Huh Jung-Moo's latest reign as Korea Republic boss got off to a sluggish start on Wednesday as the new-look Taeguk Warriors warmed up for their South Africa 2010 preliminary campaign in the worst possible fashion, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat by visiting Chile.
In the South Korean stronghold of Seoul's FIFA World Cup™ Stadium, where a record low crowd of 15,000 came under the chilly midwinter conditions to watch the first game of Huh's third term in charge of the national team, the home side extended to four matches a scoring drought that dates back to their goalless draw with Iran in July's AFC Asian Cup quarter-final.
Determined to end this sequence, Huh opted for his favoured 3-4-1-2 formation, with a three-prolonged offence led by midfielder Lee Kwan-Woo. The diminutive playmaker had, along with veteran goalkeeper Kim Byung-Ji, been called up to the national squad following a prolonged absence, yet the pair failed to justify their high-profile selection, falling some way short of the standards set for their respective clubs this season.
Both were replaced at half-time, and to add injury to insult, it was later confirmed that Kim injured his back during the opening period, this after his FC Seoul team-mate Jung Jo-Gook had been stretched from the field just after the half-hour mark with a similar injury.
Despite this early setback, Huh continued his experiment as he switched to 4-4-2 after the interval, shifting captain Kim Nam-Il into an attacking midfield role, flanked by Hwang Ji-Soo and Park Won-Jae, winning their first caps since clinching last year's league title with Pohang Steelers.
In fact, they were just two of seven players who made international debut on Wednesday: goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong, defenders Kwak Tae-Hwi, Hwang Jae-Won and Cho Yong-Hyung, and forward Cho Jin-Soo might not have made the instant impact they dreamed of, but their coach was unwavering in his faith in this crop of Korean youngsters.
"I've managed to figure out how to make the most of the new faces," said an upbeat Huh. "Kwak, Cho (Yong-Hyung), and Park (Won-Jae) all performed well, although there is still room for improvement for the rest of the players."
Despite this optimism, Huh knows that he faces a difficult task to find the right combination to end a run of 506 goalless minutes before facing Turkmenistan in a week's time.
"We need to sharpen up the attack. Crosses were not accurate enough for the strikers to convert," admitted the coach. "The players also need to work harder to win the ball and communicate better with each other to pass the ball."
Huh certainly wasted no time in recalling forward Cho Jae-Jin and goalkeeper Kim Yong-Dae in place of the players lost to injury and he will be given more options to choose from when his squad is bolstered by Korea Republic's England-based trio next week. For now, however, it seems to be the players' turn to break the ice before the pre-preliminary tension reaches fever pitch.