It’s a friendly, not a funeral, so save the prayers

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It’s a friendly, not a funeral, so save the prayers

Dear soccer fans,
We are gathered here today to bury the Korean national soccer team. Amen. For those who love to jump on bandwagons, this is the perfect time to do the fashionable thing and believe what the sports tabloids here said after the national squad’s 0-1 defeat to the United Arab Emirates. The loss was “shocking.” But based on what? Just because we are ranked 29th and the United Arab Emirates is 85th on FIFA's world ranking doesn’t mean that all the team needs to do is step on the field to be guaranteed a win. It also doesn’t matter that this was our first loss to the UAE since 1996. Neither was the tie against Greece over the weekend shameful.
In that first match of the year, we lost because we were outplayed. The Korean players were glued to the ground for most of the game, moving slowly with the defense often getting caught with their pants down when the opposition broke through with accurate long balls from the midfield to their forwards. We stunk and we deserved to lose. Period.
We have to remember that Dick Advocaat is on a mission to find the right chemistry and players to represent the country in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. That is five months from now and any defeat from which we can learn is better than a meaningless win against some backwater nation. There is no use losing sleep over a loss. The record right now is of secondary importance.
If you’re into trivia I could tell you that since 1990, whenever a World Cup has taken place, Korea has lost the first game of the year in which the competition was held. What we should be focusing on is the fact that Dick Advocaat is experimenting with a team for the next 40 days that is mainly composed of players from the domestic league. He changed the formation several times during the game, going from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2, and then to 4-4-2. This all showed that Advocaat didn't care too much about the final score ― he wanted to get a feel for strategies he could adopt with the players at hand.
Lots of botched passes occurred, but throughout the game, players got an “on the job” feeling of how to play in their positions under different formations and situations. Expect this experimenting to continue for a while, at least until Advocaat has figured out how well his players understand the strategies he wants to implement and has gauged the potential of each player.
As always, the unstable play of the defense was exposed and this will remain the main problem for Advocaat to address in the remaining time to the World Cup. While the team needs someone who can anchor the defense, Advocaat has made clear that he is looking for someone who not only breaks up the opposition’s attacks, but also knows how to link up with the offense.
It is highly likely that midfielders such as Lee Young-pyo, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League, will be used as a wingback, his natural position. Playing on the opposite side could be Kim Nam-il of Suwon Samsung, but that still leaves the center back position open. Finding someone who can do what the retired Hong Myung-bo did ― play as a reliable center back in charge of the whole defense ― will be one of the keys for success for the national squad in this year's World Cup.

by Brian Lee
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