South dictates tempo, but still falls to North
The U-23 national football team is looking to win an Asiad gold in football for the first time since the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, but North Korea was seen as the toughest test for the South in Group C, which also includes Jordan and Palestine.
The two sides played a tense and fast-paced game out of the gate, with South Korea dictating the tempo by dominating possession. Hong Myung-bo, the U-23 national team manager, opted to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation featuring Park Hee-sung, Kim Bo-kyung and Cho Young-cheol up front and Kim Min-woo, Koo Ja-cheol and Kim Jung-woo as the midfielders.
With Koo Ja-cheol and Kim Jung-woo providing stability on defense, South Korea managed play to their tune, but the team failed to create many quality chances against a North Korean defense which chose to sit deep in their zone while looking for the occasional counter-attack.
The game stayed much the same until North Korea took full advantage of a free-kick opportunity in the 36th minute. A long pass from a few feet outside the left side of the box to the opposite goal post drew South Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu out of position. The ball was flicked back into play at which time, the North’s Ri Kwang-chon connected on a header to score the opening goal in the 36th minute.
The story of the game was South Korea’s failure to create quality scoring opportunities despite dominating many of the game’s major categories. South Korea controlled the time-of-possession war 68 to 32 percent and managed 21 total shots, with six of those on net. The North connected on six total shots with three of them on target. The South also led their opposition with four free-kicks to one.
South Korea also got a big break in the game when North Korea’s Park Nam-chol was ejected in the 65th minute after collecting his second yellow card of the game. Regardless, the South still failed to capitalize on the golden opportunity to tie the game against an opposition with one man down.
With the 1-0 loss, the U-23 national team got the toughest test in Group C, or perhaps in the entire tourney, out of the way - North Korea has fielded the best youth teams in Asia in recent years. The North Koreans were runner-up in the AFC U-16 Championships in 2004 and 2006 before winning the title over the home team Uzbekistan on Nov. 7 this year. The U-19 squad won the 2006 AFC Championships and won again this year.
South Korea will play Jordan tomorrow before playing its last group stage match against Palestine on Saturday. South Korea can receive a much needed boost in its offense on Wednesday when Park Chu-young of AS Monaco is expected to return.
Park flew out to Guangzhou from Paris and can play in Wednesday’s match against Jordan at the earliest.
By Jason Kim [email@example.com]