Welcome to Part II of our special editorial series! As the match between Korea and Japan on October 12th nears, the third match this year between the East Asian giants, FootKorean has decided to collaborate with longstanding Japanese football website the Rising Sun News and JapaneseSoccer.net to provide our readers with insightful look at the storied rivalry of the two neighbors. In Part II, FootKorean got together with Ken Matsushima and Cesare Polenghi to discuss the upcoming fixture in-depth.
Q: From the opposing team, who do you see as the biggest threat to your team? And who from your team poses the biggest threat?
Woongsoo (FootKorean): If this match had been right after the World Cup, I would have responded without hesitation with ‘Honda Keisuke’. The CSKA Moscow midfielder, with his silky skills and dipping shots, has emerged as somewhat of the enfant terrible for Japan and coming off an inspired demolition of Denmark and good showing against Paraguay, it would be hard to imagine a more apt player to terrorize a Korean defense that leaked goals in South Africa. However, the man in form at the moment seems to be Borussia Dortmund’s Kagawa Shinji who has had a spectacular start to the Bundesliga 2010-11 season and has become the crux of the Dortmund attack. Against Argentina, he looked a man on a mission and appeared to be arguably Japan’s best player on the day – no mean feat. At only 21 years old, he has the engine and energy of one in their footballing formative years and the impetuousness and creativity of youth to not only create goals but score them as well, seemingly at will. Despite a younger and more powerful Korean backline compared to the one that sauntered lazily after opponents in the South African winter, Kagawa will likely be a handful for the Red Devils and the absence of dynamic midfielder Park Ji-sung means that a relatively inexperienced midfield pairing of Ki Sung-yong and Yoon Bit-garam may be tasked with the unenviable duty of having to mark his runs from midfield – a huge potential banana peel.
For Korea, one player immediately come to mind: Yoo Byung-soo. The likelihood of him being given more than a half an hour of playing time is somewhat slim but the 22 year old striker has hit the big two-oh for goals scored in the K-League this season and is clear at the top of the scoring charts, a remarkable achievement given that it is only his second year. Although not much of a creator, he encompasses what Korea seems to lack at the moment – lethal finishing. His physical power, aggression and strength are enough to cause headaches for most defenses and his shooting and dangerous Ronaldo-esque free kicks give cause for more than one concern for opposition players. Given that he celebrated his call-up to the national team by scoring a hat-trick this past weekend, one might reasonably expect that he will be anxious to take this opportunity and prove his worth after being snubbed for the World Cup and even the past two friendly matches.
Ken (Rising Sun News): I would have probably put Park Ji-sung near the top of this list, but it sounds like he will not play due to his knee injury. A lot of people would say that the “mantle of leadership” therefore passes to Monaco’s Park Ju-young, and to Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-yong. But as far as posing a threat to Japan, I tend to be more concerned with two less “famous” players – Cho Young-cheol and Yoo Byung-soo. Both players are hard runners who now how to create space for themselves, and Cho is particularly familiar with the defenders he will face, plying his trade at Albirex Niigata. I also am interested to know who Korea plans to use as its “one top” in the 4-1-4-1 that coach Cho apparently plans to use. Though he may not have a lot of experience, Kim Shin-wook would pose a very unique challenge to the “vertically unimpressive” players filling in at the center of Japan’s defence.
For Japan, the question on everyone’s mind is whether Maeda Ryoichi will get the call up front. Since Okazaki Shinji has withdrawn due to injury, and Morimoto failed to impress against Argentina, Maeda might get the start up top, and if there is anyone in the Japan squad with “something to prove”, it would have to be Maeda. There are a lot of players who might be candidates to be the star of this friendly – Honda and Kagawa are probably the most well known, and the most likely. But if anyone has the potential to surprise Korea and force them to alter their plans to cope, it would have to be Maeda.
Cesare (Rising Sun News / Japanesesoccer.net): The question for Japanese supporters is: can Japan display the same self-confidence we have seen in their last games? With all due respect for South Korean players, I believe the main problem for Japan could be the Samurai Blue being intimidated by the stadium’s atmosphere. This team still needs to be tested in a hostile environment.
Q: Among domestic selections, who would you pick as a potential breakout star and why?
Woongsoo: Yoon Bit-garm and Koo Ja-cheol seem to be likely candidates. Both have the advantage of being young (20 and 21 years of age respectively) and being midfield lynchpins, a position that has a history of attracting European interest (Yoo Sang-chul, Kim Nam-il et al.). Both have supposedly been on the radar of clubs in the English Premier League, in particular Blackburn Rovers and so it may be no surprise that, given their talent and impressive showings for their clubs in the K-League (Yoon Bit-garam leading Gyeongnam FC and Koo Ja-cheol powering an astute Jeju United midfield near the top of the league), the future stands to be very bright for these two.
Ken: All of Japan’s domestic selections are potential breakout stars, simply because most of them (I might except the two central defenders) are capable of playing in Europe, but just arent on anyone’s radar. If you could tabulate how many agents in Europe jumped out of their chairs to get a pencil when they read the name “Okazaki Shinji” on the scoresheet against Argentina, you would have a pretty good idea how big a chance these players have to promo te their careers, with a strong performance. If you ask me to make a wild guess who WILL do that, its harder to answer. The best prospects – Okazaki, Honda Takuya and Marcus Tulio Tanaka – have all withdrawn due to injury. Maeda has a chance to make a name for himself, but is a bit old to be thinking about a move to Europe. If Kanazaki Mu (Grampus) or Hosogai Hajime (Reds) are given a run-out, both have the potential to make a name for themselves. But I think both will have to wait a while before they get chances to play significant minutes for Japan.
Cesare: Watch out for the Kagawa-Nagatomo axis on the back, but also it would be interesting to see Maeda get a start, as I believe he has more quality than Morimoto, who has been for too long on the bench in Catania to be at 100% anyway.
Q: What is the default formation of your team and what are its strengths and weaknesses so far?
Woongsoo: Cho Kwang-rae, in his last two matches against Nigeria and Iran, has shown a propensity for an attacking 3-4-2-1 with an offensive-minded trio of Park Ji-sung, Lee Chung-yong, and Park Ju-young interchanging positions frequently. Although the intricacy of passing was brought to bear on a poor and depleted Nigerian squad, the same approach was effectively stymied by a resolute and gritty Iranian side. The team was exposed frequently by a mercurial Shojaei on the left wing and highlighted the weakness of the Korean fullbacks in attacking excessively without tracking back well. When the midfield does click however, there were a handful of wonderful segments of passing that served to whet the appetite of Korean fans.
Ken: Since Zack Japan has only played one game, that’s a hard question to answer. Zack used a 4-2-3-1 (4-3-3) formation against Argentina and most people expect him to use it against Korea. But with all the “true” centre backs withdrawing from this match due to injury, a 3-4-2-1 would actually make a lot of sense. Konno, Makino and Inoha are well suited to play that formation, and all three are capable of roaming forward from the back line. Furthermore, both Uchida and Nagatomo are players who get selected for their attacking skills, not their defensive talent. We can only wait and see what happens. The obvious weakness is that – with Nakazawa and Tulio both injured and Iwamasa not called – the back line will be a bit fragile. To make matters worse, Kawashima also withdrew , giving Nishikawa Shusaku his first full NT start. As for strengths, the speed on the wing and midfield ball skills are things which Korean fans are all familiar with. Therefore if I had to choose one specific “strength” for this match, it would be the fact that the entire “first-team defence” is missing in action. Zack has a great excuse all prepared if the result fails to go his way.
Cesare: It will probably be a 4-2-3-1: Endo and Hasebe as metronomes in the middle, with the “three-shadows” Okazaki, Honda and Kagawa moving freely behind a lonely striker, Morimoto or Maeda. Nagatomo and Uchida, the sidebacks will push up the sides, if given the opportunity. In goal we’ll see Nishikawa: Kawashima is injured, and it is unlikely he will recover on time.
[Endo Yasuhito: The fulcrum of Japanese midfield]
Q: What is the most pressing issue your coach needs to correct in his formation and play selections?
Woongsoo: Defensively, Kim Young-gwon and Hong Jung-ho have done reasonably well in plugging the gaps in midfield left by Ki Sung-yong and others but the issue of spaces left in midfield remains to be adequately addressed by manager Cho. Additionally, almost all of Korea’s fullback options, Cha Du-ri, Lee Young-pyo and Choi Hyo-jin all have a proclivity to go forward whenever possible but can be often get caught out by balls played behind them when they fail to track back, allowing opposing players to get crosses into dangerous areas. Cho Kwang-rae seems cognizant of this though and may look to plug some of the defensive leaks with a 4-1-4-1 stopgap: http://footkorean.net/korea-to-use-4-1-4-1-against-japan
[Hong Jung-ho: Korea's future star defender?]
Ken: Impossible to answer this question, because we just don’t know enough about Zack Japan yet. The only basis for analysis is the Argentina match, and I think most people would agree, that result came off about as well as you could possibly hope for, given the players who were available.
Cesare: Japan historically has a good midfield. Recently we have seen very solid defending and goalkeeping. Now, if only Zack could develop an international-level striker…
Q: If you can have one quality that the other team is known for, or has shown in the past, what would you have?
Woongsoo: Although it comes across as a bit hackneyed, Japan has shown many of the desirable qualities of an elegant passing team in the past, often being likened to a “Brazil of Asia”, and it seems that Cho Kwang-rae is converging slowly to that cliché with his efforts to model the passing style of the team on a scheme of short, incisive passes, clever build-up play, and creative possession.
Ken: That’s not a question – its a setup for the usual cliches. I think everyone knows the “standard” answer to the question, on both sides. If you asked me honestly, what would I like to have which Korea has, the answer would be “four billion wild-eyed Chinese fans cheering hysterically for Korea every time they play against Japan”
Cesare: The South Koreans’ agonistic fury, of course, and their superior international experience.
Q: Both teams saw some success in South Africa this summer by playing differently from the way they’ve played in the past. Koreans, having been known for a team that likes to “grind-it-out,” almost tried too hard to play attacking football this time around and were punished in the end due to poor defending. The Japanese, on the other hand, went away from their usual passing style by playing defensively, and the lack of cutting edge was evident especially against Paraguay in the round of 16. Will your new coach try to build on the style that was on display this past summer, or focus more on rectifying the exposed problems at the World Cup?
Woongsoo: Cho is known to be a stubborn coach and what we may in fact see is a continued, adamant insistence on his style of play, that is, an intricate passing game, rather than rectifying or addressing past mistakes. It may be that he feels his strategies will also ameliorate some of the problems of previous editions of the team, most notably Huh Jung-moo’s defensive frailties, but so far, that remains to be seen.
Ken: The past is the past. I think that’s true for both teams. This match is a chance to focus on the future. I expect both Cho and Zack to treat it that way. I don’t think that either coach even cares what happened in South Africa. This is a chance for them to start designing their own team and strategy. As I said at the top, the result of this contest isn’t anywhere near as important as the lessons that both coaches (and both sets of players) learn from it, in preparation for the Asian Cup.
Cesare: I think Zack won’t change too much of what was an overall successful team. I said above about the problem related to the forwards, but besides that, it seems that the new manager is focusing on perfecting details. I think he basically hopes to squeeze 10-20% more from each individual player, without changing the way they play as individuals and as a team.
[Cho Kwang-rae and Alberto Zaccheroni]
by Woongsoo (firstname.lastname@example.org), Steve (email@example.com), Ken (firstname.lastname@example.org), & Cesare (email@example.com)