Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Korean World Cup Review

At the end of the day, too many factors were going against Korea this World Cup.  Hong Myung Bo wasn't able to extract the kind of magic that resulted in Olympic bronze, and now Hong has resigned, leaving Korea facing its fifth manager in just about four years.  Where did things go wrong?

At first it starts with our players.  Too many were out of form from injury and benching, and unlike the Olympics, there wasn't enough time to get our players fit and sharp enough to compete with the caliber of teams you face at the World Cup.  Its no accident that the best players this tournament for Korea were two players who had been playing regularly at high level: Son Heung Min and Ki Sung Yueng.  Just going down the list of other players with problems getting minutes, its clear that Korea was in significant trouble:

  • Park Chu Young - Injured with leg strain and cellulitis with 61 minutes
  • Ji Dong Won - Benched for most of Sunderland half, injured most of Augsburg half 
  • Koo Ja Cheol - Injured as he was getting into groove at Wolfsburg, trouble getting fit at Mainz
  • Yun Suk Young - Got a handful of matches at Doncaster and in the tail end of QPR
  • Kim Bo Kyung - Started off well but spend more time on the bench or off squad as relegation fight plus managerial changes plus bad form combined into bad situation
  • Hong Jeong Ho - Got some minor injuries delaying his start at Augsburg and was benched after a good run as starters did well
  • Park Joo Ho - Probably most controversial as he was hurt and missed many weeks but was probably fit but there was a lot of uncertainty there
  • Lee Keun Ho - In military service where he lost a lot of momentum he had been building during WCQ
  • Han Kook Young - Played only a handful of matches in Japan
These players still have high ceilings but they're in the part of their career trajectory where minutes are far from regular and sadly, too many of them were having the same struggle at the same time.

As for the argument that perhaps Hong Myung Bo should have selected more domestic players, there was too much evidence that things would have been worse with them.  Choi Kang Hee was fired for a reason despite his heavy use of said players versus low level opposition.  And the winter friendlies were a complete disaster from Hong Myung Bo's personal perspective.  And the players he selected had the potential to reach a very high level, but Hong may have underestimated the challenge it would take to unlock it.

Were tactics a problem?  Certainly Algeria caught us with our pants down, coming out guns blazing and exploiting our weaknesses.  That said, we were structurally sound vs. Russia and at times vs. Belgium.  And there were many individual errors that led to even the Algerian goals where even a perfect system would have failed to account for errors like JSR misjudging a corner so badly.

Most of the tactical problems were on offense.  I thought that we played too patiently which relies on precision and chemistry that were clearly missing during both friendlies leading to World Cup.  We struggled with being too patient in the Olympics as well.  Our players have done best playing a more uptempo attack.  Even as Koo struggled with connecting the most basic of passes, he still was able to disrupt the opposition on the high press which could have led to fast breaks instead of backpasses.  

The other places were lineup.  Hong should have utilized players who were at least looking like they were finding form like Ji over guys like Kim Bo Kyung.  And reticence to make changes in the starting 11, particularly as Jung Sung Ryung and Koo Ja Cheol struggled, was frustrating.

The big common thread in the tactical situation however was the lack of time Hong Myung Bo had with his first team.  While other managers would have WCQ and numerous friendlies to try different formations and lineups, Hong had to pick one plan and try to make it functional, because there was no time to create a plan B.

So what now?  I think the first step to any success in 2018 would be to get our players playing regularly.  Scheduling a friendly vs Japan in September as players adjust to new clubs and fight for minutes is a huge problem.  Perhaps there will be talk of using domestic talent like last friendly, but just like that time, I suspect that with haniljeon on the line, full force sides will be used.  So instead of using extra club training to establish rapport with teammates and impress managers, they'll be flying around the world for a meaningless friendly in a vain attempt to re-assert some pride for two damaged NTs.

The second step would be to have some stability in managers.  Managers need time to figure things out both in terms of tactics and understanding their teams.  We saw Russia and Japan flame out with expensive managers so getting a foreign manager is not necessarily a solution.  And with Cho Kwang Rae and Choi Kang Hee we saw that there's some middle ground between impossible idealism and overly conservative pragmatism.

But who will take this role?  Clearly there's a fast axe held by the KFA, a fanbase that has irrational expectations to make it out of group stage and throws yeot if they don't, and players who are struggling to get minutes in relegated sides.

But with changes at the KFA too with Huh Jung Moo and Hwangbo Kwan also resigning, perhaps there's an opportunity here to finally push Korean football forward with some luck and foresight.