Injuries, ineffectiveness raise questions over S. Korean defense

DOHA– With key players hobbled by injuries and reserves not inspiring much confidence, there is still a cloud of uncertainty as to which defensive scheme South Korea will deploy against Uruguay in their first FIFA World Cup match this week.

Head coach Paulo Bento has mostly used a back-four setup, with two center backs flanked by fullbacks on either side, during his four-year reign with South Korea.
But injuries and a lack of strong options at fullback may force Bento’s hand. The coach has occasionally experimented with a back-three formation, most recently against Iceland in South Korea’s final tuneup match on Nov. 11. However, in that setup, South Korea have usually struggled to take advantage of the outnumbering situation on defense.

In the back-three system, the wingbacks on either side are responsible for jumping in on the attack but also recovering back to form a backline of five. Having a strong defensive midfielder also helps.

For Bento, using a back-three formation has seemed like a desperation move, though he hinted after the Iceland match that he was open to using different formations against different opponents at the World Cup.

Kim Jin-su, the mainstay at left fullback in a back-four formation, has been limited by a hamstring injury since late October. Hong Chul is the only other left-footed left fullback option but he has looked overmatched against opponents far weaker than the teams South Korea will play in the group stage here.

On the right side, Yoon Jong-gyu received substantial playing time in recent matches but he, too, has been slowed by hamstring issues. The starting right fullback job has been up for grabs anyway, with Kim Tae-hwan and Kim Moon-hwan also in the mix.

If Bento doesn’t feel all that confident with any of his fullback options, then he may just line up three center backs and start a defensive-minded midfielder in front of them. For wingbacks, Bento once experimented with attacking midfielder Hwang Hee-chan on the right side but will likely go with a more conservative option. Right-footed defender Cho Yu-min has experience in the right wingback position, though his lack of international experience — he only has four caps, all of them earned this year — makes him a risky choice for starting XI in the ever-crucial first game.

If Bento settles on three backs, then center back Kwon Kyung-won may find himself in the starting lineup, whereas he would be a backup in a back-four setup.

“The coach is trying to get us ready for the first match, and we’re just trying to keep up and be ready to execute,” Kwon said Monday when asked how he was preparing for the tournament. “We don’t know if we’re going to play with three backs or four backs. We just have to stay ready for whatever formation the coach wants to use.”

South Korea will kick off their 10th straight World Cup at 4 p.m. Thursday against Uruguay at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, just west of Doha.

Source: Yonhap News Agency