2-2 draw with Georgia exposes serious concerns
Despite expectations that Korea would easily win the match, the Taeguk Warriors got off to a slow start as they struggled against Georgia’s fast counterattacks and tight pressure. Due to this, Korea ended up allowing Georgia to take the lead in the 40th minute. As midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon of SC Freiburg lost the ball to Georgia, Jano Ananidze of FC Spartak Moscow scored the opener against goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun of Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
After a disappointing start, Korea returned to the pitch in the second half as a different team. Hwang Ui-jo of Bordeaux quickly changed things up. Hwang, who was substituted for Lee Jeong-hyeop of Busan IPark, first scored an equalizer in the 48th minute, assisted by Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur.
Hwang continued his streak by scoring a header in the 85th minute, assisted by Kim Jin-su of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Hwang’s second goal finally allowed Korea to take the lead for the first time in the match.
But right when it seemed as if Korea was going to walk away with a win, Georgia fought back. Girogi Kvilitaia of K.A.A. Gent scored an equalizer in the 90th minute.
“As I entered the match in the second half, I tried hard to change the momentum,” Hwang was quoted as saying on Yonhap. “I always believe I will get at least one scoring chance in any match, and I try to pounce on that opportunity.”
Despite the draw, Korea’s performance was disappointing as Georgia is ranked 94th in the world, while Korea is ranked 37th. Ahead of their actual qualifying match against the 132nd-ranked Turkmenistan, Korea hoped to boost their confidence with a friendly match. Instead, a draw gave Bento a bigger task ahead of the qualifier.
Following the match, head coach Paulo Bento expressed his dissatisfaction in the team’s performance throughout the first half of the match.
“We weren’t steady when we had the possession, and we made too many bad passes,” head coach Paulo Bento was quoted as saying. “As far as the first half, it was the worst we’ve played in my 17 matches with the team.”
Against Georgia, Bento came up with an experimental formation and players. Under the 3-5-2 formation, Kim and Hwang Hee-chan of Red Bull Salzburg, who both play attacking midfielder or forward, were assigned as wing backs.
The experiment turned out to be a failure as both players failed to fulfill their defensive duties.
“In the second half, we played better only because we couldn’t get any worse,” Bento was quoted as saying. “But we kept making the same mistakes that we did in the first half. We’ll have to analyze reasons for that.”
In addition to Bento, Son, Korea’s captain, also criticized the players’ performance.
“Korea has to realize that we are the less competitive team,” Son said. “I hope they recognized that through this match. We can’t be a good team if we don’t work hard.”
Son also pointed out that the team’s biggest problem comes from the mental game, not the experimental formation.
“The three-back formation isn’t the problem,” Son said. “The players’ mentality is the biggest thing. I feel a lot of responsibility as captain for this kind of match. It’s embarrassing as a national team [member] that we didn’t play our best.”
Korea may not have played their best, but they had a positive takeaway from the match as they saw potential from younger players. Three players - Lee Kang-in of Valencia CF, Lee Dong-geong of Ulsan Hyundai FC and Gu - finally made their senior national team debuts.
Right after the friendly match, the Taeguk Warriors headed to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, to prepare for their World Cup qualifying match against Turkmenistan, scheduled to kick off on Tuesday.
“With this kind of mentality, it’ll be hard to compete at the World Cup,” Son said. “Even if we have talented players, if they can’t give it their all on pitch, then the national team will have a big problem. Our players have to recognize the reality that the road to the World Cup is difficult.”
BY SONG JI-HOON, BAE JAE-SUNG [email@example.com]