The Korea Herald


Lineup experimentation likely to continue for S. Korea vs. El Salvador

By Yonhap

Published : June 18, 2023 - 10:46

    • Link copied

South Korean players salute their supporters after losing to Peru 1-0 in a friendly football match at Busan Asiad Main Stadium on Friday. (Yonhap) South Korean players salute their supporters after losing to Peru 1-0 in a friendly football match at Busan Asiad Main Stadium on Friday. (Yonhap)

Handed a depleted roster with a few key players out due to injuries and other circumstances, South Korea men's football head coach Jurgen Klinsmann had little choice but to tinker with his lineup and even formation in a 1-0 loss to Peru on Friday.

With no reinforcements on the way, Klinsmann will likely continue with his experimentation in South Korea's next friendly match, against world No. 75 El Salvador, kicking off at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Daejeon World Cup Stadium in Daejeon, some 140 kilometers south of Seoul, will be the venue for the final international match of the month for world No. 27 South Korea.

Three matches into his South Korea tenure, Klinsmann is still searching for his first win. Before getting blanked by Peru, South Korea played Colombia to a 2-2 draw and lost to Uruguay 2-1 in March.

At least for the two earlier matches, Klinsmann had the services of his top guns, such as talisman and captain Son Heung-min and sturdy center back Kim Min-jae.

Neither played Friday night, with Son recovering from sports hernia surgery and Kim away to complete his mandatory military training. Kim's trusted center back partner, Kim Young-gwon, was also sidelined with a hamstring injury.

With these absences, four players earned their first international caps Friday, with right back Ahn Hyun-beom doing so in a start. Ahn, though, struggled mightily under Peru's high pressing and even suffered a right shoulder sprain that will keep him out for up to four weeks.

Klinsmann let on that he gets "angry" when he doesn't win matches, but he put aside his personal feelings for the bigger picture.

"This is the opportunity where we see a lot about the quality of our players and how they express themselves," he said. "I am thankful that I get this opportunity to bring new players in and give them a chance. Obviously, I'd like to have Min-jae and Sonny. But overall, this is a great group of players to work with. I'm impressed with their discipline, with their work ethic and with their focus."

As starting center backs against Peru, Park Ji-su and Jung Seung-hyun mostly held their own after conceding the first-half goal to Bryan Reyna, which ended up being the lone marker of the match. Unheralded 23-year-old Park Kyu-hyun made his international debut off the bench in the second half, after getting some reps next to Park Ji-su in training. He may get a longer look than the 10 or so minutes he had at the end of Friday's loss.

Things could be more chaotic up front.

Without the versatile Son, the offensive engine of the team, Klinsmann started Oh Hyeon-gyu and Hwang Hee-chan in the two-forward setup. Lee Jae-sung and Lee Kang-in started on the wings, and they even switched places during the match, with the left-footed Lee Kang-in playing on his off side.

In the second half, Cho Gue-sung was brought in for Oh and became the lone striker up top. New midfielder Hong Hyun-seok also came off the bench, and Hwang was moved to the left wing.

Hong and starter Hwang In-beom took on an offensive role in the midfield, leaving Won Du-jae -- and later Park Yong-woo after Won was hurt -- as the lone defensive midfielder.

Klinsmann then made a bold move by replacing Ahn with attacking midfielder Na Sang-ho. South Korea kept pushing for an equalizer that never came, with only two defenders holding the fort in the final stretch.

Ideally, South Korea won't have to try to claw their way back into the match after falling down early, the way they did against Peru.

Lee Kang-in, unleashed under offensive-minded Klinsmann, was South Korea's best player against Peru, flashing creativity and vision matched by few others on the national team. Lee found Cho for two close-range headers in the second half, taking fans back in time to November last year when Lee assisted on both of Cho's two header goals against Ghana at the FIFA World Cup.

Son was noncommittal Friday night when asked about his status for Tuesday, saying there was still a lot of time left and he would have to monitor his progress. (Yonhap)