Posted by: MOIST | June 10, 2010

Feeling Friendly?

So now that you all know more about the 69 players than their parents, doctors and, in the case of the North Koreans, the secret police combined isn’t it about time we enlightened ourselves about the form they are bringing into the tournament? Of course it is. At least it better be or all this is a big waste of time and I’ll just take my ball and go home.

Japan: A study in crisis.

Lank haired, indie kid Beck once told us that he was a loser, baby, so we might as well kill him. Takeshi Okada is probably feeling pretty much the same way right about now. Four warm up games and four losses, probably not the best build up in the world. Ok, so the four teams they faced were all good teams; Serbia, South Korea, England and Ivory Coast but a return of one goal against nine conceded doesn’t fill anyone with confidence.

The 2-0 home loss to Korea went down so badly amongst supporters that Okada offered to resign an offer he late backtracked on. That seemed to have put some fire in the belly of his players, though, and for 72 minutes against England it looked like Okada had found the magic formula. Sadly he hadn’t counted on that balding buffoon, Tulio.  A bullet header drew England level before Nakazawa very unfortunately diverted an Ashley Cole cross home. Something to build on, mind you. Positives from defeat and all that but as Yuji said ‘a loss is a loss.’

Tulio was on the mark for the Ivory Coast a few days later and Japan were played off the park in a 2-0 loss which leaves Okada with a huge headache over his selection up front. The team is certainly gifted in the midfield with Endo, Hasebe, Honda and two Nakamuras but they don’t seem to have anyone who can put the ball in the back of the net. Apart from Tulio but for every goal he scores in the right end he scores two in the wrong one.

A hastily arranged friendly with Mozambique would give Okada one more chance to get his attacking options in order and even when Mozambique became Zimbabwe he still had the chance. His gamble was to push midfielder Honda up front for the first 30 minutes of a three 30 minute period game. It didn’t work, one and a half hours later it was still 0-0.

It did, however, give us a firmer idea of what Japan’s starting XI will be against Cameroon. GK: Kawashima DF: Komano, Tulio, Nakazawa, Nagatomo MF: Hasebe, Endo, Abe, Matsui, Okubo, FW: Honda. Just don’t see it working, I’m afraid.

North Korea: Mayhem, Lost Shirts and Juche.

When they’re not losing their strips in the Americas, just not bothering to turn up in Oman or causing stampedes you can count on the Chollima to be locked away far from prying eyes making sure they know the ins and outs of Juche. The Eternal Leader’s system of self-reliance may not be enough to feed the population but apparently it will be enough to take home the World Cup. Or at least it seemed it would be when big friendlies were lined up against India and Myanmar. Common sense seems to have prevailed to an extent and North Korea have had two solid, competitive warm up games against Greece and Nigeria.

Against their neighbours to the south’s first opponent, Greece, the North fell behind twice but two goals from, you’ve guessed it, Jong Tae-Se levelled the game and gave the Koreans a very respectable draw. Next up were the Nigerians who duly dispatched Kim Jong Il’s plucky boys 3-1 in a game marred by a horrible crowd incident where 15 people were injured. Unfortunately for us goal scoring exploits trivia fans the disturbance seemed to be too much for the assembled reporters who failed miserably to report on the actual game. Buffoons.

South Korea: Up in Austria and Down in Austria.

Two games against Ecuador and Japan, two wins, four goals. So far so good, right? Well, it certainly sounds like it. Late goals from Lee Chung-Yong and substitute Lee Seung-Yeoul gave Korea a deserved victory but it was against an Ecuador team without any of their European based players. A win is, of course, a win but a cause for concern is that Korea found it difficult to break down an opposition that isn’t up to the quality of the teams in Group B.

The second victory, away to Japan, was all the sweeter due to the opponents but again highlighted possible inadequacies in the goal scoring department. An early Park Ji-Sung goal was added to by a late Park Chu-Young penalty in a game where the back four held Japan to very few clear cut chances.

The centre backs have been highlighted as a worry, especially after leaking 4 goals in January against Zambia and 3 in February against China, but 3 clean sheets in a row added to the confident feeling as Korea headed to their altitude camp in Austria. With the defence solid and the strikers getting on the score sheet things were ticking over nicely. Right?

Unfortunately, Austria wasn’t as kind to Korea as Asia had been. Two friendlies against Belarus and Spain came and went without a goal scored but, one the upside, with only 2 goals conceded. Now, obviously, a bit of context is needed here. Although manager, Huh, stated correctly that the Belarus game reminded him there was a lot of work to do it must be noted that the team contained a number of squad players and, ultimately, players who failed to make the cut.

A narrow 1-0 loss to Spain in the final warm-up game would hint at better things to come although Korea didn’t cause the Spanish defence too many problems. Again it was the lack of a goal threat that will worry Huh but if one moment of magic can unlock the Greek back four and the defence can remain as solid as it has been for the past half dozen games I can’t imagine single South Korean fan will be complaining on Saturday.


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