South Korea and Kuwait kicked off the second round of matches in the group phase of the AFC Asian Cup at the Canberra Stadium. Kuwait needed a win to keep themselves in the tournament whilst the South Koreans were looking to improve on a nervy performance against Oman.
The form book suggested a win for Korea, especially as Kuwait had lost their previous six AFC Asian Cup final matches. It was a tight match showcasing two sides that were happy to employ short, quick passes which was pleasing on the eye.
South Korea will breathe a sigh of relief after capitalizing on a moment of quality courtesy of Cha Du-ri and Nam Tae-hee.
The Kuwaitis can be proud of their performance but will they be thinking of what could have been? Make no bones about it this was a game they well and truly could have won.
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1. Is Stielike German for ‘tinker man’?
South Korea’s German coach Uli Stielike made no less than seven changes to his starting line-up, looking to keep his squad fresh and perhaps with the previous match in mind wanting to send a message to those players who underperformed against Oman.
Playing with a 3-5-2 formation South Korea were fluent in brief patches of the game but not enough for Stielike’s liking. At times they looked nervous and were unsettled by Kuwait’s movement and sharp passing.
South Korea’s next game will be against the hosts Australia and it’ll be interesting to see how Stielike will line-up his side. Whilst Kuwait tried to beat South Korea with guile the Socceroos will pose an altogether different problem for the Taeguk Warriors with their sheer power and intensity.
They may be the first side to go through to the knock-outs but at the moment South Korea don’t look like the real deal yet.
2. Mashaan the magician:
One of the joys of watching tournaments like these is the opportunity to see players who you may not normally have the chance to catch on a regular basis. Kuwait’s diminutive number 10 Aziz Mashaan was an absolute pleasure to watch. The little forward was at the heart of everything good that Kuwait did.
He always seemed to find pockets of space, kept the ball in tight situations, prompted, probed and had the game intelligence to match his talent. The only thing missing from his performance was a goal to cap off his display.
More than anything Aziz Mashaan was courageous in this game demanding the ball whenever possible and making himself available for his teammates. He never hid.
He was named man of the match but that’s scant consolation for the Kuwaiti number 10. It’s a shame that we won’t see much more of Mashaan in the Asian Cup.
3. Kuwait will ponder at what could have been:
Kuwait gave the South Koreans an almighty scare and it would not have been a travesty if they had emerged victorious from this encounter. They created more than enough good chances, hit the post and had 11 shots on goal. Crucially, they only had one effort on target and in the end their profligacy in-front of goal cost them.
Tactically, Nabil Maâloul set-up his side well though Kuwait naturally became more exposed as they threw more men forward in search of an elusive goal. Defensively, they were disciplined and their goalkeeper Hameed Youssef was equal to almost everything the South Koreans threw at him.
It’s easy to say in hindsight but Kuwait’s big failing was their profligacy in front of goal. They had several clear cut opportunities and to only test the Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu once is a big blot on their copybook.
4. Jet heeled Cha proves to be the difference:
After the match Uli Stielike was critical of his team’s performance. He was pretty forthright in front of the cameras and no doubt behind the scenes his squad will be at the end of some German poetry that won’t require any translation.
It was one of the team’s elder statesmen, Cha Du-ri who provided one of the few moments of quality accelerating past his man and standing up a cross inviting Nam Tae-Hee to head home and the latter gratefully did.
Cha’s experience will be crucial for South Korea but he can count himself lucky to be on the pitch after catching Fahad Awadh with a nasty looking challenge. The referee erred on the side of leniency and booked the South Korean wingback. Had he chosen to show a red, which would have been a justifiable call, Kuwait would have played the last 20 minutes against 10 men.
5. Quarterfinals the best South Korea can hope for:
On current form the South Korean’s Asian Cup journey will end at the quarterfinal stages. In all probability they will finish second in their group unless they pull off a shock against a rampant Australia and should face Uzbekistan in the knockout phase.
Profligate, vulnerable in dead ball situations and defensively suspect Uli Stielike has his work cut out if he wants to extend South Korea’s run beyond the quarters. His only crumb of comfort is the fact that his side won’t meet the Japanese or the Iranians who look to be vastly better teams.
That said the Uzbekistanis will not be any pushovers and have the quality to punish any mistakes the Taeguk Warriors make.
The best draw South Korea could hope for would be a quarterfinal against China.
It’s not looking too positive for South Korea.
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