Monday, September 7, 2009

Korea Look Good Despite Off-Pitch Problems

Taegukki flying at Seoul

You got the impression that the South Korean players enjoyed scoring against their goalkeeper in training a little too much. The novelty of having coach Huh Jung-moo in between the sticks outweighed the verbal volleys that came the way of the ten men on the outfield.

Huh was gloved up because the national team was preparing for a friendly with Australia that kicked-off three days later with no goalkeepers. There were only ten players in total until Thursday afternoon, just two days before the match.

The reason was both simple and complicated. With a full K-League program set for Sunday, the Korean Football Association (KFA) then arranged the Socceroo show for Saturday. The K-League reacted furiously firstly because, they said, the KFA had gone back on a promise not to arrange matches for the weekend and they Australia match was announced not much more than a month in advance.

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Huh called up 15 overseas stars with even the likes of past cast-offs Seol Ki-hyeon, Kim Nam-il, Cha Du-ri and Cho jae-jin receiving the summons. Only ten arrived. The K-League reluctantly released 13 players not much more than 48 hours before kick-off.
Lee Young-pyo and Park Ji-sung offered their (or the KFA-approved version, according to some) opinions on the crisis and the recriminations flew back and forth with K-league officials behind the scenes complaining bitterly of how they were being victimized by a KFA that usually gets what it wants.

The only positive to come out of this is that the way in which Korean football is run and the relationship between the two bodies is being discussed at length. The KFA (or ‘The mafia’ as one league official said to me) may have more to lose with this scrutiny.

There was one other positive – the fact that Korea played pretty well. On the night they were too good for an Australian team with a new-look defence and a midfield that had problems keeping the ball.

Australia get ready

In contrast, Korea’s fast and fluid movement caused problems for the visitors for much of the match. Technically also, the Taeguk Warriors looked superior and performed much better on the pitch than Korean football performed off it in the preceding weeks.

It started and ended well for the Taeguk Warriors. Park Chu-young opened the scoring with an assured finish after five minutes and soon after Lee Jung-soo opened his international account with a neat flick. At that point, the Socceroos weren’t really in the game but gained a foothold after 33 minutes thanks to a smart Mark Bresciano free-kick and a close-range Patrick Kisborno header.

It is at the back that poses the biggest problem for Huh at the moment. Quality high balls and tall forwards cause problems. Lee Jung-soo has been in great form in Japan this season and deserves to stay in the centre of defence. The question of who will play alongside him has still to be answered and it certainly can be argued that for all Korea’s famed aggression, the team needs to toughen up ahead of the World Cup.


Familiar stadium, unfamiliar bench

That was apparent as Pim Verbeek's men came back in the second half to cause some problems for the Korean defence. Lee Woon-jae was called into action a couple of times to make spectacular saves from long-range efforts.

At the other end, the hosts though always carried a threat and scored a well-worked third as Park Ji-sung somehow managed, at the end of a long week, a long game and high and humid temperatures to sprint down the left and tee up Seol Ki-hyeon with a perfect cross.

The likes of Ki Sung-yong, Kim Jung-woo and Lee Dong-gook had long gone by then as they had K-league games the following day to prepare for as the realization that Korean football still has many problems started to put a dampener on a good performance and a deserved win.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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