(WARNING: ADDS trainer comments below)
By Yoo Jee-ho
GOYANG, South Korea, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) — Son Heung-min’s dramatic free-kick goal that gave South Korea a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica might have been enough to send thousands of fans home happy on Friday. Finally, the last World Championship tuneup match had some entertaining moments.
However, Son’s equalizer also helped cover up South Korea’s defensive weakness, which will need to be addressed with the start of the World Cup in just two months or so.
Before the game, South Korea head coach Paulo Bento said he would try different tactical systems against Costa Rica and then against Cameroon, Tuesday’s next opponents. While the overall picture on Friday was largely the same compared to previous games, South Korea’s two full-backs, Kim Jin-su on the left and Yoon Jong-gyu on the right, played with remarkable aggressiveness in the attacking zone.
However, their forays into the offensive zone left some glaring holes and they were not effectively covered by midfielders or other defenders.
In a way, such tactics were understandable. South Korea had the right to believe that they could push around Costa Rica on offense and create scoring chances at will, even at the expense of the tightness of their own zone.
Yoon, for example, mostly stayed on the right wing of the attacking zone in the first half. It was his sharp pass that set up Hwang Hee-chan’s first goal for South Korea in the 28th minute.
But Yoon was poorly exposed in defense as Costa Rica’s experienced left-back Bryan Oviedo tried to take advantage of some extra space behind Yoon. The 24-year-old was only playing his third international cap, which was evident in his struggles with transition defense and positioning.
Jewison Bennette headed in Costa Rica’s first goal down the left after a cross from the right sailed over the desperate and confused Korean defenders.
The second goal, also from Bennette, saw the South Korean defenders backed up on a quick counterattack and failed to clear the rebound of Anthony Contreras’ first shot.
The right-back position has long troubled South Korea as slow-moving, aging veterans have not been pushed by up-and-coming young players.
In his pre-game press conference on Thursday, Bento singled out Yoon as a young player who will get a glimpse of the national team this month. A match is clearly a small sample, but the result was far from encouraging.
“Yoon Jong-gyu looked good in offense but looked shaky in defense,” said KBS soccer analyst Hahn June-hea. “If we assume that the players we have here today are going to the World Cup, then they have to be much better. It’s never ideal to show those problems at home against a team like Costa Rica.”
Bento defended Yoon in his post-game press conference, saying, “He played well.”
“It’s the first time he’s played normally with the whole group (with all the overseas players in the mix),” said the coach. “I have to make some decisions. Today was jong-gyu. On Tuesday we will see another option and make the final decision (for the World Cup) later.”