We whipped Iran ― good, so now push on to BerlinForget the two freaky goals, despite the fact that they were ours. Forget the TV guy who kept referring to Iran as “Iraq.” What we saw in the first exhibition game of the national soccer squad since Dick Advocaat took over gave us some hope. I would be the first to admit that I didn’t predict great things for the team, which faced a solid opponent in Iran. The country is currently ranked 18th on FIFA’s official ranking, eight spots above South Korea.
With less than two weeks to prepare his team for the game, Advocaat seemed to have no chance of getting a national team that has struggled in the last few months to project any sort of color or form, yet alone win a game, as it did 2-0.
As it is, even had we lost the game, there would have been plenty of upside potential to give us optimism. Perhaps it was the new coach’s threat that a player’s reputation meant little to him and that he would only believe what he saw with his own eyes on the field. The players kept running around, Road Runner-style, till the whistle blew. They looked very much like that relentless bunch in the 2002 World Cup that was hungry for glory and had little to lose.
As a result, the South Koreans kept pressuring Iran early in the midfield, shortening or blocking passing lanes which led to intercepted passes. The forward wings, Park Joo-young and Park Ji-sung, played active defense as well, adding to the pressure. Whenever an Iranian player had the ball, all you could see were two or three red jerseys swarming around him.
But the best thing I saw was that Advocaat kept the pressure on even after the team had scored. Unlike the Italians, who love to score first and then sit back on their famous defense, South Korea pushed forward and had several more chances.
If the trend in the first game holds up, we could see a team that is most likely to employ an aggressive attack based on strong stamina. The team is quickly making the transition from attack to defense, putting an emphasis on applying pressure in the midfield. The general direction is set, but what the team needs now is to improve on its set plays, and Advocaat should not be afraid to look for new faces.
The defense that has been long the country’s Achilles heel continued to show why the issue needs to be addressed immediately. Botched passes in the backfield occurred from time to time, which led to dangerous interceptions by the opposition, while defensive backs failed to cover their assigned man on set plays, leaving themselves wide open. The defense needs to do better than that. The offensive power is there to some extent, but without a legitimate striker (yet), South Korea will not have the ability to outscore anyone at the upcoming World Cup, where no team will be weaker than the South Koreans, and many much stronger.
When the team plays later this month against Sweden and Serbia-Montenegro, we’ll know much more. Until then, I am pretty sure that we won’t have to worry about the South Koreans lacking team color. Advocaat made clear that even if he goes down, it will be in flames. At least, now we know a little of what the South Korean team is about. Give us more of a good thing.
by Brian Lee