Why not start with the big guns, coach?On Saturday, the streets of Seoul were nearly empty as people huddled around their television sets to watch the national team play a friendly match against Japan in Tokyo.
As most know, the match ended in a 1-0 win for the visiting team, which is becoming a pattern in this rivalry. The April 16 match between the two in Seoul was also won, 1-0, by the visitors. Since the 1950s, when Korea and Japan started playing international matches against one another, Korea has had Japan’s number. So why does the line go dead lately whenever they try to dial up that old magic on their home pitch?
In a post-game interview, Humberto Coelho, the skipper of the Korean team, said that he used strikers Choi Yong-soo and Cha Du-ri in the first half to exhaust the Japanese defenders. The soggy field conditions made the drain on the defenders’ physical stamina that much more extreme.
In the second half Coelho replaced the physical pair with Ahn Jung-hwan and Lee Chun-soo, giving the team two pairs of fresh legs and better technical skills on the attack. That led to a lot more scoring chances for the Koreans.
Effective strategy, coach. Why didn’t we see it in April in Seoul?
Although I understand that Coelho is still trying to find the right combination of players, there is one piece of advice that I would like to give him. Don’t use Choi Yong-soo as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
True, Choi has made a name for himself as a prolific scorer in the J-league and K-league. He can score ― unless he’s wearing his national team’s jersey. The fact that he proved himself in the domestic league and abroad is one reason he has been consistently named to the national team. But he chokes in international games ― like when he missed a wide open shot against the United States in last year’s World Cup ― and Coelho should know that by now.
And why use Ahn as a substitute instead of a starter?
Ahn’s ball keeping and dribbling abilities enable him to swing back and forth in front of the goal more than any other player on the team. For a striker to be able to put the ball into the net when his teammates set him up is crucial, but equally important is the ability to create chances on his own; that’s what breaks down the discipline of the defense. Ahn gives Coelho that option.
In the second half, Coelho changed to a 4-5-1 formation, which means that there was only one defensive midfielder while the rest of the midfielders were used in an offensive role, putting more pressure on the midfield than in a 4-2-3-1 system. That is why in the second half the Koreans kept the ball 65 percent of the time.
The main reason he could do that is because the four back defenders have matured relatively quickly. Especially Cho Byung-kuk, who seemed out of place in the loss to Japan in April. With the defensive line settling down, Coelho will have an opportunity to bring a more aggressive approach to the game. Still, 13 shots on goal should have resulted in at least a couple of scores. Let’s hope that he can find another player like Ahn with a knack for putting the ball in the net in the big games.
by Brian Lee