Korea battle to 2-2 draw in tough matchup with Paraguay
Korea came from behind to draw 2-2 with Paraguay at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi on Friday as a revamped Taeguk Warriors struggled to contain the speedy South American side.
Facing a lower-ranked side in world No. 50 Paraguay, head coach Paulo Bento opted to rest some of his more experienced players on Friday, including Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Hwang Hee-chan and Al Sadd’s Jung Woo-young. Regular goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu was replaced by Ulsan Hyundai’s Jo Hyeon-woo.
Bordeaux’s Hwang Ui-jo returned to the starting lineup after sitting out Monday’s game against Chile.
The gamble did not pay off.
Korea went on the offensive early, testing the defense a number of times during the first 10 minutes but failing to really threaten goalkeeper Antony Silva. That momentum quickly petered out and it was Paraguay’s turn to go on the offensive.
While Paraguay may rank 21 spots behind Korea in the FIFA World Rankings, that table really doesn’t tell the whole story. While the South American side may not have racked up as many FIFA points as Korea, it was clearly a mistake to underestimate them as a team.
With players like Newcastle United forward Miguel Almirón, Palmeiras defender Gustavo Gómez and Cadiz defender Santiago Arzamendia, Paraguay has a highly experienced squad with plenty of exposure to some of the top leagues in the world.
For Korea, Paraguay’s strong defense and attacking line quickly proved disastrous. The South American side largely ignored the midfield, allowing Korean attacks to wash up against their defense before launching blistering counterattacks to catch the home side completely off guard.
That method paid off perfectly for the visitors, allowing Almirón to score in the 22nd minute, a feat he would repeat in the exact same circumstances in the 50th minute.
Korea, meanwhile, was largely shut down in the first haf. Baek Seung-ho came close to scoring in the 39th minute but was caught offside. Kim Jin-su headed the ball into the post in injury time, capping off the home side’s most promising chance of the top 45 minutes.
Korea made a flurry of changes in the first 15 minutes of the second half, with Lee Yong, Um Won-sang and Kim Jin-gyu all coming on.
The changes didn’t immediately pay off, with Almirón still scoring that second goal in the 50th minute, but the Taeguk Warriors slowly started to adapt to the Paraguayan style of play.
Korea’s chance finally came in the 65th minute in the form of a direct free kick from just outside the box after Hwang Ui-jo was pulled to the ground.
In a perfect repeat of his goal against Chile just four days earlier, captain Son Heung-min stepped up to fire the ball over the wall and into the back of the net, taking the score to 2-1 and bringing Korea back into the game.
More changes followed the goal, with Kim Jin-su coming off for Hong Chul and, five minutes later, both Hwang Ui-jo and Kwon Chang-hoon leaving the pitch for Jeong Woo-yeong and Cho Gue-sung.
The fresh legs paid off, and for the first time since the match began Korea finally began to look like the superior team. Having wrestled back control of the game, the Taeguk Warriors’ chance to settle the score finally came in injury time.
Fittingly it was two substitutes that got the job done, with Um Won-sang knocking the ball across the box to set Jeong Woo-yeong up in front of goal. The SC Freiburg forward tapped the ball home to tie the score at 2-2 with one minute of injury time left to play.
That one minute became largely irrelevant as an argument broke out in the middle pitch. The dispute, which appeared to have started when Son took umbrage at some particularly aggressive man marking, quickly involved the majority of the players on the pitch and had to be broken up by the Korea coaching staff.
Hwang In-beom and Paraguay’s Mathías Villasanti were both handed yellow cards for their part in the scuffle and the referee opted to end the game at 2-2 rather than restart play.
On paper a draw is never terrible, but for the Taeguk Warriors facing a significantly lower-ranked team in a World Cup year, it’s hardly good news.
To some extent the rough start to the game can be attributed to Bento’s decision to test some players that usually spend most of the match on the bench.
As frustrating as that is for the fans watching the game, its inevitable that at some point this year the head coach is going to have to dig deep into the roster so that he knows exactly who he has to call on in five months in Qatar.
Considering that giving everyone a go in these friendlies is really a necessity, Paraguay was the most obvious team to mix things up against. The lowest-ranked squad visiting Korea for these early summer friendlies, the South American side did offer the perfect chance to try out some lesser-seen players.
Of course, the hope would have been for a comfortable win even with a revamped lineup.
The over-reliance on Son could also be a concern. The Tottenham Hotspur forward looked visibly exhausted throughout the Paraguay game — unsurprising, considering he is the only of Korea’s European stars to have played at least 90 minutes in all three friendlies.
Korea’s final friendly of the month comes next Tuesday and it will be an especially important one for Son.
The Taeguk Warriors will take on Egypt at 8 p.m. at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Mapo District, western Seoul, pitting Son against Premier League rival and co-holder of the 2021-22 Premier League Golden Boot, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]