Asia won right to celebrate, but improvements needed

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Asia won right to celebrate, but improvements needed

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PRETORIA, South Africa - Asia’s run at the 2010 World Cup has come to an end at the Round of 16. Korea and Japan both advanced to the second round for the first time on foreign soil, with both Asian nations showing the strength of their styles of play. But if they expect to continue competing at this level, there are improvements to be made.

After the Japan-Paraguay match Tuesday, former Korea forward, manager and current SBS football analyst Cha Bum-kun called Japan’s attack “lacking.”

He said, “Korea’s offense managed to continue to pressure their opponents throughout the games. But Japan failed to produce many quality chances in their last game.”

Korea has produced a steady line of capable forwards in the past. In addition to Cha himself, the country gave birth to Choi Soon-ho, Kim Joo-sung, Hwang Sun-hong, Lee Dong-gook and Park Chu-young.

The Taegeuk Warriors also currently boast strong wingers on the sides, Cha added. Park Ji-sung and Lee Chung-yong’s speedy attack up the two wing positions often marks the beginning of a Korean offensive play. Overall, Korea’s offense is based on speed, individual skills and a strong, dynamic will, the analyst explained.

Japan also has its share of forwards, Cha said, but manager Takeshi Okada decided to use Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow as the lone forward throughout the tourney. Honda responded superbly, netting two of his team’s four goals, but lacking more quality forwards with quickness and finesse, Japan’s offense was limited.

Yet if Japan’s offense lagged, its defense was far better than Korea’s.

Former Japan captain Hidetoshi Nakata said before the start of the Paraguay game, “Japan is playing a different brand of football compared to the style played when I was on the national team. It’s the reason Japan has made progress and has played well at this tourney.”

Under former managers Philippe Troussier and Zico, Japan’s rhythmic offense was fueled by the talents of Nakata. The team has since made drastic changes in strategy under the leadership of Takeshi Okada. Although Okada had insisted on an attack focus in the past, his team’s failure to adapt to such tactics forced him to switch to a defensive plan.

Okada emphasized the need to pressure the opponents by swarming. Having struggled through the friendly games leading up to the World Cup, the Japanese national team developed into a stable defensive unit that gave up just two goals during the Cup, excluding Tuesday’s penalty shootout.

Korea, on the other hand, struggled again and again to find its form on defense. Aside from its Group B opening match against Greece, Korea looked shaky on defense and gave up at least two goals in each of its following games for a total of eight goals scored against Korea in four games. Manager Huh Jung-moo had a difficult time assembling the right defenders. Developing quality defenders is one of the biggest tasks for the Korea Football Association.


By Jang Chi-hyeok [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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