The comprehensive 4-1 defeat by Argentina on Thursday will have given Korea Republic plenty of food for thought. But despite the rude awakening from their dream start last week, the Taeguk Warriors are eyeing a quick recovery from their Johannesburg nightmare.
The South Koreans’ cautious approach to the game was highlighted by the two defensive midfielders deployed deep in a 4-2-3-1 formation. But with Kim Jung-Woo and Ki Sung-Yueng failing to deal with the three-prolonged Argentine attack, the Korean rearguard was inevitably left vulnerable to regular advances. For defender Oh Beom-Seok, who was making his FIFA World Cup™ debut, the onslaughts were certainly predictable but not unstoppable.
"We knew that we were coming up against one of the best teams, so our strategy was to stay tight at the back and then take any available opportunities to hit them on the break," the right-back told FIFA after the match. "But we conceded the first goal very early and that upset our game plan. We made some unforgivable defensive errors and that’s why we lost the game."
If their defensive errors cost them a seemingly unassailable 2-0 deficit midway through the first half, winger Lee Chung-Yong took advantage of a rare mistake from the Argentinian defence to pull one back on the stroke of half-time. However, the Bolton Wanderers midfielder played down his part. "The goal was not important," he said. "We were under pressure in the beginning but we could slowly get back into the game. And as our opponents got tired in the second period, we could play our football around a bit."
Indeed, the Taeguk Warriors came close to scoring the equaliser that could have changed the flow of the game when, eight minutes after the interval, Lee broke down the right side of midfield and sent a neat through-ball into the area, only for Yeom Ki-Hun to fire just wide of the right post.
"We had several goalscoring chances but we weren’t able to put them away," Yeom admitted. "If there’s one thing that we could regret, it’s the series of defensive errors. Argentina are better than us individually and there’s also a gap in quality between the sides in terms of teamwork."
When Gonzalo Higuain completed his hat-trick with ten minutes remaining, the South Koreans knew they would be nursing their worst FIFA World Cup defeat since the 5-0 drubbing by the Netherlands in the group stage of France 1998. Nevertheless, captain Park Ji-Sung remained optimistic ahead of their final group game against Nigeria and tried to see the brighter side.
"I'm disappointed because we needed at least a point. The players were too nervous in the beginning and the early goal made it more difficult for us,” said Park. "Despite the goal margin, we didn't play so badly and played attacking football in the second half. We still have hopes of reaching the round of 16, and we have to be ready for the next game against Nigeria."