Koreans seek to pass their way into quarters

Korea Republic’s campaign at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Japan 2012 had barely begun when team morale was hit by two early hammer blows. Before 35 minutes had elapsed in their opening Group B encounter against Nigeria, the South Koreans were a goal down and had seen their star player – No10 Yeo Minji – exit the game through injury. Eventually beaten 2-0 by their African opponents, the result gave plenty of food for thought for coach Jong Songchon and his young charges.

Yet in their subsequent group match against Italy, despite the mounting pressure and still without their No10, Korea Republic put in a much more vibrant display to get their bid back on track. “It was tough to see Minji get injured and go off in our very first game,” said attacker Jeoun Eunha, a key figure in the 2-0 victory over Le Azzurrine, when speaking to FIFA.com. “We were sad and a bit concerned, but I knew we could still do well, even without her.”

According to Eunha, a two-pronged approach by coach Songchon in the days following the Nigeria reverse laid the foundations for taking all three points against Italy. “He spoke to us players a lot and really tried to lift our spirits,” said the No11, who plays her club football for Gangwon Provincial College. “That was why we all went into this game so determined to give everything we had to win. And we also did a lot of tactical work in training, which was important in helping us find gaps in their backline.”

We’ve got great players who can pass really well and we need to keep playing the same way.

This was indeed the case, as Korea Republic’s tactic of drawing their opponents out before sending through-balls from deep for their attackers to latch onto consistently caught the Italian centre-backs on the back foot. One of a host of chances created this way came when Eunha herself put Choe Yuri through on goal, only for the No12 to spurn the opportunity. However, Eunha was able to show how it was done in scoring the South Korean’s second goal, when she touched on Lee Sodam’s pinpoint pass before sending a classy finish past the outrushing Laura Giuliani.

“This is our style and it’s the right way to play football,” said coach Songchon in the post-match press conference, clearly delighted at the way his players put his tactical plan into practice. “We’ve got great players who can pass really well and we need to keep playing the same way.”

Keeping calm ahead of decider In fact, the South Koreans have been so well-drilled in this passing approach that it has almost become an obsession. So much so that Eunha seemed more excited about her earlier through ball for Yuri’s miss than her own incredibly cool finish for the clinching second goal.

“I’d rather set up a goal than score, because I don’t feel very confident in front of goal,” she said. “Even for the goal I scored, I thought I’d let the ball get a bit far away from me. But then I remembered the coach telling us to keep calm when chances come our way, which made all the difference.”

Their opening-game setbacks well and truly banished, Korea Republic now have the wind in their sails ahead of Sunday’s final group game against Brazil. What is more, should Italy fail to beat Nigeria, a draw against A Seleção would be enough to see Songchon’s side through.

“It’ll be a crucial game against Brazil, so we’ll need to be even more focused,” said Eunha. “Particularly as they’ve got some very technical players.” So, Caio Couto’s Brazilian youngsters should beware: with or without Minji, Korea Republic already know exactly how they intend to tackle the match at Tokyo’s National Stadium. “All we need to do is stick to our game plan,” concluded Eunha. “That and make sure we get our passing right.”