Advocaat tries out new formations
Last Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates handed the team its first loss under head coach Dick Advocaat, defeating Korea 1-0 on a goal by Faisal Khalid.
Playing in its first friendly since November last year, the Korean team appeared lethargic, a characteristic that marred the team during the last days under its previous head coach, Jo Bonfrere. Even in their previous victories, the defense had been a cause for concern for the Korean squad, and the problem surfaced again against the lower-ranked opponent.
Veteran defender Choi Jin-cheul manned the right side of the Korean zone, and Kim Dong-jin, who has been solid both as a defender and a midfielder, covered the left side. Kim Sang-shik, who didn't play in any of the three previous games under Advocaat, was a surprise addition to the unit, replacing Kim Young-chul as the middle defender.
The move was one of several experiments by Advocaat ― midfielder Jang Hack-yong, for example, made his A-match debut ― but none really paid off.
Jang was late covering Khalid on the game's lone goal, and the defense had a mediocre game, with Kim Sang-shik looking especially confused at his new position. It didn't help that the forwards couldn't capitalize on their chances. Much-maligned striker Lee Chun-soo, in his first start under Advocaat, was the best player on the Korean team, but his sidekick Park Chu-young looked tired and couldn't convert passes from Lee.
Despite the loss, Advocaat continued to juggle his lineup and formation in the team's match on Saturday against Greece, the surprise winner of the Euro 2004 championship and ranked 16th in the world.
For the first time since he came on board, Advocaat employed four defenders, with three midfielders and three forwards. Kim Jin-kyu, making his first start as a defender since a match against Iran in October, and Choi handled the stopping duties in the middle, with Kim Dong-jin and the promising young gun Cho Won-hee flanking them on the left and right sides, respectively.
The players, however, struggled to adjust to the unfamiliar system early on, and Greece's two strikers, Dimitrios Salpigidis and Dimitrios Papadopoulos, threatened with a couple of opportunities until Theo Zagorakis, winner of the top player honors at Euro 2004, scored at the 10-minute mark.
However, after Park Chu-young headed in a free kick by Lee Chun-soo 14 minutes later, the Korean team tightened up and held down Greece. Still, the European champions managed to find holes in the Korean defense a few more times during the rest of the game.
After the match, though, coach Advocaat praised his team's efforts, pointing out that five of the starters were younger than 22, and his second-half substitutions of midfielder Kim Jung-woo and forwards Chung Kyung-ho and Cho Jae-jin helped create scoring chances in the second half.
The absolute must for this team is to find the right combination in defense, assuming Advocaat wants to keep using four defenders. Both Kim Dong-jin and Cho Won-hee are natural midfielders, and they must be given sufficient in-game experience if they are to make quick and successful transitions. The leadership of Choi Jin-cheul will be the key.
In addition, in using four defenders, at least one of the three midfielders must be more active in defense. The 21-year-old Lee Ho was disappointing in that regard in the first half, forcing Advocaat to put Baek Ji-hoon and Kim Jung-woo in that role in the second half.
While a loss and a draw in the year's first two matches may cause many a soccer-crazed Korean fan to look for the panic button, it has to be noted that the team began its training just a couple of weeks ago, and there are seven more matches, including one against Finland tomorrow, on the slate until late February.
That should give Advocaat enough time to tweak his team and settle on the best lineup for the World Cup.
by Yoo Jee-ho