Amro Alkado looks at the first Asian Cup 2015 Semi Final between South Korea & Iraq.
We had predicted a South Korean win and we got one. But it wasn’t the total domination that some had predicted. In fact the final raw stats in possession, passes and shots were far more equal than the score would reflect. South Korea scored once in each half, but didn’t threaten much otherwise. Iraq gave a decent account of themselves, especially in the second half, but lacked the cutting edge to may South Korea pay in front of a boisterous support which was unwilling to be put off by the wet weather conditions in Sydney.
A predictable beginning
The game started predictably with South Korea dominating the early possession. Cha Du-ri started at right back for South Korea & Osama Rashid replaced the suspended Yaser Kasim as predicted in our previews. But one change proved hugely benificial and one was very underwhelming. Osama Rashid struggled to replicate the form Yaser Kasim had shown so far in the torunament. He tended to play slightly to the left and Saad Abdulameer to the right, with very litte overlap between the two (I won’t bore you with heatmaps on this particular review). He was also limited with his forward passing, and Iraq suffered in the early stages for it. Cha Du-ri meanwhile channeled the spirit of the 2010 World Cup and had an incredible game, full of pace & power.
We had mentioned how poor Iraq were at defending set pieces and crosses, and this proved to be the exact way in which S Korea would score their first goal. A free kick came in from the right taken by Kim Jun-su and was promptly headed in Lee Jeong-hyeop. Salam Shakir’s marking was non existent and Iraq had duly conceded their fourth headed goal in two games.
South Korea consolidate their lead early in the second half
The second half started with one change only and that was for South Korea Han Kyo-won coming off for Lee Keun-ho. The game had barely restarted before South Korea capitalised on poor Iraqi defending again in the 49th minute. The ball bobbled around the box and was in the air after several failures to clear, Lee Jeong-hyeop this time turned creator as he slipped a pass to Kim Young-gwon who dispatched a technically trick shot with aplomb. Jalal Hassan was very slow to react and it found the bottom corner. And just like that South Korea were 2-0 up and on easy street.
Iraq make the changes but to no avail
Radhi Shneishel was quite frank in his post match interviews, suggesting he had a plan to take the match to HT at 0-0. This obviously went out of the window early on and the Iraqi coach made 3 substitutions as the second half wore on with Osamah Rashid, Alaa Abdul Zahra & Ahmed Yasin coming off for Mahdi Kamil, Ali Adnan & Marwan Hussein. Iraq pushed hard and took control of possession in the second half, but they failed to create many clear cut chances. Amjad Kalaf was standout performer today for The Lions of Mesopotamia on the right wing, but he rarely produced anything after making some promising powerful runs.
South Korea’s defence stands firm again…unconvincingly
It’s no act of luck that South Korea are in the final and also still yet to concede a goal. But at times in today’s match they were extremely shaky at the back especially when under pressure. Goal Keeper Kim Jin-hyeon had a moment of madness in the second half when he rushed well out of the box, he wasn’t punished for this by the sterile Iraqi attack. The defence as a whole made some last ditch challenges and were unsettled by Mahmoud’s movement around the box.
It’s one of those cases where statistically the defence is watertight but very shaky and looking likely to concede as soon as they face a top quality striker-only they have already done that in the form of Cahill and already managed to shut him out. An enigma then.
Game goes to form and both teams can take positives away
South Korea make their first final in an Asian Cup since 1988, and will be looking for their first title since 1960. Which is incredible considering they have been the most consistent Asian side for decades and one of the original Asian Powerhouses. Stielike has managed to craft them into an efficient if unremarkable side, and it would be foolish to bet against them winning the title.
Iraq meanwhile have superseded all reasonable expectations of them going into this tournament, and they may yet have a win left in them when they play for the 3rd/4th place play off on Friday. For a National Team with no local league at present and which faces new challenges everyday they have performed admirably and if the Iraqi FA can back the team well, they will be in with a shout of qualification to the World Cup in 2018.