K-League United – SEOUL, South Korea take on Iran in Seoul in the second friendly match of this international break. Iran come into this game with a new head coach, Marc Wilmots, but are still the side to beat and are a cut above the rest of Asia in terms of quality. K League United’s Korean national team correspondent Steve Price talks to Gol Bezan’s Pasha Hajian about the match.
Last Time Out
Marc Wilmots couldn’t have gotten off to a better start as the new Iran boss. Team Melli brushed aside Syria 5-0 with Mehdi Taremi grabbing a hattrick.
Paulo Bento used South Korea’s friendly against Australia to try out some new tactics. Having used a 4-2-3-1 formation for every game up until the Asian Cup, he set Korea up with a back three against Australia, with the aim of giving Korea a few more tactical options in the future. Defensively it was solid with Korea practicing building from the back and maintaining possession, to the extent that offensive free kicks were played backwards rather than being whipped into the box in the first half. Offensively, Korea always looked one man short in attack, making it difficult for them to create any chances at all against Australia. Rather than the high-tempo pressing and counterattacking of the match against Colombia, this game was played at a slower tempo, despite the rocking atmosphere in Busan. Hwang Ui-jo got the only goal of a match, getting ahead of the defender on the near post to poke home a cross, though given the few chances created, the scoreline flattered Korea and nil-nil would be a fairer reflection of the game.
With a win being enough to qualify for the World Cup, Shin Tae-yong’s side failed to break down a ten-man Iran, and ended up drawing the match 0-0. Iran’s defense was as solid in that match as it had been for the entire qualifying campaign, but everybody at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Tuesday will be hoping for something a lot more entertaining than these two teams’ previous encounter.
Writers’ Chat: Steve asks, Pasha answers
Steve Price: How much of Iran’s recent success was down to Carlos Queiroz, Will Marc Wilmots be able to replicate that success?
Pasha Hajian: Carlos Queiroz was not just a coach. He was a mentor, leader, psychologist and more importantly a father figure. These past 8 years he revolutionized our football. A book can be written about it. In regards to Wilmots, everyone is keen to see how well he will do. As we know, he wasn’t successful with Belgium’s golden generation and missed out on the World Cup with Ivory Coast. This is such an important challenge for him.
SP:Are there any surprises in Wilmots’ squad list and what style will Wilmots’ likely try to play against Korea?
PH: Wilmots has been in job for only few days now. He has a long way to go to adapt to the logistics of the team and culture of Iranian football. We would predict he will start a 4-3-3 formation and will be more attack-minded than Carlos Queiroz. There are no particular surprises with the national team call ups.
SP:Which players should fans keep their eyes on? Are there any players who you expect to be big in the future?
PH: A key player that he has called up who will be a future star for us is Sayyadmanesh. He is an 18 year old striker that seems to be off to Fenerbache. He was a notable standout in the FIFA World Cup U-17 Team tournament. A player we suggest for South Korea fans to have their eyes on is Saeed Ezatollahi. He is a well rounded young central midfielder who is dubbed “Sergio Busquets” by his Reading teammates.
Pasha asks, Steve answers
Pasha Hajian:How has Paulo Bento’s time as head coach of South Korea been? What are the expectations from fans?
Steve Price: He’s had a good start to his time as head coach, playing more exciting football than some previous coaches (the Australia match excluded), and that, combined with good results, has led to several friendly matches selling out, which is rare for a friendly in Korea not involving Brazil or Manchester United. Fans expected Korea to get further in the Asian Cup, so the back-to-back friendly wins in the previous international break were vital for maintaining the positive feeling around this Korea squad. This match, like the game against Australia, will be a chance to work on some new things ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
PH:Are South Korea delighted that they don’t have to face Queiroz anymore? What’s the general consensus on his time as our coach?
SP: Ironically, the last match Korea played before this international break was a friendly against Carlos Queiroz’s Colombia side, although for a friendly game, it was a very heated affair. It seems we can’t get away from him! He did an incredible job while coaching Iran, and a lot of Koreans recognize that and see him as a top coach, but at the same time he rubs some Koreans up the wrong way. For me, I’m very glad that Korea don’t have to face Carlos Queiroz during this World Cup cycle. He really knows how to get the most out of what’s given to him and deal with the difficult politics of international football.
PH: Do fans view Iran as arch rivals nowadays especially with the recent history of fixtures against one another?
SP: In football terms, Korea want to be number one in Asia, so in that respect, Iran are massive rivals. They are always tough to play against so a win against Iran would be a real marker that this Korean squad is going places, even if the match is only a friendly.
PH: A new crop of youngsters is coming through the national team. Who has been the standout?
SP: Hwang In-beom is the key young player in this national team. There are a few other players with a lot of potential like Lee Kang-in and Kim Jung-min, who are away at the Under-20 World Cup, as well as Lee Seung-woo, but Hwang In-beom is already performing at a high level and will be a key player in this national team now that Ki Sung-yeung has retired. Hwang surprised everybody by moving to MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps rather than heading to Europe. Central defender Kim Min-jae has been a rock at the back for a while now but he is also around the same age as Hwang and will be a key figure in the national team for the next decade.
South Korea play Iran at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11th at Seoul World Cup Stadium.