South Korea were probably expecting yet another encounter with their bogey opponents Iran, yet instead, they are about to face Iraq in what might be tagged as a re run of the 2007 Asian Cup semi final. What should the Taeguk Warriors do to avoid another semi final failure?
Control the middle of the park, overwhelmingly
Yaser Kasim is suspended, and that’s obviously a huge blow for Iraq. They are now without their one and only midfield conductor, so to speak, and so they suddenly have to rely on a somewhat unproven Osama Rashid, who’s still a ball playing midfielder but also a “poor man’s Kasim“ at this stage of his career.
That’s exactly where South Korea have to take advantage; a complete advantage, I’d like to stress. Ki Sung-yueng and Park Joo-ho have been mainstays for Uli Stielike in this injury ridden side, while they both bring an unique mix of great passing range and resilience to the table. Especially in Ki’s case, lots of people seem to be forgetting about his physical presence and how utterly dominant he can be, not just in terms of keeping the ball running.
Hence, the South Korean double pivot simply has to own the Iraqi one in Sydney, and they both also have to make sure that majority of the ball possession they’ll most certainly enjoy is utilised well.
We saw it against Uzbekistan: when South Korean opponents have a strong commander in the heart of their midfield line (Ahmedov) and are willing to act aggressively, or even commit some rather nasty tackles/fouls in the early goings, then The Taeguk Warriors very much lose the ground under their feet.
That can’t repeat again. South Koreans need to impose themselves on Iraqis – and do it right from the start without any easing off as the game wears on.
Exploit the Iraqi left-hand side
In the first appearance at the tournament, South Korea clearly targeted the Omani right hand side as the Red Warriors were short of their first choice right back. And this strategy didn’t exactly work: Son Heung-min was a bit overloaded, and as a result, he finished the match in a state of mild frustration.
This time around, I’d recommend South Korea to focus on the other side, for a change, and exploit the fundamentally flawed Dhurgham Ismail. Yes, the 20-year-old is certainly a talented boy, but at this point, his defensive play leaves a lot to be desired.
He often engages way too high up the pitch, following his right wing opponent literally everywhere he goes, tackling him rashly and even jumping in to some meaningless air battles. After all, these actions of Dhurgham’s led to Azmoun‘s opening goal in the quarter final.
He’s obviously not mature enough yet and what’s most important here is that Uli Stielike surely has all the resources required to make Iraq pay.
First off, the German coach must drop the ever dull, conservative Kim Chang-soo and replace him with Cha Du-ri. As prudent as Stielike‘s latest plan was to save the veteran right back for the latter stages, there’s simply no need for such tinkering now. Cha Du-ri has already got plenty of rest throughout the tournament.
Secondly, there’s Lee Keun-ho and his perfect suitability to drag a left back across the pitch and open up some free pockets on the right-hand side. Lee Keun-ho is a tireless runner, and although he still lacks outright quality and remains a poor finisher, he can do wonders to South Korea’s build-up.
Therefore, if targeted properly by Stielike’s men, this particular touchline may prove to be a highway to hell for Iraq.
Make set pieces count
It might look strange at first sight to list set pieces as a potential South Korean strength, but in fact, it’s pretty basic math really.
Iran scored twice from set pieces against Iraq, and they were already down to ten men by then. This esentially means the Lions of Mesopotamia had less threat to deal with, and yet, they failed to do so rather spectacularly. Also, you can add the first goal to the mix since Azmoun at least scored from a header, to only confirm Iraq truly aren’t the strongest team in the air.
More so, while Iran had one efficient Andranik Teymourian in the quarter finals, South Korea can easily benefit from deliveries produced by numerous players – most notably by the star man Son Heung-min, but we shouldn’t forget about Ki Sung-yueng and Kim Jin-su, too. They all seem to be capable of coming up with a dangerous free kick or corner kick, as they did against Uzbekistan when South Korea indeed showed some surprising consistency on dead ball situations.