South Korea’s quest for a third consecutive Asian Games gold medal ended a two-game series against China with a few bruises. A 0-1 defeat in the second leg of the tournament, which saw a rash of injuries to China’s rough, ‘martial arts’ style of soccer, only added to the concerns. With the Asian Games in Hangzhou in September, just three months away, the Koreans will need to turn things around if they are to win gold.
South Korea’s U-24 men’s soccer team, led by Hwang Sun-hong, failed to overcome a 45th-minute concession in their second assessment match against China’s Asian Games team at Jinhua Stadium in Zhejiang province, China, on Monday, losing 0-1. South Korea, which won the first leg 3-1 on Aug. 15, failed to extend its winning streak and ended its trip to China with a 1-1 draw, bringing its all-time record against China at this age group to 12 wins, three draws and two losses.
However, there is more to the 1-1 draw than meets the eye, and Hwang’s goal of winning gold at the Asian Games in Hangzhou in September is now a red flag. South Korea, which won both Incheon 2014 and Jakarta-Palembang 2018, chose to use the A-match period to travel to China in hopes of a third consecutive Asian Games title, but the team had its work cut out for it as injuries and inexperience exposed a lack of organization and monotonous attacking patterns.
As the purpose of the tournament is to identify the team’s strengths and weaknesses through real-life matches, it is possible that these weaknesses can be addressed in the remaining period to provide an opportunity for a ‘call-back’, but it is unclear how quickly the main players can recover from their injuries. Both Uhm Won-sang (Ulsan Hyundai), who was injured in the first match, and Cho Young-wook (Gimcheon Sangmu) and Ko Young-joon (Pohang), who were substituted in the second match, are key resources for Hwang Sun-hong.
If they are unable to return to the lineup before the Asian Games, the future is bleak for Hwang, who hasn’t had a chance to train properly and hasn’t been able to secure a consistent performance from his substitutes. After failing to find a suitable test opponent during the A-match, Hwang turned to a ‘Plan B’, the trip to China, which turned out to be a ‘handshake’.
The team was supposed to adapt to the environment and atmosphere of Hangzhou, the host city of the Asian Games, and decide on the roster through the final trial, but a series of injuries caused more harm than good. The Chinese ‘martial arts soccer’ team lost sight of the meaning of the trial and ended up training China’s defensive skills without being able to run a normal game. With injuries to their main players, the team’s offensive game plan was sloppy and they couldn’t find a way to break through the opponent’s defensive wall, constantly repeating attacks that were read by the opponent’s defenders.
The second game showed Hwang’s frustration. Hwang made seven changes to his starting lineup in the second game compared to the first. He started Cho Young-wook up front, with Jung Woo-young (Freiburg) and Go Young-joon (Daegu FC) in the attacking second line. Jung Ho-yeon (Gwangju FC) and Kim Bong-soo (Jeju United) were the defensive midfielders, while Cho Hyun-taek (Ulsan Hyundai), Kim Tae-hyun (Vegalta Sendai), Lee Sang-min (Seongnam FC), and Choi Jun (Busan I-Park) were the back four. Lee Kwang-yeon (Gangwon FC) was in goal.
South Korea dominated the game but failed to create any significant chances. Just like in the first game, China harassed the Korean players and caused another injury. In the 14th minute, Jung Woo-young was hit on the ankle in a deep tackle and complained of pain, and in the 18th minute, Cho Young-wook collided while competing for an aerial ball and had to leave the field early with a shoulder injury.
In the 10th minute of the second half, Ko Young-joon was helped off the field by the medical staff after being crushed by an opponent. In total, South Korea has now lost three players to injury in two games against China. In the first game, Korea’s key player Uhm Won-sang came on as a second-half substitute and scored two goals, but was taken off again after 24 minutes. He was injured in a collision with a Chinese player, and the next day, Uhm Won-sang was forced to return home due to the severity of his injury.
In the end, South Korea conceded on a counterattack in the 45th minute when they were outnumbered. China opened the scoring when a low cutback pass from inside the left penalty box was slotted home by Sun Chin-han with his left foot from the center. China played more defensively in the second half to protect their lead, which frustrated South Korea, who played monotonous possession football and failed to create a goal. When the final whistle blew, the coaching staff and players on the Chinese bench raised their arms in celebration, as if they had won the game.
Knowing the “notoriety” of Chinese soccer, Huang Sunhong has no choice but to make the best of the situation. Having been injured in an exhibition match against China in the lead-up to the 1998 World Cup in France, which prevented him from competing in the main tournament, it is urgent for him to find the “wisdom of reversal” to overcome China’s rough soccer. After all, the Asian Games will be held in Hangzhou, China, and the Chinese soccer team is bound to compete for the title.
In the post-match press conference, Hwang Sun-hong said, “I think it’s positive that we have adapted to the local climate, weather, and conditions in the Asian Games. Time delays, rough play, and defensive situations can happen in soccer, and they can happen at the Asian Games, so it’s positive to adapt to those things. But it’s unfortunate that we have a lot of injuries,” he said 안전놀이터 of the trial against China.
The fact that Hwang learned more about the strengths and weaknesses of each player in the second game than the win or loss will help him in the future. In consultation with Jürgen Klinsmann, the A team’s head coach, the team’s roster composition, which includes three “wild cards” that can be selected regardless of age, could be an effective way to turn things around.