Argentina 4-1 South Korea: Attacking talents overwhelm Korean defence

June 17, 2010

A game that Argentina dominated from the first minute, and the scoreline is an accurate reflection of the balance of play. Diego Maradona changed Argentina’s shape slightly, resulting in a more balanced and dangerous side when going forward.

That change was enforced, because Juan Sebastian Veron had picked up a slight injury and therefore wasn’t risked. Maxi Rodriguez replaced him in the side, playing a different role – moving the ball more quickly and simply.

South Korea also made a change at right-back, a surprise as Cha Du-Ri had a good game against Greece. In his place was the more defensive-minded Oh Beom-Seok.

Korea set out in a Benitez-esque deep 4-2-3-1, that really looked like a 4-4-1-1 most of the time. Park Ji-Sung was brought in from the wing to play a central role, looking to close down Rodriguez and Javier Mascherano.

Getting two banks of four behind the ball and keeping it tight between the lines seemed to be the plan for Korea, attempting to deny Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez space in front of the back four.

They actually did this part of their job fairly well – although Argentina’s attackers were seeing plenty of the ball, they were being denied space to work in. The main problem was Messi, who dropped deep to pick up the ball in midfield positions, before running at the two central midfielders.

Messi dictates the game

The Korean insistence on keeping their two banks of four meant that Messi was allowed to pick up the ball deep with little pressure from defenders, and was able to turn and run at the Korean midfield. Really, with Korea having 2 v 1 in that area, they probably should have instructed one central midfielder to track Messi deep, with the other one covering behind – when Messi picked up speed and ran at them, he constantly got past both.

Both of the Argentina goals in the first half came from set-pieces – first the unfortunate Park Chu-Yong turned a free-kick into his own net, and then Gonzalo Higuain was left unmarked at the far post to head home after a free-kick was taken short. In that sense, you could argue that it was defensive organisation at set-pieces that was the problem for Korea, rather than the formation and line-up.

But the free-kicks were both conceded by Oh, the man who had surprisingly come into the side and had problems all day at right-back. He was supposedly brought in to give a more solid option at full-back, but instead lived up to his nickname of “The King of Fouls”, and South Korea played the price for his indiscipline.

South Korea lacked any real attacking intent and struggled to keep possession. Their goal came from a classic mistake from Martin Demichelis after a hopeful long ball, rather than from good attacking play, and they lacked creativity from the centre of the pitch. Park was quiet and Ki Sung-Yeung, a player with good touch on the ball, was not allowed any license to break forward, which surely would have been beneficial as Javier Mascherano is often left completely isolated in front of the back four.

A more detailed representation of Argentina's movement

Korea also failed to exploit the clear weaknesses of Jonas Gutierrez at right-back, with Yeom Ki-Hun not willing to test him for pace – Park Ji-Sung would have been better on the left flank to run at Gutierrez.

Argentina more cohesive

Argentina’s shape from the first game changed with the introduction of Maxi Rodriguez. Since he is a natural winger rather than a central midfield player (and was replacing the static Veron), he tended to play as a carrilero, drifting to the right-hand side.

This meant that the roles of Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain changed, as they were not forced to provide right-sided width. Tevez instead played on the left and caused Oh no end of problems, whilst Higuain was allowed to play a more central role and benefited by claiming a hattrick, all finished from ‘poaching’ positions he might not have been taking up in the first game.

It is harsh on Tevez, as the game opened up in the final twenty minutes, but Sergio Aguero used the ball far more effectively than the Manchester City striker – linking up well with Messi for both the second half goals. These goals also came down the side the hapless Oh was meant to be patrolling.

Defence still a concern

Argentina have problems in every position in their defence:

Jonas Gutierrez is simply not a right-back. He takes up poor positions both too central and too high, and looks vulnerable whenever someone dribbles towards him. The way the side was structured, with no permanent right-winger, means that he has to get forward – and he did a decent job in that respect, but is suspended for the next game and might not get his place back.

Martin Demichelis never looks confident, either in the air or on the ground. He brings the ball out of defence well, but his mistake was no surprise.

Walter Samuel looks uncomfortable playing in a reasonably high defensive line, having been used to playing a very deep line for Inter all season, and went off in the first half with what looks like a calf problem.

Gabriel Heinze gets dragged to the centre of the pitch far too easily, and leaves the whole left flank exposed. With Angel di Maria playing a narrower position than a classic left-winger, South Korea constantly found space on their right – Yeom missed a great chance to make it 2-2 early in the second half, and then Korea had an overload in that position seconds before Argentina’s third goal, which wasn’t exploited because of a poor pass.

Javier Mascherano has been playing well, but is constantly exposed, as the only defensive-minded midfielder in front of the back four. He is tempted into rash tackles too easily, and is even more of a concern after he picks up inevitable yellow cards.

Brilliant attacking play will get the headlines, but the longer-term story is that Argentina will be ripped apart by decent sides unless they improve their defence.


Not a fascinating game tactically – one characterized by a poor selection decision in the Korean right-back position.

Of more interest was the movement of Argentina’s players with the introduction of Maxi Rodriguez. Argentina seemed more fluid and dynamic when attacking, but slightly less secure defensively. Veron’s passing range is always great to watch, but sometimes slows Argentina’s attacks. Veron also looks for long, diagonal and sideways balls, when their best route of attack is to get the ball to Messi and Tevez in central positions and getting them to run at the opposition defence.

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