Midfielders’ play may take Korea out of the fieldA win is a win. A draw is a draw. No ifs, ands or buts. Botched calls by refs are all part of the game. For one reason or another, South Korea is well alive in the World Cup finals. But if its midfield does not play better, an exit from the World Cup is imminent.
In the first half of the first game, Togo players often connected and threatened to score on only one or two passes, as they were uncontested in the midfield. In the second match against France, the Koreans left too much space between each other. That often left South Korean midfielders isolated and surrounded by opposing players, making it hard for them to find someone to pass the ball. When passes were attempted they had to be long balls, which were easier to intercept. That was something the French often did.
As a result, South Korea could hardly move forward and was contained in its half of the field. Players often stood motionless, failing to move around and create space for themselves and fellow players. As a result, it was easier for France to defend the South Korean play.
If the team makes it to the round of 16, against better opponents, this mediocre midfield play will cost the South Koreans, and in the knockout stage, one loss means a trip back home.
Blame should also be placed on specific players. One player that has not lived up to expectations is midfielder Lee Eul-yong who has often looked tired and made several passing mistakes that hurt the midfield play of his team. It’s no wonder Lee was substituted in both games by skipper Advocaat (for players who eventually contributed to goals or scored them).
Furthermore, the midfield needs to pressure the opponents. I don’t see the swarming players of 2002 that made life hard for the other team. Back then, whenever an opponent had the ball, two or three Korean players were quickly in the vicinity, and the other team’s player was often forced to get rid of the ball fast, leading to mistakes.
Prior to the World Cup, I was skeptical of Korea’s chances to advance to the next phase of the tournament. However, the relatively weak play by opponents has brought Korea unexpected hope.
In addition, goalie Lee Woon-jae has been exceptional and a key ingredient.
Advocaat’s timing of substitutions and finding the right person to plug in and take out of the game players have also helped.
The team has overcome its lack of individual skills with defensive teamwork and stamina, which has given the Korean team the edge in the later part of the game as their opponents were sucking for air.
All of the team’s goals occurred in the second half when the team kept pushing forward and players could separate themselves from tired opposing players. But let’s remember this: Giving up the midfield is like giving up the battleground to the enemy without a fight. It all begins and ends there.
by Brian Lee