New coach, solo skills bring optimismIf the goalkeeper is busy counting grasshoppers, that’s a good sign. If the defensive line is standing as still as museum statues, that’s good, too.
Both of those scenarios occurred Saturday when Korea played its first exhibition match against Colombia, under the leadership of Humberto Coelho of Portugal, the national team’s new head coach. To sum up the match, the two teams failed to score, leaving Korea with the better record (1 win, 2 draws) since the sides started playing each other.
Even though Korea could not put away the match, there isn’t any real bad news. A match against Colombia, which stands 18 places below Korea at 37th in the FIFA world rankings, is generally never an easy time.
Colombia’s modest ranking is deceptive, for Colombia plays many of its international and World Cup qualifying rounds in a tough geographical region that includes Brazil and Argentina.
As for the good news, I think Saturday marked the first time I saw Korean players display individual ballhandling. Typically, Korea stands out for its teamwork, making up for any lack of individual playing skills, an area for which European or South American competitors are known.
In the past, had a Korean player gone one on one against a defender, trying to outmaneuver the opponent simply caused a lot of lost calories and often a lost ball.
One impressive play came right before the end of the match, when the Pohang Steelers’ Woo Sung-yong moved as if he were about to head the ball into the net. Instead, he trapped it with his chest, then let loose with a hard shot with his right foot.
Although Woo didn’t score, the move fooled two defenders and left him open to take a clean shot. It is such individual skills that can break open matches.
I was keen to see how the defense would fare without Korea’s longtime defensive god, Hong Myung-bo, who retired from the national team earlier this year. Korea had the ball 70 percent of the time, and the defense had few opportunities, but I think Coelho can congratulate himself for finding a replacement for Hong and an anchor for the defense: Kim Tae-young, a sure-footed ballhandler in the red zone.
Ahn Jung-hwan, with his feints and sharp shooting, poses a legitimate threat, while Kim Nam-il and Lee Young-pyo’s untiring stamina give the Korean team a solid midfield, which I daresay can match almost any team’s.
Entering the match earlier than expected because of an injury to Lee Chun-soo was Choi Sung-kuk, the team’s youngest player ― and the smallest at 170 centimeters (5 feet 7-inches).
Although a newcomer to the national team, Choi created an opportunity on his own along with a beautiful long pass to Ahn 10 minutes into the second half for another direct chance. With his quick feet, endurance and willingness to fight more than making up for his size, this kid will surely see much more action.
Considering the lack of practice time this team has had, with a bit more polishing Coelho’s new 4-2-3-1 system is stable in the midfield as well as the backfield.
Now if Korea could just find someone to score.
by Brian Lee