Friendlies expose the weaknesses of Korea’s teamThe last friendlies on Korean soil prior to the World Cup in Germany have been played out and the country is ready to rock ’n roll, expecting another miracle from its national soccer team. But when the games begin ... OUCH! The last two exhibition games against Senegal and Bosnia-Herzegovina have given us plenty of reason for concern.
The team’s performance was totally different for one sole reason ― the participation of its players who are members of top foreign soccer clubs, especially the English Premier League players, Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo. They did not play in Korea’s 1-1 draw with Senegal, but did in the 2-0 win over Bosnia.
The drop-off in the quality of play was huge when players such as Park, Manchester United’s midfielder, the team’s heart and engine, were not on the field. One has to remember that injuries are part of the game.
If one player’s presence makes such a difference in the performance of a 23-man team, there is no chance for that team to go far. Opponents will key in on that player and take him out. That is why soccer is called a team sport.
Defense also remains the team’s Achilles’ heel. Against Bosnia’s weak offense, there was no chance to test the defense. And against Senegal, we saw how bad the defense could be. Other teams will look to exploit this weakness. Players on defense seemed to struggle to find their position on the field, often blowing coverage assignments, leading to uncontested shots on the goal.
Soccer 101 calls for the defensive player to have his eyes on the ball ― as well as the other players on the field. When the opponent was threatening to score in the exhibition games, South Korea’s defensive players often had numbers. They surrounded the player with the ball, but failed to cover the opponents infiltrating from midfield, leaving them open to receive passes.
Opposing defensive players who occasionally moved up unexpectedly from their original position on set plays and snuck into striking position also were not covered.
Another problem is that the defensive backs tended to make backwards passes, often on the verge of being intercepted by opponents. This fatal habit has occurred over and over again. Instead of just killing an opponent’s play by simply kicking it out of bounds, the preferred play is to take away the ball and connect it to the midfield in a quick manner to go on the counteroffensive. A backwards pass should be done only with utmost caution. When South Korea played Turkey for third place in the 2002 World Cup, Hong Myung-bo lost a ball that he was trying to pass backwards and a Turkish player went on to score the tournament’s fastest goal, 11 seconds into the game.
Nevertheless, the defense is not the only one responsible for mistakes. South Korea’s midfielders were unable to pressure a strong opponent in Senegal and left too much space between the opponent’s defense and the first line of midfielders, giving the opponents too much room to pass the ball.
South Korea will face much more talented teams in Germany than it did during exhibition games. When that happens the defense will determine how far the team can go. Or won’t.
by Brian Lee