Expect plenty of tinkering with lineupIn Napoleon Bonaparte’s France, the old guard was the creme de la creme of his army. For the national soccer team, players like Hong Myung-bo and Hwang Seon-hong, who left the squad earlier this year, are probably the equivalent of that old guard. They brought leadership and experience to the table.
But they are gone now, and coach Humberto Coelho has had to send some untested soldiers into battle in their stead. The Portuguese coach’s biggest challenge is to oversee a successful generational change as the team begins to prepare for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Looking at his 1-1-2 record, with only one goal in four matches, it’s safe to say that his quest for the right chemistry is still ongoing.
Through several exhibition games, including Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Uruguay, coach Coelho has tinkered with the lineup, using young players like Choi Sung-kuk, Cho Jae-jin and Cho Byung-kuk. Fans might want a concrete lineup and yearn for a better record, but I would give the coach at least another six months before he settles on the final squad. Many of the young players that the coach brings in are just too inexperienced not to make some mistakes when the pressure is on.
We saw it numerous times during the last four friendly matches. Against Uruguay the Korean team had 17 shots on goal that went unanswered. Players like Cha Du-ri, who saw limited playing time during last year’s World Cup, played major minutes, but when scoring opportunities came he made mistakes that a more experienced player might not have.
It takes time to understand the system and surely the players are still learning it.
Coelho’s system changes from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 according to the situation. Compared to a three back system, having an extra man back means that in order to control the midfield the defensive line has to move up and down to help out in the middle.
If it fails to do so the space between the four back line and its midfielders widens, giving more opportunities to the opponent. This is dangerous when playing against South American teams that possess a multitude of exceptionally skilled players. A single player can create havoc in such wide open space.
With a lone striker out front, Coelho needs to find someone who can put the ball in the net when he has the chance, while the three midfielders playing the triangle behind the striker need to be strong on the wings and have the ability to switch quickly from an offensive to a defensive posture.
The players now leading the attack, Cha Du-ri, Choi Yong-soo and Seol Ki-hyeon, are all powerful players but lack the finesse to break through the middle with short passes.
Lee Chun-soo, who is often used as a second-half substitute on the right wing, has the ability to move the ball well in front of the goal. His speed and passing ability should be used in a starting role.
For the lone striker position, for now, Ahn Jung-hwan seems to be the only answer. As it is, expect to see a lot more tinkering with the lineup over the next few months. After all, like Napoleon’s empire, a reliable, resilient old guard isn’t built in a day.
by Brian Lee