One game. One game and Korea is guaranteed an Olympic medal. Military exemptions for everyone involved. European clubs beckoning for their services. Groupies galore. So rich it’s gonna be cash, money, h…whoops.
If you didn’t notice, I haven’t been this excited for a soccer match since…I can’t remember when. What are the keys though, for Korea to defeat Brasíl and advance to the finals? How do you stop the likes of Neymar, Hulk, Thiago Silva, Oscar, Danilo, Marcelo, basically the entire Brazilian roster? Let’s highlight the main factors:
Fatigue: makes cowards of the strongest men. I’m a firm believer in this – five minutes on the Stair Master and I’m ready to go home. All kidding aside, this is a very real issue for Korea. It seems everyone loves to wax poetic about Korea’s tireless work ethic, and while that’s selling this team and group of players way too short, it’s a legitimate concern coming off a 120 minute match just two days prior, where injuries in the Great Britain match limited Hong to only use one “real” substitution.
Kim Bo-Kyung wasn’t used in the entire GB match, so it’ll be interesting to see if Hong inserts him back in the starting lineup or stick with Ji Dong-Won, who provided Korea’s opening goal, but also missed two easy headers later in the match.
Discipline: In all phases of the game, but particularly on defense. Avoiding unforced errors and cheap fouls in dangerous areas are paramount. I’m looking at you, Oh Jae-Suk. Brazil’s individual talents are widely known, but did you know they also put on great acting performances? Neymar, who’s arguably the most talented player in this Olympics, is also one of the most talented actors in the game today. Who knew?
Needless to say, maintaining discipline and winning possession without fouling (in the eyes of the referee) will be a challenge for the Korean defensive line. Korea likes to apply defensive pressure, and Brazil likes to flop, so if the referee is whistle happy, this could be a very long, long, match.
Lee Bum-Young: Let’s get this out of the way: the 23 year-old backup goalkeeper turned starter is a physical and talented freak. Talented is different from good though, and Lee is raw, especially at a level of this magnitude. And a raw, largely untested goalkeeper, is not exactly an ideal situation for an Olympic semi-final. But with no reports (thus far) of Jung Sung-Ryong practicing, it looks like all eyes will fall on Lee. His ability to communicate with the fullbacks and dictate the positioning of the defensive back line could override every other key in this match. After all, Brazil has scored three goals apiece in all four matches, and if Lee is hesitant at all, it might as well be five.
Managerial Strategy: If Hong decides to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation, as he has all tournament, utilizing Kim Bo-Kyung as an inverted winger on the right flank during game flow would make Korea more compact in the middle. One thing Korea needs to avoid at all costs is playing into Brasíl’s style of game, which is a wide open, end-to-end affair.
Korea’s ability to connect passes and maintain possession in central midfield will, in most likelihood, decide this match. The Koo-Ki (Koo Ja-Cheol/Ki Sung-Yeung) monster combination must be able to hold and turn the ball up the pitch, allowing the wingers to make diagonal cuts inward and draw the Brazilian defenders with them. This will free Oh Jae-Suk and Yun Suk-Young to overlap and run down the flanks.
The Brazilian back-line has trouble maintaining their line for an entire match, so Korea will need to get behind them and launch through balls and/or cut back to the trailing midfielders, much like Ji Dong-Won’s goal in the quarterfinals. Pressuring the Brazilian back-line will also prevent them from advancing forward so freely, which obviously helps in dampening their ridiculously potent attack as well.
If you can connect all these dots, it leads to one conclusion: playing Korean football. This is the only way for Korea to prevent Brazil from playing theirs. Yes, Brazil has scored 12 goals(!), but they’ve also fell behind Belarus, Honduras (twice), and nearly let Egypt complete a 3-0 deficit in the second half. This team is full of superstars, but they’re not without their flaws. They’ve shown vulnerability, and if Korea can get ahead early, it’s anyone’s game.
Whatever the result, I couldn’t be more proud of this team and the growth they’ve shown. Win or lose, they’re guaranteed one more match, but as the great Herman Edwards once said, you play to win the game. So get ready to see these boys play their hearts out. Let’s win the game.