K League stars seize opportunity to show what they can do
On paper, a 6-3 loss is a rough result. But for Team K League, an untested squad patched together from the best players in the domestic league, scoring three goals against a top Premier League club looks like a pretty good day at the office.
Heading into Wednesday's game, Team K League, a squad of players who spend their career in direct opposition with each other, were not exactly expected to stand a chance against Spurs. In fact, manager Kim Sang-sik said in a pre-match press conference that he'd be happy with a 2-2 draw — although he revised that to a 2-0 victory after hearing players Kim Jin-su and Lee Seung-woo say they were determined to win.
As it turned out, a 2-2 draw was extremely optimistic. But despite the final score, Team K League proved extremely capable with some standout stars seizing the opportunity to make a name for themselves.
Cho Gue-sung, a rising star on the Korean national team, scored Team K League's opening goal on Wednesday, tying the score at 1-1 in injury time at the end of the first half.
A surprising display of teamwork for a team that are not actually a team was behind that goal, as Lars Veldwijk started the offense by winning the ball from Eric Dier in the air. The offense built through a series of accurate passes and dribbles throughout the midfield, with Aleksandar Palocevic eventually picking out Cho, who headed the ball into the back of the net.
Cho has recently become an increasingly common addition to the national team. He scored in the Taeguk Warriors' most recent match, against Egypt on June 14. In the K League, Cho plays for Gimcheon Sangmu and has scored 12 goals this season to take second place on the top scorer table.
Even before Wednesday's game, Cho was considered a major contender for a future European move, although he will need to complete his military service before he thinks about moving to greener pastures.
One other player that seized the opportunity on Wednesday was forward Yang Hyun-jun.
Although Yang was unable to add a goal of his own, his fancy footwork left both Ryan Sessegnon and Eric Dier in the dust at the end of the first half.
"I think the player to keep an eye out for after today's match is Yang," said Kim Sang-sik after the match on Wednesday. "Despite being a young player, I think he was able to play well against the European players."
Despite only having scored two goals and three assists in the domestic league, the Gangwon FC winger seems to have high potential not only in the K League but also abroad considering his performance against a Premier League club. Finishing is clearly something he needs to work on — that Sessegnon-Dier run ended with a ball kicked across the front of the goal — but the technique is clearly there.
Former Nottingham Forest man Lars Veldwijk scored the second goal for Team K League in the 52nd minute, beating Spurs' regular starting goalie Hugo Lloris.
Lars, who plays for Suwon FC, has the third most assists in the domestic league and has emerged as a dominant playmaker and consistent scorer. On Wednesday, it was Yang who assisted Lars, setting it up from the right for the Suwon striker to slot in.
Gerso Fernandes was another foreign K League player that stood out on Wednesday. Although he didn't score a goal himself, Gerso showed some serious turns of speed and played the entire length of the pitch, dribbling around the Spurs midfielders to create more opportunities.
For Jun Amano, it was more of a checkered performance.
Just minutes after being substituting in on to the pitch, Ulsan Hyundai's Amano conceded a penalty with a handball in the box. That mistake led to a Son Heung-min goal.
Amano’s redemption was swift. The Japanese player responded with a goal of his own in the 70th minute, a direct free kick that he threaded between Son and Pape Matar Sarr to beat Lloris.
But not everybody had a great night. K League favorites like former Barcelona prospect Lee and national team regular Kwon Chang-hoon, who went in to the match as some of the highest profile domestic players, failed to live up to the hype.
Lee's contribution to the game was two fouls and some fairly lackluster dribbling, while Kwon repeatedly gave the ball away. Both were substituted out 32 minutes into the first half.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]