2 teams, one island, 90 minutesTo open another World Cup stadium, this one amid the spectacular scenery of Jeju Island, Korea and the United States will play a friendly soccer match Sunday. With most of the best U.S. players competing in European leagues, the match should provide a look at younger players who may or may not make the final roster of their World Cup team.
This will be the first matchup between the two countries since 1994. Sunday's game has become more than just "friendly" after the World Cup pairings draw last week put the two teams in the same group, along with Portugal and Poland.
KBS television will broadcast the game live at 4:50 p.m.
By Jeon Jin-bae / Kim Young-sae
JoongAng Ilbo / Staff Writer
Soccer teams from the United States and Korea are unfamiliar with each other, having met only twice since 1990.
Kim Young-joo was a referee in the qualifying game between the United States and Mexico on July 1 at the regional finals for the Americas division. "The U.S. team is traditionally strong in terms of how it organizes its play," Kim said. That tight coordination of play hinges on the de facto leader of the team, winger Cobi Jones, a veteran who has played in more international games than any U.S. soccer player. "He is a player with a wide range that feeds the ball accurately to the striker or the wingers," Kim said, "or at times he takes a shot at the goal himself from quite a distance."
Commentators including Kim said the U.S. team also possesses a strong and experienced defense and midfielders who are quick in reading the flow of the game.
Many of those strengths come from experience, said the JoongAng Ilbo soccer commentator Shin Moon-sun. But experience can also put the team at a disadvantage, Shin said, because it means the team is getting old. "The height of the U.S. team was in 1994," he said. "There are players on the current team who played back then. That could mean that there are weaknesses in terms of endurance."
Endurance is likely to be less of a problem on Sunday, when so many of the players on the U.S. team will be young up-and-comers, filling in for the missing veterans who are playing in various leagues around Europe at the moment.
The midfielder Landon Donovan is the rising star on the Sunday roster. At 19, Donovan is small, but he's also quick and flashy, the kind of player who makes things happen. The U.S. team press officer Michael Cameron said Donovan is the fastest player on the team, always looking to put the ball in the goal. Playing for San Jose in the U.S. pro socer league, he was the scoring leader in this year's playoffs.
The roster for the exhibition or friendly game also includes two competitors who did not play in the World Cup qualifiers; the midfielder Jeff Cunningham and the defender Danny Califf are certain to give all they have against Korea, in hopes of making one of the last spots on the U.S. squad.
In order to counter the U.S. team's assets, physical strength should not be the focus of Korea's attack, according to Chung Chong-duk, the former coach for Konkuk University's soccer team. "The U.S. team is a step ahead of Korea in terms of endurance and power," he said. Several American players' experience playing in the elite European leagues also gives them an edge, he said. "The focus of Korea's strategy should be on speed and movement － a lot of movement throughout the game to keep the U.S. players at bay," he said.
Kim Ho, coach of the Suwon Samsung Bluewings, also rated the U.S. team as capable of giving a powerful performance. "The team I saw at the 1994 World Cup engaged in some explosive soccer," he said. "I don't think a lot of that has changed since then." But the flip side of that style is simplicity, he said, playing based on power and speed, but short on technical sophistication.
The United States ranks 20th in the FIFA rankings, 23 notches above Korea. In the history of U.S.-Korea soccer, Korea has an edge, with four wins, two losses and a tie. But since 1990, the United States is ahead with one win and a tie.
By Jeon Jin-bae / Lee Ho-jeong
JoongAng Ilbo / Staff Writer
Coach Hiddink yelled, "Fight aggressively on the midfield," to his players during a practice on Friday for the match Sunday against the United States national team.
Although both teams will be scouting each other in Sunday's match, don't expect either coach to reveal any important secrets or strategies.
The winning plan that the coach Guus Hiddink presented to the Korean national team was to seize control of the midfield.
Korea's coaching staff believes the United States will send most of their offense through Cobi Jones from midfield, where his accurate passing can wreak havoc and create scoring opportunities.
To stop the United States team from scoring or even coming close, the Korean players will focus on blocking Jones and taking control over the midfield.
Hiddink has assigned Park Ji-sung the task of trying to cover Jones. Park is a defensive specialist known for his strong endurance; he can run for nearly the entire 90 minutes of a game.
Park is also skilled at intercepting the opposing team's passes.
"In soccer games today, the key point in winning is who gets control of the midfield," Hiddink said.
Experts predict that Hiddink's main strategy will be have his players attack from the wings.
Hiddink said the United States national team follows the style of European teams. He pointed out that U.S. players were larger and more powerful, and that their main tactic is power-based play with strong side breakthroughs.
The coach wants to counter U.S. power with speed. With fast passing among players and lots of dribbling, the team hopes to eventually outrun the competition's defense and create offensive chances.
In order to attack from the wings, the Korean national team has drilled for speed. Lee Chun-soo, one of the team's fastest players, will take the right wing.
Korea will employ a 3-4-3 formation with Lee positioned as both the offensive midfielder and the defensive striker. His main assignment will be passing the ball and creating scoring chances for the striker Hwang Sun-hong. Choi Tae-uk, another fast midfielder, will be assigned similar duties to Lee.
Hwang is the only current player who has scored against the United States in the past. In 1989, Hwang made a goal during a friendly, helping Korea win, 2-1.
With several star players such as Choi Young-soo out of the game, Hwang may become an important part of the team's offense. Hwang is the team's top scorer, posting 47 goals in 91 games over the past 10 years.
Yoo Sang-chul, Lee Eul-yong, Lee Young-pyo, and Choi Sung-yong will also play at midfield.
The defense falls to Kim Tae-young, Song Chong-gug and Choi Jin-chul.
Hiddink said that the team's offense on Sunday would begin with solid defense.
Other new players are to be introduced during the game. Players like Cho Byung-gook and Kim Seung-hyun will attempt to cover weak points in midfield and defense.
Hiddink explained, however, that there is a communication failure among the team's players, with the younger players afraid to even speak with the oldest.
The coach said that in order to do well, the younger players should be more aggressive in communicating with the others.
by Jeon Jin-bae / Kim Young-sae