Ghana loss an ugly precursor for South Korea
Tireless, technical and tidy are adjectives often used to describe South Korea in football terms. But journalists and commentators will be pulling out some new descriptive terms after Asia's most successful team was defeated 4-0 by Ghana on Tuesday evening in Miami. Take last-minute injuries out of the equation, and it is still hard to think of a World Cup warm-up going worse.
From the sixth minute, when Ki Sung-Yueng, a cultured midfielder who likes to dye his hair orange and tackle like Paul Scholes, hacked down Majeed Waris, it all went wrong. Waris was replaced by Jordan Ayew, whose shot seven minutes later took a karmic cannon off Ki and ended up in the Korean net.
Ayew went on to score two more fine goals, and Asamoah Gyan added a fifth in four games against Korea. The loss will have fans back in Seoul predicting impending doom as they head to Brazil to join Russia, Algeria and Belgium in Group H.
The fact that Ghana did not have to work too hard for the win was the major source of frustration. Korea didn't play too badly in the first half and were more cohesive going forward in Florida than against Tunisia in Seoul 12 days earlier. In the closing stages of the first half, Son Heung-Min hit the post, Kwak Tae-Hwi had a goal disallowed and Lee Chung-Yong was looking lively. Gyan's goal just before the break was inevitable but nonetheless damaging.
The second half was worse. With 30 minutes to go, the Korean fans -- always out in at least reasonable force wherever the team is -- and players were looking at the Africans with envy. Ghana hadn't scored for four games heading into this clash and were enjoying the perfect pick-me-up. The Black Stars had a great win with some excellent performances and were able to take their feet completely off the gas early in the second half, giving big names some rest and the second string some good time on the pitch ahead of group play.
It's well documented that World Cup qualification was not impressive for Korea. In came Hong Myung-Bo last July. This was a former playing legend, a man with no club experience who had led the U20 team to the final eight of the 2009 World Cup before they lost to eventual champions Ghana. Three years later, he took the U23 team to bronze at the 2012 Olympics.
There was an understanding that time and experimentation were needed, but eight defeats in 16 games (including four of the team's past five) have not filled fans with confidence. The team still has problems scoring goals, though that has long been an issue. The defence is still as generous as ever (perhaps even more so), and the midfield is dangerously open. The lack of a leader to sort it out when things are going awry was obvious. Captain Koo Ja-Cheol was anonymous in that and other roles.
In the first half, there were a couple mitigating circumstances as Kim Chang-Soo, partly at fault for the opening goal, and Kwak, partly at fault for the second, are unlikely to start against Russia. But then again, it is possible that there might be a few more changes for the test against Fabio Capello's men. Park Chu-Young was again ineffectual in attack, and Ki might have recovered his fitness following his end-of-season injury, but he is still looking for any semblance of form.
All in all, the overriding impression from this Miami mash-up was that Korea rolled over for the Africans. The ball and the goals were given away too easily. It was a game in which Ghana capitalized on Korea's mistakes, while Korea failed to do the same when the 2010 quarter-finalist slipped up. Korea is a team that, at the moment, is too easy to beat.
The only redeeming factor was that the World Cup has not yet started. But with the Russian game just days away, there is not much comfort to be taken from that.