Aashish Gadhvi reviews Korea v Serbia at Craven Cottage on 18 November
Two years ago Fulham’s Craven Cottage played host to a friendly match on a chilly winter evening between Korea and Greece, which went down a success. The stadium was full of crazy Korean fans singing and chanting throughout the match as Korea walked away 1-0 victors. This game against Serbia was very different from that match in many ways, and none of those reasons are particularly good.
As this match was for Korean television, it kicked off at 2:30 in the afternoon, meaning that there were fewer fans present than in the Greece game. But the Koreans as usual were in good voice, and unlike the game against Greece, had some vocal opposition in the stands. The Serbians can be very proud of the way they got behind their team, and their chants of “S-S-Ser-bi-a” were always just as loud as the Koreans’ “Dae-han min-kuk”. But that was probably because the Korean fans didn’t have much to shout for in this game. The mach was effectively over in the sixth minute, as the gigantic striker Nikola Zigic waltzed past his half asleep marker to tuck the ball away from the cross.
In reply the Koreans showed little effort in the first half. Their passing was wayward, their positioning confusing and their crossing verged on the diabolical. Korea simply could not match the strength and organisation of the Serbians. Every time Korea attacked, guaranteed they would loose the ball before any shots. Every time the Serbians attacked, you closed your eyes and hoped for the best. It was simply a no contest. What made the style of play all the more frustrating was the Koreans’ desire to keep playing long balls. Long balls against a defence which boasts Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic is nothing short of stupidity. The Koreans were no match for the Serbians in height, so why they kept relying on long balls was an absolute mystery.
The second half was far better from the Koreans. The best chance that came was a cross from Park Ji Sung that Lee Dong Gook chose to chest down instead of going for a straight header, which gave the defender enough time to clear the ball. But most of the attacks had a similar flavour about them. Good passing, decent space, but nothing in the final third, and certainly no clear cut chances. The odd cross still went wayward and, more worryingly, the strikers Seol Ki Hyeon and Lee Dong Gook both did hardly anything at all.
But perhaps what was most worrying about the result was the pace of the Koreans. A team whose main weapon is pace and energy seemed to lack both. It was a little similar to the match against Switzerland in the 2006 World Cup, in which the Koreans simply couldn’t keep up with the pace and strength of the Swiss. But then again, this is just a friendly, and one can never read too much into a friendly. If Korea were slow and lacked energy it was probably because this was just a glorified holiday for most of them. After all the Koreans were on a 28 game unbeaten run prior to this match, and teams don’t become bad over night. Whether or not the Koreans were going full throttle or not is in the eye of the beholder, but they will come up against far more difficult opposition than Serbia in the World Cup. But as far as contests go, the Koreans really need to learn more about playing against stronger, organised teams.
This match does also shed a little light on the World Cup team that will travel to South Africa. Yeom Ki Hun seems to lack the talent to play at the highest level, and two of Korea’s key playmakers – Park Chu Young and Yong Ki Sung – were not present. The experiment of a single striker up front is not going to work if there is no striker with presence, and the Koreans lack exactly that. Lee Dong Gook no longer has the skill or power to play in that position, and Seol Ki Hyeon was nothing but a stand-in for this friendly. Park Chu Young seems to be the missing link in all this. As a clever second striker who has the ability to play good through ball passes, his skill was certainly something that was missing. Lee Chung Yong and Park Ji Sung showed they are capable of creating good chances, so perhaps all is not lost up front for Korea. The back still looks frail, and Korea were lucky that as a friendly the Serbians didn’t really get going after the initial goal. The score could easily have been 2-0 or 3-0. Korea have always had a problem replacing Hong Myung Bo as the chief organiser at the back, and unless they find a solution quickly, they will have to book early flights home from South Africa.
Stay tuned for Aashish’s exclusive interviews with Kim Nam Il and Lee Chung Yong.
- S Korea v Greece at Craven Cottage in February 2007