Inexperienced team lacks solid defenseAs friendly matches go, the one between Korea and Ghana on Sunday evening was an ill-tempered affair, with five yellow cards (three for Korea) and a total of 34 fouls committed by the two teams.
When the “unfriendly” was finished, the key theme that emerged for Korea from its 3-1 loss wasn't the players’ lack of discipline. It was defense, the dreaded “D” word that has haunted the Korean national team for years.
The defeat was more lopsided than the score indicated. The explantion offered was that the Korean starting lineup was missing the usual big names, like Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo, Seol Ki-hyun and Kim Nam-il, and some, like forwards Yeom Ki-hun and Lee Jong-min, were making their national team debuts. Nine of the starters were aged 23 or younger. And Ghana countered with its best lineup, the one that reached the round of 16 at this year’s World Cup. Also, it was clear that Korean team coach Pim Verbeek didn't try to win the match; his key objective was to put members of the Asian Game squad - nine of Sunday’s starters - in some real game action against a tough team.
The results of Verbeek’s tinkering left plenty of room for pessimism about the future.
Cha Du-ri, usually a forward, played as a defensive back for the first time in his national team career. Cha did show promise on one particular play, when his foot speed allowed him to block a close-range shot by opposing forward Asamoah Gyan in the 10th minute. But for the most part, according to observers, Cha looked out of place. On Gyan’s second goal of the game, Ghana’s third, Cha was knocked out of his spikes in the one-on-one battle, as Gyan faked to his left before firing a left-foot shot.
“He should have been the starting point for offense, but his passes weren't accurate,” KBS analyst Kim Dae-gil said of Cha’s debut to local online sports magazine Joynews 24. “His positioning was off, and he had trouble with ball control in his own half.”
Park Mun-sung, a commentator for SBS Sports, said Cha appeared to have trouble staying within the boundaries of his new role and his over-confident moves in the backfield left room for the Ghanians to attack.
The blame did not fall entirely on Cha, however. Others, like 1994 World Cup head coach Kim Ho, said lack of on-field leadership by more experienced defenders was the key defect.
“Either one of Kim Jin-kyu and Kim Dong-jin [both 2006 World Cup defenders] should have taken charge on the defensive end, but I saw none of that,” he told No Cut News. “The two had no chemistry on the pitch.”
Coach Verbeek wasn’t as hard on his team. After the match, he told reporters that although he wasn’t satisfied with the result, he and the coaching staff learned a lot about the players and the players themselves learned from the experience.
When pressed for what the players may have learned from the loss, Verbeek said, “I think the young players learned how to play against a World Cup-caliber squad, and that A-matches are a different animal than a local league game. We were outplayed, gave up easy goals, and our passes weren’t crisp. I am sure our players have learned where they have to make improvements.”
Verbeek also had an explanation for the team’s porous defence:
“Our young defenders were nervous,” Verbeek added. “But that's largely due to their lack of experience.”
Korea next plays Syria tonight in a preliminary group match for the Asian Cup. A tie will ensure Korea a spot in the tournament scheduled for next July. Because this match has more serious ramifications, Verbeek is expected to roll out more established stars, perhaps hoping his younger pupils will be able to learn something as well.
by Yoo Jee-ho