2014 World Cup: Ghana vs. South Korea: 6 Takeaways from Korea's Damaging Defeat
South Korea succumbed to a damaging 4-0 loss to Ghana in their final pre-tournament friendly ahead of the World Cup at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium on Monday.
Jordan Ayew hit a hat-trick and Asamoah Gyan added a goal before the break to make it a comprehensive victory for the Black Stars, while South Korea’s troubles in attack continued as they drew yet another blank.
Ahead of a tough Group H alongside Belgium, Algeria and Russia, coach Hong Myung-bo has it all to do if he is to lead his squad to qualification from the World Cup group stages.
Here are six takeaways from Korea’s defeat to Ghana.
It hasn’t exactly been the best buildup for South Korea ahead of their World Cup campaign: After their 1-0 loss at home to Tunisia at the end of May, this was yet another lackluster display that yielded no goals.
Prior to their 2-0 win over Greece in March, the Koreans conceded six goals in two defeats against the United States and Mexico, both of which admittedly featured weaker squads than usual.
But far from carrying Asian hopes on their backs, the Koreans have disappointed, and the manner of their loss against Ghana on Monday will have depressed Asian supporters as much as it will have excited African fans.
Since Hong took over last July, South Korea have tallied eight defeats in 16 games—not an impressive record by any stretch of the imagination.
A more pressing issue than the profligacy in attack (which we’ll touch on soon) is the openness in defence that has seen them carved apart by opposition that, on the balance of play, they have generally a match for.
Hong raised eyebrows when he named a young squad back in early May—their average age is just 25, one of the youngest in Brazil—but the lack of leadership, steel and character across the team’s spine is glaring and alarming.
That their attack is continuing to fail to get on the scoresheet doesn’t help their defensive ailings at all.
With the amount of midfield and attacking talent in their squad, the South Koreans should be looking to score every match, not come away easily beaten with no goals scored.
Kwak Tae-hwi did have a goal disallowed on Monday, but an attack featuring the precocious Son Heung-min and the likes of Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yueng should really be doing much more going forward.
The question was always going to be posed firmly for Hong to address, but on current evidence, it appears that he might have to make a decision sooner rather than later regarding the status of Park Chu-young.
Long seen as the golden boy of South Korean football, Park has failed to impress in club football for the best part of three years. Since signing for Arsenal after a few encouraging seasons with AS Monaco, his career has gone sharply downhill.
So, it seems, has his confidence. Prior to scoring against Greece in March, his previous goal for his country came almost two and a half years before that, in November 2011. He was uninspiring again on Monday.
The clock is ticking.
From an underwhelming World Cup qualification campaign as a whole to an uncertain and oft-criticized year of Hong at the helm, South Korea have been disappointing in every single aspect of their game.
A surprise, given the amount of top-level and European experience across a talented and journeyed squad; that the squad on average is so young is testament to their individual ability to cut it at the highest level.
Yet eight defeats in 16 games under Hong is no laughing matter, and they are now in danger of coming out of the World Cup with three meek showings.
There are no two ways about it: The South Koreans are officially underachieving.
All of this wouldn’t matter so much if South Korea weren’t starting their World Cup campaign in just a few days. With the recent pre-tournament defeats, an already difficult group-stage draw is already looking much more ominous.
There simply are too many issues for Hong to solve ahead of their opening match against a Russian side who last lost in May 2013, not to mention a Belgian team tipped as potential dark horses for the World Cup outright and a pacy Algerian side.
If Hong manages to shore up the defence and add goals to his attack all in a matter of a week or two and takes this South Korean team to the round of 16, he’ll arguably already have matched Guus Hiddink’s achievements in 2002.
In a tactical sense, the interesting thing about international football is the fact managers are presented with a fixed pool of players.
If there’s a weakness, they have to play someone out of position or solve the problem through a clever tactical plan—they can’t just go out and sign someone else.
This means a side’s key player isn’t always their best player. Often, the key player is someone playing a distinctive role, someone forced to adapt to a position he is not familiar with, or someone who provides a unique quality compared to the rest of the squad.
Here, then, is the key player for each of the 32 competing nations at this summer’s World Cup.