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Posted by Daniel Cho on 07/01/2010

My apologies for the delay of this post. Been busy and traveling, but I also intentionally waited until the Round of 16 was over. I'm so awesome.

I arrived in Lisbon (for work) the day after Portugal's loss to their Iberian neighbor Spain, and I can actually see particles of depression floating in the air.  The mood is somber and people are glum like they just came back from a funeral - all on the verge of tears.  I was hoping for a more festive atmosphere...

Korean Word of the Day
Jen-Jahng : Darn it!, Bummers!  An expression people blurt out loud when things don't go their way. 

The unfortunate close losses by South Korea (my muthaland), and USA (my birth place and current home) destroyed me, and now with England (the home to the club football I follow the most), Mexico (our CONCACAF neighbor) and Japan (the last Asian standing)'s elimination, I am running out of countries to root for.  Honestly, I was hoping to see a South Korea-USA clash in the Quarter-finals (and dreading an identity crisis at the same time), but they both crashed out.  All that anticipation for nothing...  Kind of like the fantasies that my friend Tom used to have of his crushes in high school - He always imagined of clever pick-up lines and hot make-out sessions with the hottest chicks at school - but in reality, I couldn't even say "Hi" to them in the hallways.   ...Uh, I mean, Tom couldn't...  Doh!!!

I was actually rooting hard for Japan, because I'm sick of the way the rest of the world views Asian opponents as an automatic 3 points.  But the fact that 2 out of the 4 Asian participants have made it to the knockout stage is a sign that times are a-changin'.  Seriously, Japan surpassed my expectations in a big way - I was worried that they would head home with 2 points at best.  The Blue Samurais didn't look so good in the friendlies leading up to the big event (all losses, no wins), but truly stepped it up with wins over Cameroon and Denmark, and even played extremely well in their loss to Holland.  Oh well... job well done, Japan

Now I'm left with Holland to root for, but they have to freakin' face freakin' Brazil freakin' next.  There's a reason why I don't freakin' gamble. 

OK OK, The Uruguay Game 
I was eventually getting here.  Yes, against Uruguay, we lost a game that was totally winnable.  We looked better (everyone, even the Uruguayan media agree), had more ball possession and scoring chances, but we frustratingly couldn't capitalize on crucial opportunities.  Looking back at the match/reports/numbers is depressing, but captain Park Ji-Sung put it best - when asked by a reporter, "How does it feel to lose a game which Korea controlled?", he replied, "Isn't that the nature of football?"  ...I couldn't have said it better.  Things work out sometimes, and sometimes they don't.  And it was the latter which South Korea experienced; Park Chu-Young's 5th minute free kick that came off the woodwork pretty much sums up our game.  

I said I was going to do a post-Uruguay-South Korea analysis, but I lied.  Everybody seems to know what/when/who/how/which/where things went wrong for Korea, and I'm sure you have your own expert opinion on it.  But if you're curious, there are a ton of amazing input and intense debate about the match (and more), contributed by my smart awesome sexy readers in the comment section of my last post.  I was just thinking how great my readers are while eating a smart awesome sexy piece of toast with butter and jam for breakfast this morning.        

So, instead of breaking down the entire match, I've decided to come up with 3 sets of 3 blahblahblah lists.  This will cover pretty much everything - both the Uruguay match and Korea's overall performance at the 2010 World Cup.  

Blah I - 3 I Told You So's  
Not to be that annoying guy who says "I told you so" every time the turd hits the fan, but I specifically stated the below 3 points in my Uruguay preview.  Only if manager Huh read my post, Park Ji-Sung would be hoisting up the golden trophy on July 11th!  OK, probably not, but you know, sometimes it hurts to be right all the time...  Here are 3 I Told You So's.  I wrote:

1. Don't just watch the ball, but to whom the ball is intended for, and 2. shadow the forwards at all times.  The first Uruguay goal was given away due to an atrocious mistake by goalie Jung Sung-Ryong.  Jung hesitated on whether or not he should come to meet Diego Forlan's low cross, but that split second of being unsure caused the ball to be out of his reach.  That was clearly Jung's fault - but at the same time, Korea's defensive backline completely blanked, and was caught watching the ball.  The recipient on the other end, Suarez was completely unmarked, and easily put his country on the score board.  Lee Young-Pyo (God bless him for his hard work for the rest of the game) should have been on him, and he knows it.  In fact, someone should have been on Suarez at all times - I know it's not that easy of a task, but these are dangerous vultures who lurk around to punish you at any given moment.  Someone should have been there when Suarez got the ball before the first goal (For his 2nd goal, Kim Jung-Woo came to "help" with very sloppy coverage.)  Heck, someone should have followed after him during his goal celebrations, and even into the bathroom during half time...  AT ALL TIMES!!!  Jen-jahng!!!

3. Don't try to take this to penalties, but win it early.  After Lee Chung-Yong headed the game-tying goal, we seemed to want to stop attacking, and try to take this to overtime or penalties.  The momentum was with the Koreans then, so why stop there?  Sure, they were tired from all the going forward (I know that running on wet surface is even more tiring), but the Uruguayans were exhausted as well!  I was almost angry when the Taeguk Bro-rriors started slowing down the tempo and passing so casually within our own half...

Blah II - Tactical Errors 
I am not in any way saying that I am more qualified (in fact, I have zero qualifications) or know more about football than Huh Jung-Moo does.  Even though he is old enough to be my dad, I'm pretty sure he can still kick my butt right now.  However, it is easier to spot mistakes/areas of improvement when you're on the outside looking in.  ...And if that last metaphor sounds perverted to you, you have a problem.

Here is the thing - Huh is being praised for taking South Korea to the knockout round, and he ought to be for meeting the goal he's set.  But THIS IS THE MOST TALENTED AND STRONGEST SQUAD KOREA OR ANY ASIAN COUNTRY HAS EVER ASSEMBLED, and he did not reach deep enough into his pocket to take full advantage of his resources.  I truly think we could have gone further with a better world-class manager with more common sense.  

Besides sitting back after the score was tied against Uruguay, there are plenty of other tactical errors made on Huh's part.  The use of players in this match demonstrate his stubborn and close mindedness as a whole.

1A. The insertion of Lee Dong-Gook in the 61st minute.  Alright, I get it - Huh felt that LDG could have made instant impact to prove himself as the comeback kid, to make a name for himself to forever be remembered as a legend.  Well, after all those years (12 years since his last World Cup) waiting and waiting and crying and pounding down soju (Korean sake shots that taste like rubbing alcohol) and waiting some more, he finally got the chance to erase his miseries with a 1 on 1 situation with the Uruguayan goalie in the closing minutes.  Sounds like a Hollywood movie scenario, right?  ...Well, too bad the script was more like a bad unfunny Kate Hudson comedy (record scratch sound here), as he botched his grand possible moment with an incredibly weak shot, which (did slip through the keeper's gloves but eventually) got cleared away.  It reminded me of my drunk uncle kicking a ball after a New Year's day dinner.  OK - to be honest, I know that was not necessarily an easy situation with the heavy rain, and the goalie alert and ready in position, but he certainly could have done much better than that.

1B. And why bring on Yum Ki-Hoon in the 85th minute?  Wasn't it obvious that Yum proved to be a poopy diaper in the first 3 games?  We need a diaper change. 

2. Instead of starting Kim Jae-Sung (who only excelled at falling down), Huh should have given Lee Seung-Ryong a full 90 minutes.  Sure, LSR is "inexperienced" and still a kid at 21, but he is still older than Germany's new star Thomas Muller, 20, who had a monster game against England with 2 goals.  Why can't Huh recognize that some younger kids ARE much much better than some "experienced" veterans?!!  My Confucianism theory about giving the older players too much priority has been an ongoing theme for Korea in South Africa.
3. Not to bring past mistakes into the picture (I know your girlfriend/wife always does this!), but leaving out Lee Keun-Ho off the World Cup roster for Lee Dong-Gook and Ahn Jung-Hwan came to haunt us again and again.  

Here is a fake phone interview I conducted with manager Huh:
"Oh hello, Mr. Huh, how did Ahn Jung-Hwan work out?  He must have played a major role in Korea reaching the knockout stage."  "...What?  He didn't play a game?  He must have come in as a sub to score a goal, no?"  "...What?  He didn't play one minute?!!!"  This still makes my blood boil.  

Blah III - 3 iWishes (I'm copyrighting that name and gonna sell it to Apple for $5 million when that dream sequencing product comes out in 2021.  Too bad that iDream was already taken by the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation.  OK, iKid. )

1. I wish we had a better goalie.  I often heard from fans and "experts" that we should have gone with the more-experienced Lee Woon-Jae, but that would have been a bigger risk, in my opinion, as he hasn't been in a decent playing shape as of late.  Think of the younger heart-throb Elvis (2002 LWJ) vs the older Vegas Elvis (2010 LWJ) - It's that simple.    

One area Lee WOULD have done better is instrcting/guiding the backline in general, or helping assemble walls in freekick situations.

Jung, who showed confident performance in the friendlies leading up to the Cup, seemed almost overwhelmed when it came to the real thing.  Maybe it's because he got so traumatized from the Argentina beating (thought about calling it "date rape", but carefully decided against it), that he has been unsure-seeming about the simplest tasks ever since.  The first goal given away against Uruguay is a perfect example - I was lost for words when his slow reaction resulted in Suarez's goal. (FYI - there wasn't anything he could have done about the second)  I wanted punch my own face repeatedly.  

Perhaps this is what I wish for: Lee Woon-Jae's knowledge of the game in Jung Sung-Ryong's body.  Hopefully Jung will learn and become a smarter keeper (and perhaps gain a mean streak - he seems a bit too nice and introverted for his own good), or we look elsewhere.    

2. We just lacked the finishing touch that Uruguay had.  Even though we passed the ball well, we just couldn't translate that into goals - It was as if we were watching an Arsenal game.    

I know for a fact that Park Chu-Young CAN be that killer striker when he's healthy.  I really think he has the potential to be a Rooney, David Villa or Drogba, as I've seen him do major damage on both professional and international stages.  He is also still young and has a good 10 years left in him, and hopefully we will see him shine on a bigger European stage very soon, as well as in the next 2 World Cups.  What he does need on the national side is a great complimentor or another LEGIT threat up front, which Huh did not provide Park with at all in Korea's 4 matches.  Yum Ki-Hoon ran around hard, but he just wasn't good enough, and turned out to be more of a hinderance than an asset.

3. I wish we had better defense.  South Korea did a great job keeping things close and competitive in all matches (with the exception of the Argentina whipping), but I couldn't help but notice that some of the errors by the Korean backline were preventable and from being simply careless - such as passing directly to
the opponent, ill-executed offside traps etc. These kinds of mistakes are not seen being made by other world class nations too often.

Center back Lee Jung-Soo did contribute with 2 important goals for his country (and I'm calling him the Asian Superman for his Christopher Reeves-esque hair with the curl on his forehead), but I thought he and Cho Yong-Hyung were far from perfect at the back, defensively.  I kept waiting for their next glitch to happen, and breathed easy whenever the ball was cleared.  Only after former captain Hong Myung-Bo retired in 2002, did I realize how consistantly he performed for Korea over the years.  We must find a pair of strong knowledgeable CBs.             

Time to Complain About FIFA
I swore that I would NOT be a sore loser, but I am simply pointing out stuff that hindered this game from being a great one.  (FYI - these affected both sides, not just Korea - so there!)

- That stupid pitch was in such horrible shape.  There were so many patches of dirt sticking out, that I only needed one quick aerial shot to notice the entire ground was like a rice paddy field.  I mean, don't they have a grounds crew that come out during the 7th inning that do the YMCA dance and treat the pitch, like at Yankees Stadium?

The ball bounced awkwardly everywhere it went, and the players seemed have problems receiving passes. And in my opinion, Korea was affected more, because they relied on more short give-and-go passes in attack. 

Sure, we couldn't do anything about the rain, but the awfulness of the ground was multiplied by it.  This is a high profile playoff game of a World Cup - this should be basic maintenance stuff that shouldn't ever be an issue.

- The officiating 
Alright, how bad was the referee?

Again, both teams were hurt by this. 
Ki Sung-Yong's handball in Korea's box should have been a penalty, which should have put the South Americans ahead 2-0 before half time. 

Then that same Ki Sung-Yong was clearly brought down in the 63rd minute, which should have been a penalty awarded for Korea, but the ref let the play continue.  Was that his attempt to make things "even", by canceling one screw-up with another screw-up?   

Also, if you look back at the game and see all the bad calls/non-calls, Korea got the short end of the stick.  There should have been at least 5 free kicks for Korea from decent range that went ignored.

But what's done is done.  South Korea lost to Uruguay, and we should be happy we got to the Round of 16.  ...Right?  Then why do I still feel empty inside...?

In my next and last post, I will talk about the future of Korean football, including promising prospects and direction KFA is headed.  There is a lot to look forward to in the next 4 years.  Trust me.


As always, feel free to share your thoughts.  Remember to be respectful, but DO have fun!


Posted by Sal on 07/01/2010

I've been waiting for your post for the last couple of days, but reading it is bringing back too much pain once again. I try to forget the pain by focusing my attention on the Asian Cup next year, but it's still hard b/c we don't know whether we're ever going to get such a "lucky draw" in a world cup again.

You're right, Korea does have much to look forward to and many up-and-coming new athletes (Suk Hyun Joon, Nam Tae Hee, Kim Woo Hong, Goo Ja Chul, and even the 13 year old Messi Baek Seung Ho), but whether they'll really progress and be ready in 2014 or even 2018 is all speculation.

I really hope the team would be able to find a good manager to manage the team so that if and when these young stars are ready to play in the big stage, they won't be passed on for the older sunbaes.

Posted by Sal on 07/01/2010

As for the Asian Cup, I hope they'll be able to bring back all the K-players in Europe to participate. Let's win this thing and go to Confederation Cup!!

And as much as I hate to say it, I think it's best to bring back Huh at least until the end of the Asian Cup.

Posted by guamreddevil on 07/01/2010

So many what ifs that I don't even want to go through it any more. I really thought that Lee Dong Guk would finally get his World Cup jinx off his back when he received that ball from Park Ji Sung. What a great moment it would have been for both Korea and him if had scored in the final moments of that game.....I really wish he had.

Posted by harold on 07/01/2010

The only reason we looked good was because Uruguay was content with its first goal and was fairly confident that they'd be able to defend us for the rest of the game. Considering that they have not been scored on during the group stages, that was a safe bet, and we only scored because their goalie made a blunder.

But boy, did we have chances. Loads of them. No need to be a sore loser, we still had our chances. What hurt us is that we don't have a Rooney or a Villa to capitalize on one of those chances.

And Huh, well, I wish that man grew a brain or a gut. He was poking with the Korean media and tried to weasel out of responsibility, employing players depending on the mood of the Korean fans.

Our defense? That's the coach's fault as well. He had plenty of time to get some defensive chemistry together, and he didn't.

If we had Hiddink, we'd be in the quarter finals with this team, that's for sure.

Posted by Steve on 07/01/2010

Quote from Grant Wahl at Sports Illustrated:

"After watching the South Koreans during this tournament, I couldn't help but feel that their results were a bit underachieving considering their impressive talent and effort. Tying Nigeria? Losing to Uruguay? Could have been better."

About Kim Jae Sung.. I thought he did well. He was nervous at start, but as the game went on, he was neat & tidy. He's not an attacking midfielder as he isn't dangerous in the box, but he covered a lot of ground & he kept the passes flowing (something you can't say about Yom Ki Hoon).

Posted by cee on 07/01/2010

DAN the MAN!!
Thanks for the awesome coverage during this WC. It was nice to have a place to read about the korean team esp. since media coverage of asian teams are lacking on other sites.
I totally agree about all of the points you made esp. the one about LeeDK YeomKH and JeongSR. When i saw Huh putting LDK in the game I couldn't help but scream at the TV in frustration because I think evry1, even my 3yr old baby cousin could tell that this was a STUPID decision, same goes for YeomKH. I really hate that Huh couldn't put aside his personal LOVE for LDK and substitute a younger more talented player. ugh ugh ugh. and lets not even get started with YKH because i feel another headache brewing. JSR was also not my fav. player of the night but he played much better in this game then the one against argentina so gotta give him props for that. hopefully he will gain lots more confidence and exp. before the next WC.
I hope you cover the WC again in 2014! I'll look forward to ur humorous input!

Posted by MissReds on 07/01/2010

I feel empty too. As a fan, the South Korean team may lose a match, but I would still be happy if the team played their best. But they didn't play their best against Uruguay.

I'm excited and optimistic for the future of South Korea's football team, but I hope the team gets it together before Park Ji-Sung gets too old and retires. A change of coach and management is probably in order.

Posted by Hans on 07/01/2010

Overall, I am satisfied with where the team ended up. Were we among the top 16 teams in the WC? Yes, absolutely. The top 8? Nope. As everyone else here, I am disappointed in how we finished, but whenever you lose, that's to be expected. Instead, I am more sad for individuals: Park Chu-young for not having a mega-impact, Jung Sung-Ryong for being a goat for all those goals, Lee Dong-gook for missing his one and only golden opportunity.... Lots of other cases. These guys hurt more than we ever can, and I feel for them.

Posted by Mr. Moon on 07/01/2010

Nice job, Dan. I've read several other ESPN bloggers here assigned to other countries. And as a writer myself, I think you are one of the best. Frankly, some other bloggers were unreadable.
You were funny and insightful, and clearly did your homework. If you were to continue this blog about Korean soccer elsewhere, I'll surely follow that.
In the end, the Korean team should be proud. They went as far as they can go. As Bill Parcells says, you are what your record says you are. We played timid against Nigeria and were lucky to get by. We played timid against Uruguay and it came back to bite us - as Uruguayans would say - in our culos.

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