Bento's boys show good progress in 2-0 win over Chile
A newly-confident Korea worked efficiently to beat Chile 2-0 at Daejeon World Cup Stadium in Daejeon on Monday, but head coach Paulo Bento and the team clearly still have plenty of work to do to tidy up a sometimes-sloppy defense and create more cohesive attacks.
Fittingly, it was Premier League stars Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan who picked up a goal apiece in Monday’s win.
From a training standpoint, Monday’s game was one of the most highly-anticipated of Korea’s early summer friendlies as it pitched the world No. 29 Taeguk Warriors against No. 28 Chile in a match that allowed head coach Paulo Bento to see how his team stood up to a side that ought to be at a fairly similar level.
Monday’s friendly was the second of Korea’s early summer schedule after a 5-1 loss to world No. 1 Brazil at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Mapo District, western Seoul last Thursday.
Both games have marked important moments in captain Son’s international career — last week the Tottenham Hotspur star and Premier League Golden Boot winner was awarded Korea’s highest sporting honor, whilst the Chile match marked his 100th appearance with the national team.
Facing a far more evenly-matched team on Monday, Korea were in control from the kickoff at Daejeon World Cup Stadium. The defense was far more cohesive, the midfield gelled well and attacks were strung together without the momentum petering out.
Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Hwang Hee-chan drew first blood in the 11th minute, picking up a cross on the left wing and then powering his way through a gap in the defense to send the ball flying from outside corner of the box into the top right corner.
Son’s goal didn’t come until the 90th minute, after Hwang Hee-chan was brought down on the edge of the box for a direct free kick. The captain stepped up to take the shot and sent the ball flying around the side of the wall and into the top right corner.
Both were good goals — Hwang’s a beautiful shot after a brilliant drive forward and Son’s a perfectly-executed free kick — but there was still a sense that had Korea been able to buckle down, the final score could have been quite a bit higher.
Korea had multiple chances in the first half that petered out before they could reach the goal, either because of a badly timed pass or a lack of options that forced the attacking player to send the ball in the wrong direction while his teammates regrouped.
Chile went down to 10 men early in the second half after defender Alex Ibacache picked up a second yellow card for a foul on Jeong Woo-yeong. Yet despite the numbers advantage, Korea remained quiet.
Captain Son had multiple attempts on goal, showing some fancy footwork to thread his way through the defense before sending the ball just wide of the post on more than one occasion.
The Son effect appeared to be a bit of an issue for the team as a whole. While Son himself struggled to capitalize on his own opportunities, there were multiple instances when attacks fell apart because players were trying too hard to get the ball to the Spurs star rather than take the shot themselves.
Both Hwang In-beom and Um Won-sang, who came on as a substitute in the 75th minute, fell into this trap, with Um sprinting the entire length of the pitch and then passing the ball into a defender when he was just a couple of meters from goal.
Whether the constant Son seeking was on Bento’s orders or just a natural side effect of having a global superstar on the squad is unclear, but the head coach will need to continue to work on finding the right balance between using the Spurs striker to his full potential and encouraging everybody to take the chances they’re given.
That isn’t to say that Korea’s offense was bad. The two goals speak for themselves as far as Son and Hwang Hee-chan are concerned, and a number of the younger players also showed some serious potential.
Jeong Woo-yeong ably filled the vacant Lee Jae-sung role in the central midfielder spot as the Taeguk Warriors veteran is out with an injury. Na Sang-ho was mostly efficient on the wing with Kim Moon-hwan effectively pulling forward from the defense a number of times.
Cho Gue-sung came on as a substitute later in the game and immediately fired a well-placed through pass to Son, proof that the 24-year-old's attempts to study Son’s Tottenham playmaking partner Harry Kane’s approach are paying off.
Veteran defensive midfielder Jung Woo-young also looked far more effective on Monday after having struggled against Brazil a few days earlier.
Speaking after the game, Son praised the team for bouncing back after the 5-1 loss to Brazil.
"More than my goal, I want to thank my teammates for competing with such a great attitude," Son said. "It's always difficult to bounce back after the kind of loss we had against Brazil. But everyone showed a lot of mental toughness. I am so happy to have won my 100th match."
Korea’s defense was far from perfect and Chile came extremely close to scoring on a number of occasions — including actually getting the ball in the back of the net only for it to later be ruled offside.
The absence of center back Kim Min-jae was clearly felt, although Jung Seung-hyun did a fairly good role stepping into Kim’s shoes on his 10th appearance for the national team.
Speaking after the game, Bento also defended his defensive line.
"Opportunities we conceded aren't linked with just the defensive process,” Bento said. “Many, many times, they're linked with the offensive one. Today, I think that defensively, we had good behavior. We made some mistakes, and we need to keep working to improve in that area."
Although the score could have been higher — especially playing against 10 men — the 2-0 victory is still a good result for Korea, with the statistics suggesting the Taeguk Warriors did far more to capitalize on their chances than the visitors.
The final score belies how evenly matched the two teams were, level-pegging on fouls, at 16, offsides, at three and corner kicks, at three. Korea led slightly on possession, but only at 52 percent to 48 percent, and had four more shots, two more of which were on target.
With two friendlies left to play over the next two weeks, the real test will be whether Bento and the team can learn from their experience facing two very different teams in the first two games.
Korea will next face Paraguay at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi at 8 p.m. on Friday, before leaving South America behind to take on Egypt in the final friendly at Seoul World Cup Stadium at 8 p.m. on June 14.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]