We didn’t hear much discussion of a possible Uruguay-South Korea match-up, but with the pair kicking-off knockout stage action, we’re given a compelling contrast of styles and tactics to start the next phase of the 2010 World Cup.
South Korea’s fluid approach, relying on its wing play, will go up against a Uruguay team that’s content to sit-back with a stalwart defense and rely on it’s counter-attack. Should that approach lead to an early goal for Uruguay, South Korea’s likely in for a long, frustrating day running their attack into a set-up that’s yet to allow a goal.
Uruguay, Going Forward: Diego Forlán may not be the best player in this tournament, but he has been the most important, with his shift from a role along the line to a withdrawn striker’s role being the defining moment of Uruguay’s group stage.
After one match, Uruguay sat with one point and no goals, having guided France to a scoreless draw. Oscar Tabárez’s plan seemed to be contain France, get the point, and insert midfielder Nicolas Lodiero - his most creative player, but a player who did not fit into his plans versus France - to try and get wins against South Africa and Mexico. But Lodiero came-on in the second half against France, earned two yellow cards, and foiled Tábarez’s plans. Without another creative midfielder, Uruguay required a change more drastic than a mere player swap in order to generate a better attack.
Tábarez decided to more Forlán toward the midfield, something that looks sublime now but was not an obvious move at the time. The counter point: the move takes Uruguay’s best goal scorer and move him farther from goal, a decision other managers would not have made. Tábarez deserves credit for pulling the proverbial trigger on the change, one that rocketed the Uruguayans to the top of Group A and avoided a Round of 16 match with Argentina.
South Korea, whose defense has allowed six goals in three matches, most stop Forlán, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez - Tábarez’s three forwards - a task that will fall largely upon central defenders Lee Jung-Soo and Cho Yong-Hyung, a duo that is unfairly linked with that high total of goals allowed. One tally was an own goal. Another was from the spot. Another was an mistake solely attributable to their right back, and while the last two goals against Argentina are rightfully linked with them, the goals came when Korea was behind and pressing. Where every goal has a story and one person’s story is another’s excuse, South Korea has some interesting excuses.
Whatever the reason for the six goals, Korea has to improve. A strong performance from the Lee-Cho pair in dealing with an Uruguay attack the often works middle-out will buy enough time for the Tigers’ to break-down the Uruguayans.
South Korea, Going Forward: South Korea may have the best wing play of the advancing teams, with captain Park Ji-Sung and young attacker Lee Chung-Yong patrolling opposite flanks. On the ball, they’re capable of taking on defenders or working with the likes of midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng or forward Park Chu-Young to navigate through a defense. Off the ball, they are adept at reading build-up in the middle or on the opposite wing and making themselves dangerous on the weak side of play. Each are capable of playing narrow and supporting through the middle should Huh Jung-Moo’s tactics call for it.
Each present an advantage against a Uruguay defense that, although yet to allow a goal, lacks the quickness in personnel to keep-up-with Park or Lee. However, what the defense lacks in quickness they make up for in strength and tactics, with Tábarez playing conservatively at the back, his midfielders sitting deep. While this creates the gap Forlán’s repositioning’s been forced to address, it also has enabled La Celeste to go 270 minutes without conceding.
Though it won’t be easy, Park and Lee should be able to beat right back Maxi Pereira and the left back (be it Jorge Fucile or Mauricio Victorino), be it going wide or cutting-in. After that, however, Korea is doing to have to find away around center halves Diego Lugano and Diego Godín (or Victorino) or hope the likes of Diego Pérez and Egidio Arévalo start making mistakes in filling spaces in defense. As conservatively as those two midfielders play, it is unlikely they will be caught out-of-position.
In response, South Korea is going to have to be relentless - keep pushing and hope the quantity of chances they create increases the likelihood Uruguay will make a mistake. They also need to be conscious of needlessly giving away the ball and giving the Uruguayans a chance to utilize their attackers. Holding off on low-percentage crosses and relying on Ki’s presence in midfield will help maintain possession, increase the opportunities for Uruguay to make a mistake defending, as well as limit the chances for La Celeste’s three attackers.
How The Match Turns: Uruguay can get a goal at any time, and if they do, this match becomes South Korea hammering away at Uruguayans holding for a win, waiting for a counter that will put the match away. The more patient the South Koreans are, the less likely this is to happen, and the longer we go where either of these evenly-matched teams could take this match.