Huh Jung-moo’s ego led to the 4-1 defeat against Argentina
So what went wrong in the 4-1 demolition of the Taegeuk Warriors in Johannesburg you may ask? There are many reasons as to why this happened and one may look back to the chain of reactions that led to the ‘disaster’ that was just waiting to happen. In order to find the root cause we must rewind back to the first match against Greece where Korea comfortably cruised to a 2-0 victory over Greece the 2004 Euro Champions.
The first match against Greece was on the 12th of June in the sunny Nelson Mandela Bay Port Elizabeth Stadium. Much credit and respect must be given to Huh Jung-moo’s side and it was evident the Koreans spent a lot of time preparing for this match, and fruitful indeed they were, as Korea dominated in all areas of the match. It needs to be noted that after this match, things must have looked bright and expectations were back to when Korea reached the semi finals at the 2002 World Cup which they jointly hosted with neighbors Japan. Perhaps this was the first chain of reaction that was just beginning to spark when they went over the moon and started to be complacent in their next match.
One thing to note and was heavily reinforced by Huh Jung-moo was to prepare for the match against Argentina in Johannesburg with an altitude of 1800m above sea level. The team were preparing in Austria for the pre-world cup training camp just so that they would be able to acclimatize to the altitude. The funny this is, Korea would only be playing in altitude for one single game and they would play at sea level for the rest of the group stage matches. So why did Huh spend so much time training in the altitude?
The second thing to note and to give credit is that the KFA’s (Korea Football Association) approach to the world cup has vastly been revamped putting a great deal of emphasis in research in all aspects of the game concerning the venue, lodging and referee assessments. This professional approach has given the Korean team a lot of leverage during the world cup so far and would surely be adopted by many nations in Asia following the footsteps of the most accomplished side of Asia. This fact has provided the result that Korea needed in the global stage, and had led to the 2-0 defeat of Greece. However, one must realize there are two sides of the coin. The Korean saying goes “too much is just as bad as too little”, would appropriately describe why Korea failed to put in a good performance against Argentina just as they did against Greece. (Of course disregarding the pedigree level of both sides).
During the first half against Argentina, Korea let the opposition to play and failed to make them work hard for the possession. This was down to two main reasons.
1. Korea’s conservative gameplan to sit deep and defend and trying not to concede an early goal while being overly cautious on bookings.
2. Korea played too conservative to conserve energy for the second half waiting for Argentina’s fatigue to wear.
It was evident that the typical Korean pressing was absent during the first half and didn’t cover many areas of the pitch. This consequently led Argentina gain possession inviting their fullbacks to chip in the attack. Huh Jung-moo failed to make timely substitutions with his trademark stubborn character getting in the head and failed to turn the game around in Korea’s favor. Park Ji-sung was limited in his role as he was tied up by Mascherano in the middle of the park. Korea failed to take advantage of the weak and ageing fullbacks of Argentina and shifting Park on the left flank while benching Yeom Ki-hun should’ve done the job.
There are a couple of Koreans on this team who have experience playing against Argentine opposition where last year Korean team AFC Champions Pohang Steelers participated in the club world cup losing to Atlante 2-1. In this match, the Koreans were able to contain the Argentines by playing a rough game making life very difficult for them to pass the ball. I guess Huh Jung-moo didn’t want to take the risks of too many yellows and asked his players to tone it down to avoid embarressment in the media labelling Korea as a Taek Won Do team like Maradona accused him during the 1986 world cup when Huh Jung-moo was seen kicking Maradona on the legs. Huh Jung-moo wanted to prove it to the world that he would avenge this humiliation while gaining recognition worldwide that he would beat Maradona. The Korean team was a sacrifice to Huh Jung-moo’s ego and it was his mis-judgment taking this match on his personal interest. It was evident and was eager to prove that the Korean team is not a team consisting of black belt Taek Won Do players but highly skilled young professional players plying their trade all over Europe.
Whichever you may like to look at this, the Korean team did not deserve to lose 4-1 as it has been proved on their first match. Whether you like it or not, Korea is representing Asia as the most frequent visitors from Asia to the world cup. One this is clear : These generation of Korean players are the best in the history of Korea in terms of caliber and international experience. Korea must now focus on what is at hand against Nigeria and I am sure they will come out top.