating quality scoring chances.  The movement both on and off the ball was much too slow, and as has been the case under Bento, they looked too often to create the perfect opportunity before trying their hand at goal.  As has been the case in the past, it did not work to great effect as they lacked the precision to break down the Indomitable Lions defense, leading to few chances over the course of the first forty-five minutes.

The breakthrough finally came in the 35th minute when Hwang Hee-chan gained control on the left flank and laid off for Kim Jin-su, who had an attempt on goal that was parried by André Onana, but the rebound stayed airborne, and Son Heung-min was there to nod home, even though the Cameroon 'keeper managed to get a hand to the ball.  The visitors then rose into the match in the final minutes of the opening frame, but could not find an equalizer before the break.

The second half did not present much offensively from either side, with Martin Hongla coming close to drawing his side level with twenty minutes to play, but Kim Seung-gyu got down well to keep the shot out.  Overall, it was an underwhelming showing, with many observers after the match criticizing Bento for his poor tactical setup.  One would have thought that in front of almost 60,000 supporters in the nation's capital, he would be able to produce something much better in terms of team football, but the feeling now is that Korea will have a great degree of difficulty when they go up against the likes of Uruguay, Ghana, and Portugal in Qatar.

Mounting Injuries Could Diminish Chances Further

With Cho Gue-sung already sidelined for the September friendlies, there was more concern last night as a pair of South Korean players left the pitch in some distress.  Hwang Hee-chan and Son Heung-min took a lot of abuse in what was a very physical match, but the focus at the final whistle was on two players in particular.  Hwang Ui-jo did not start the match but came on as a substitute with twenty minutes to play.  After having played just ten minutes, he was involved in a situation with an opposing defender who seemingly stepped on his foot and the forward hesitated a moment before falling to the ground and rolling around in some discomfort.  He was unable to continue and had to be led down the steps into the tunnel by the team medical staff.

A clear diagnosis of the injury is yet to be established, but what does it do for Korea's options in attack if the injury turns out to be significant?  Options up top are already thin, and it is unclear who would step in to fill the void in the event that one or both might either be unavailable or unfit once the World Cup comes around, but it has recently been said that the injury to Cho may not be serious, potentially increasing his chances of being the team's number one striker for the tournament.

Kim Jin-su also looked to leave the pitch in despair last night, hinting that he, too, may have suffered a knock, but not much has been said since, and it will be a situation worth monitoring, especially with domestic football going into its final portion of the season.  He was instrumental in the passage of play leading to the goal against Cameroon and has been a fixture in the national team for years.  His presence in Qatar will be key for his teammates, so the hope is that there is no reason for concern in the long term.

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What To Do About Lee Kang-in?

It was widely hoped that fans of the national team would have the opportunity to see Lee Kang-in play for Korea in one of the two friendly matches, but he did not see the field in either one, resulting in a host of questions from media and accusatory statements from supporters, as the Mallorca star has been in great form at domestic level this season, having already equaled his offensive output from a season ago.

Bento has been steadfast about using a buildup strategy at the center of his tactics, but it hasn't really produced consistent results.  While the defensive play was better than it was against Costa Rica, Cameroon didn't generate many chances overall, so the sample size may not be big enough to assess the effectiveness of the back line.

Utilizing such a strategy negates a more offensive approach, leading Bento to conclude that the reason why Lee was not given playing time was due to "tactical considerations".  However, it is widely known that Lee's confidence has never been higher following a less than memorable campaign last year which saw Mallorca finish just one point above the relegation line in La Liga, bringing with it a change on the sideline, and a manager in Javier Aguirre who has given the young Korean every chance to shine in the early stages of the new campaign.

Lee expressed regret at not having the opportunity to play in front of the home crowd but remains optimistic that his time with the national team will come.  Certainly, he is one of the most dynamic young talents the country has at the moment, and could infuse a different sort of energy into the side.  Now the question remains whether he will be selected for the final World Cup squad and if he is, will he be given his chance to show what he can do on the international stage at senior level?  For many, that is not only the hope but the expectation.

Bento's Verdict

Bento seemed pleased following the match.

"We expected a strong team in the physical way with a good, direct game, with fast players that are strong in the heading duels.  In the offensive transition, they could make good transition and create problems for our team.  The most important was the way we avoided that in the first half with good ball possession and good defensive transition.  In the second half, our opponent had more ball possession in some moments but we were able to defend in the right way," he assessed.

The manager will be under scrutiny following the two performances.  Should he falter in Qatar, his time with the national team will likely be up for evaluation.

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