Olympic soccer team shows potentialAlthough the Korean national soccer team did not play Saturday, the coach, Humberto Coelho, must have been smiling.
The Olympic team, not the national team, played an exhibition against Costa Rica and thrashed the visitors, 4-1. The match gave Coelho a gem of an opportunity to observe from the stands some of Korea’s younger talent.
Compared with his team, which tied Colombia last week, the Olympic squad is a younger bunch (mainly due to a rule prohibiting players to be older than 23) that showed plenty of firepower, coming from behind to embarrass the hapless Costa Ricans.
The match could have ended on a sour note. Three minutes into play Costa Rica scored on a free kick by Jose Louis Lopes that soared cleanly into the net. Undaunted, the Koreans regrouped and rallied by applying midfield pressure. This hard-driving rush helped to unhinge the Costa Ricans’ quick tempo play, opening counterattack opportunities for the Koreans.
Twenty minutes later, Choi Tae-wook, playing forward, did not miss an opportunity to score on a ball that had bounced off a defender in the penalty box.
Choi, who plays for Anyang LG, is only 22. As a World Cup team member last year, he saw little action.
No question that his tying goal turned the match around and jumpstarted the Koreans, who scored three more goals. But what impressed me most was Choi’s coolness in sending Jung Jo-kuk a pass, which also ended up in the net.
In a one-on-one situation against the goalkeeper, Choi did not try to fake out the keeper. Instead, he opted for a sure but unglamorous move: He passed the ball. I liked that decision and I think it’s safe to say Coelho liked it too. A young player with that sort of judgment is always needed.
Maybe Choi gets in a “zone” whenever he plays Costa Rica. In April 2002, he scored the second goal against Costa Rica in a 2-0 win. But a closer look at his style of play surely explains his success.
At 173 centimeters (5 feet, 7 inches) he is not tall but his reaction time to the ball is exceptional. Ball trapping and dribbling skills are above par while his passing skills are good, too. So far this kid has not seen that much playing time, for he enters matches (he is on both the national and Olympic teams) mostly as a backup in the second half when strategic changes are made in playing formations.
If Choi keeps performing at the level he has, don’t be surprised if he sees regular playing time on the national team. The only problem is his position: Korea simply has too many strikers. Most likely he’ll be put in as an offensive midfielder, for he can score when the chance arises.
Another player to watch from the Olympic team squad is Jung Jo-kuk, who also plays forward for Anyang LG. At 185 centimeters, he is tall enough to give a team a credible threat in the air. But don’t be fooled by his size, for he showed Saturday that he has the ability to finesse short passes as well and bang in a score. His chances of taking a spot on the national team are excellent.
by Brian Lee
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