South Korea eked past a dogged Lebanon to move within a whisker of confiming their qualification at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. On a blustery Thursday afternoon on a pitch not really suitable for international football, the scene was set for a possible upset. To their credit Lebanon had the better of the chances and will feel disappointed leaving the game with nothing, and now 4 points adrift from the playoff position. Korea set up in a 4-4-2 diamond, a change from their typical 4-2-3-1 with the quality of captain Son Heung-min missing, and had to work hard for their 1-0 victory. Lebanon played a 5-4-1 and targetted set pieces as their main threat to goal; coming closest to opening the scoring when they hit the bar after a scramble following a set piece. It was not long after that Korea struck what would be the decisive goal after great work down the left by Bordeaux’s Hwang Eui-jo, newly established in the international set up Cho Gue-sung skillfully guided the ball in from six yards. The second half took on a similar pattern with Koreans dominating possession but struggling to create many clear cut chances, while Lebanon again went close with a 90th minute set piece that was somehow headed wide from inside the 6 yard box, in what turned out to be the last chance of the game.
- A1 – Very good, could play higher
- A2 – Strong potential to play higher
- B1 – Good, strong player at level
- B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
- C – Average for the level, re-watch
- D – Below average in this match
- Nationality: South Korean
- Age: 25
- Date of birth: 20/09/1996
- Current Club: Rubin Kazan
- Career: Daejeon Citizen, Vancouver Whitecaps
- Position: Central Midfield
- Preferred foot: Right
Hwang was one of the main ball progressers in the team with most passes short-mid range to his fellow midfielders. However, the most impressive passes he saved for those angled balls to advancing full backs often behind the opposition defences that really helped the side get into the final third. Few passes wayward of target and often with fizz and purpose put on the ball it was hard not to be impressed with the central midfielder’s passing range. Hwang was on corner taking duty such is the quality and trust in his consistent delivery.
Playing in the more advanced but more central than attacking that you would mostly see in a diamond; Hwang often floated over the left hand side in the second half helping to create some overloads with Lee Jae-Sung, himself more used to a central role, and full back Kim Jin-su, who spent most of the game on the attack. On the defensive side Hwang was often leading the counter press if the ball was lost in order to maintain Korea’s hold of possession in the game. With a poor pitch it is not the best occasion to judge control and first touch but one instance of instant control with the ball played into central midfield with Hwang facing his goal and man pressuring behind him; Hwang beautifully chopped inside leaving his man behind and tried a quick pass through the lines into the striker that unfortunately didn’t get through. The confidence and composure to do this in tough conditions bodes well for a player now truly well-established at international and club level.
Rating – A2
Hwang seems to improve every time I watch him play with more decisive actions in games becoming more frequent. He is performing well at Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League and could certainly take a step up should the opportunity arise.
- Nationality: South Korean
- Age: 24
- Date of birth: 25/01/1998
- Current Club: Gimcheon Sangmu (on-loan)
- Career: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (current), FC Anyang
- Position: Striker
- Preferred foot: right
Fairly new to the international scene Cho Gue-sung was called upon to step in for the injured Son Heung-min and fulfil the role as number 9 in a 4-4-2 against Lebanon. Cho played the role of the target man predator by delivering the only goal of the game with his only effort of the game. At other times he was involved in hold up play, doing particularly well in winning fouls in the game, especially in the closing moments of the game with the score 1-0. Sometimes, however, he was perhaps fortunate to win a foul or gave away possession after some slack control, though he does have the excuse of the pitch. He did win the majority of his aerial duels and was the primarily target for teammates for long balls; making good use of his height and strength to help his side maintain their stronghold of possession while moving the ball vertically up the pitch.
His goal came about at that crucial time just before half-time; up to that point Cho hadn’t had any sightings of goal and few touches inside the final third. As the ball was moved out wide to the versatile Hwang Eui-jo, Cho positioned himself behind the centre back before darting beyond him and cooly guiding the ball home from a whipped cross inside the 6 yard box.
Rating – B2
An excellent showing for a player still maturing as a footballer. The step up to international football has so far proven fruitful for head coach Paolo Bento who showed faith in him ahead of calls for others. Eyes will be on him in the remaining qualifiers, as well as at home in the K League 1 where he will lead the line for Gimcheon Sangmu in their return to the top tier.