Tight-lipped S. Korea coach looking to run tight ship

With South Korea’s first match at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar just days away, head coach Paulo Bento is trying to keep things under wraps as much as he can.
Which player did what in a training session may seem to be a piece of trivial information, but don’t tell it to Bento, who now wants to make sure nothing gets reported from Al Egla Training Site in Doha other than the opening 15 minutes of sessions and designated players’ media availabilities.

Only the first day of training was open entirely to the media. Bento has since asked only the first 15 minutes of each session that has followed be seen by the prying eyes of the press, which is not atypical for teams gearing up for the big tournament. And there is very little that can be gained from those 15 minutes, during which time players mostly stretch and warm up for strategic drills later in the session.
For the first few days, though, a media officer for the Korea Football Association (KFA) shared some details of the behind-the-closed-doors parts of training. For instance, the KFA provided updates on the status of a trio of injured players: captain Son Heung-min, who is recovering from a facial surgery, as well as defender Kim Jin-su and midfielder Hwang Hee-chan, both of whom have been dealing with hamstring issues.
But now, Bento doesn’t even want such bits of information to get out to the media. One media officer said Friday there will no longer be daily updates after training sessions.
The timetable for Son’s return is indeed a subject of interest for South Korea’s opponents in Group H: Uruguay, Ghana and Portugal. Their game plan against South Korea will change depending on Son’s availability. And with Son, the reigning Premier League Golden Boot winner, being one of the marquee names in the tournament, his status has drawn attention from outside the group too.
And behind the firmly shut doors, Bento has also been running a tight ship with his 26-man squad, with an added focus on defensive work.
South Korea will be underdogs in at least two of their three matches in the group stage. Even Ghana, despite being ranked 61st, 33 spots below South Korea, could be dangerous on offense. Even if Son can play right away, he will certainly not be 100 percent fit and South Korea will have difficulty outscoring their problems on defense.
In earlier friendly matches and World Cup qualifiers, South Korea exhibited some concerning defensive mishaps. That won’t be good enough against the potentially high-octane attacks of Uruguay and Portugal.
Both afternoon sessions on Thursday and Friday for South Korea began about 30 minutes later than scheduled, because the players studied film and had a meeting with the coaching staff to discuss their defensive strategies.
“We’ve been talking a lot about our defense, especially our positioning when we are applying pressure,” defender Kim Moon-hwan said before Friday’s session. “We want to be as efficient as possible, and the coach has been talking to us (defenders) a lot about what we have to do.”
Bento may not be among the most popular coaches that the Taegeuk Warriors have had, given his apparent reluctance to deploy certain players in the name of strategic decisions and his at-times testy and terse sessions with the media.
But Bento, the longest-serving coach in South Korean national football team history, doesn’t come across as someone who would worry about his relationship with the fan base or the media. His players, the ones that are most important to him, have talked often about their appreciation of his direct, clear and consistent messaging. Unlike at the previous two World Cups, when South Korea went through coaching changes only about a year before the tournament, the players this year are enjoying some stability in the locker room.
“I think having played under the same coach for four years and having been with mostly the same group of players is a strength for this team,” Hwang Hee-chan said Thursday. “We’ve won together, and we’ve lost together. Along the way, we became tighter as a team, and we played really well during the final qualification round. I think this tournament is our opportunity to show what we’ve been working on for four years.”
Defender Kim Tae-hwan said Friday that familiarity has laid the foundation for what he thinks should be a successful tournament here.
“The coach is very detail oriented, and we’ve all been pulling in the same direction with consistency,” Kim said. “We haven’t had major changes to the squad over the four years. And that has given the players a great understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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