Words by Tom Danicek
That’s it then. Our coverage of Asia’s representatives at this year’s Olympics ends prematurely, in the quarter-finals, with a supreme bottling job from South Korea, who couldn’t convert their excellent chances and conceded from one counter-attack, well executed by Honduras. Rio de Janeiro is no London, that’s been comfortably confirmed now.
South Korea (0) v (1) Honduras
– Son disappoints in front of the goal as South Korea crumble under the pressure of favourite’s tag
I’m sure the following comparison will make all South Korean fans cringe a little, but what can I do since it’s also an apt comparison from my point of view. Indeed, there was something very Japan-esque about yesterday’s performance from Shin Tae-yong’s men.
What South Korea were desperately lacking on the day was some sort of urgency in the final third, also known as the ‘Japanese disease’. The unnecessary, harmful unselfishness; otherwise the habit of passing the buck to someone else, who’s typically in a poorer position to finish a promising move off. The lack of confidence, especially in one-on-one situations where there was always the familiar sense of insufficient physical strength, also.
That was all there; sometimes just quietly creeping beneath the surface, sometimes oh so obvious.
Meanwhile, being the opposite of the primary creative hub we all gladly watched against Germany, Son Heung-min was mirroring another overage player from Japan, Shinzo Koroki, as he was also snatching at (very) good chances. While Hwang Hee-chan – not even a first-teamer at Red Bull Salzburg – has been continually criticized for unconvincing finishing, Son’s Honduras job was arguably even worse, and therefore completely unacceptable.
Granted, Luis López was on fire and his reflexes seemed top notch, but how a Premier League star can twice find himself in ideal shooting positions and twice hit the ideal height for a goalkeeper, is just beyond me. Not to mention Son’s corner kick delivery which was usually at an ideal height for a defender as well.
As you can probably tell by now, it was a very frustrating experience. Not so much because of poor fullback play, although Shim Sang-min definitely should’ve tracked back better on the goal. This time, more than ever, it was a combination of a range of components on offer – a real team effort, in a way.
There was a sense of inadequate preparation from the manager, too; a sense of a miscalculated game plan. Park Yong-woo, otherwise looking like an adept ball distributor, did nothing to instill confidence in his side early on, too often opting for a long ball to Hwang Hee-chan (plausibly instructed to do so), who was constantly bullied in those situation, because – duh! – he’s no target man (read Suk Hyun-jun).
Picking up on the previous paragraph – since I began with a parallel, I might as well finish with one. South Korea vs Belgium at 2014 World Cup; a terrible Plan A with Kim Shin-wook in the middle of a counter-attacking setup, and also an underwhelming reaction once the team went down.
South Korea had had enough chances till the hour mark and Elis’ strike, definitely, but afterwards? Not at all. Some refreshment was desperately needed. With that purpose, Suk came on for a player in the hole (Moon Chang-jin, who put in a fine shift, even looking like a playmaker at times) and then in the 87th minute, a centre back replaced Ryu Seung-woo to push Jang Hyun-soo back into the midfield, where his questionable distribution had already been highlighted against a weak Fiji.
In other words, South Korea were pretty much finishing a game they needed to chase with no one to create chances, and it looked nearly as bad as it sounds.
Maybe – just maybe – it was a mistake to leave all players capable of providing a creative spark at home? Maybe, instead of bringing a visibly rusty Lee Chang-min, some younger but hungrier and warmed up guys like Han Chan-hee or Hwang In-beom would do? Maybe they wouldn’t deliver on such a huge stage, but it was certainly worth a try. And many, including Tim here, had pointed it out prior to the tournament as well.