Belgium not a threat, Seol says

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Belgium not a threat, Seol says


Incheon United’s Seol Ki-hyeon poses on Monday with the official match ball of the Brazil World Cup at the National Football Center in Paju, northern Gyeonggi. Seol played for five seasons on two Belgian football teams.By Jung Si-jong

Veteran Incheon United forward Seol Ki-hyeon, 34, was one of the Korean national football team members in the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, which finished in fourth place. He had never been included as a member of the national team before that event, but coach Guus Hiddink put him on the team because he was playing in the Belgian football league and was one of the few players with European league experience. Seol didn’t score a goal in the group round matches, but he scored a game-tying goal during the 88th minute of the Round of 16 match against Italy. Korea beat Italy, 2-1, with the help of striker Ahn Jung-hwan’s header in the second half of overtime.

In the 2014 Brazil World Cup, the Taegeuk Warriors will face Belgium in the last match of the group round. The Korea JoongAng Daily and Ilgan Sports analyzed the Belgian team with Seol, who played there for five seasons. Seol joined Royal Antwerp FC in 2000 then moved to RSC Anderlecht in 2001 and played there for four seasons. Belgium is 11th in FIFA’s world football rankings while Korea is 54th, as of November.

“To conclude, before I say anything about them,” Seol said. “They [Belgium] are not a team that Korea should be scared of.”

Seol defined Belgian football as freestyle in that it’s a mix of styles from many European nations. He said they sometimes play like England, whose style is known as “kick and rush,” and they sometimes play like Spain, whose style is known as “tiki-taka.” Each team fosters its prospects with its own style, and the nation is open to adopting many other European nations’ football styles. “It certainly has upgraded the level of Belgian football,” Seol said. “But there is one common point among Belgian club teams. They always emphasize that players work on fundamentals. I have been in many foreign leagues [Belgium, England and Saudi Arabia], but Belgium had the best farm system among them.”

However, Seol said their strength - freestyle football developed with great individual football skills - is also their weakness. They sometimes have trouble operating team plays. He said that he often witnessed teammates blaming each other in the locker room when a game didn’t turn out as intended and often experienced an entire team playing poor football when one or two players struggled at their positions.

“It really made it hard for me to adapt to the league when I went there the first time because what I had listened to every coach in Korea [talk about] was the importance of team play,” Seol said. “I think it’s a natural thing in that country because the Belgian league isn’t one of the best leagues in Europe, such as the English Premier League, so many players want to let scouts know their names while playing games in order to be scouted to a bigger league club.” Seol said the reason Belgium lost to Japan, 3-2, in a friendly match in November was because Japan is better at team playing.

Another weakness Seol pointed out was their stamina. “Many European players have to participate in the World Cup immediately after having a tough season with their club teams,” Seol said. “The Korean team also has players playing in Europe, so it means that many K-League players need to help them a lot. I think coach Hong, who participated in the 2002 World Cup as the captain, knows how we should deal with this.” Seol said Korea should not give many set-piece chances to Belgium, especially in areas close to the penalty box. Their two key defenders, Daniel Van Buyten of Bayern Munich FC and Vincent Kompany of Manchester City, score many goals on headers. “I played with Kompany when I was in RSC Anderlecht,” Seol said. “He has been like an iron wall against opponents with his robust physique and aggressive fighting spirit. People said Belgium has developed the so-called golden generation in football, but they lack experience. We need to exploit their weakness.”

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