Japan 2-2 S Korea: Japan through after penalties
South Korea failed to convert any of their three penalties in the shoot out, so Japan progress to the final.
Alberto Zaccheroni reshuffled his defence. Masahiko Inoha went out along with the suspended Maya Yoshida. Atsuto Uchida and Yasuyuki Konno returned.
Cho Kwang-Rae also made a change in defence. Lee Jung-Soo was left out with Cho Yong-Hyung starting instead.
The two sides lined up with broadly similar systems – 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1 – and with both sides closing down quickly in midfield, it was a frantic start with neither side having much time on the ball to create.
It was South Korea who adapted better to the lack of space in midfield – not through moving the ball quickly, but by retaining the ball in defence, playing it across the defence, and taking advantage of the fact their back four weren’t being closed down, in order to hit long and accurate long balls forward into the channels. One of these balls, for captain Park Ji-Sung, resulted in the Manchester United man being brought down in the box, and the subsequent penalty being converted.
Japan hit back
Japan – in patches – played excellent football. They had a 15-minute spell before half-time (after the game had settled down into a more relaxed affair) where they put together some superb moves. Their attacks generally took the form of good build-up play in the centre of midfield, typically involving Keisuke Honda dropping deep, before the ball was played out wide to one of the overlapping full-backs, who then got a cross in.
Yuto Nagatomo on the left was better at doing this than Atsuto Uchida, although Uchida was up against Park, famously very good at defending against attacking full-backs. Uchida gradually stayed at home more and more, although unlike in the game against Qatar there was no sign of a brief switch to three at the back, probably because Korea were playing with only one striker. One of Nagatomo’s darts forward saw him provide the assist for Ryoichi Maeda’s equaliser.
Nothing changed tactically at half-time, although there was a significant change on 66 minutes when Hong Jeong-Ho replaced Ji Dong-Won. This was a strange change on paper – a defender for the lone striker – and it resulted in a complete shift to the way the team lined up. Hong played as a centre-half just ahead of the defence, whilst Koo Ja-Cheol became the furthest forward player in what may have been intended as a 4-3-3, but frequently looked like a 4-1-4-1.
This resulted in South Korea sitting back and inviting Japanese pressure, although there were relatively few goalscoring chances at either end. Having been superb against Qatar, Shinji Kagawa did very little here, and Honda was also disappointing. Kagawa was replaced by Hajime Hosogai and Zaccheroni copied South Korea’s tactical shift, by moving to a 4-3-3.
4-3-3 v 4-3-3
By the end of 90 minutes the game had slowed down significantly, to the point where it was quite a boring match. Neither side wanted to take any risks going forward and therefore each defended with seven men and often attacked with three. Japan were the slightly more adventurous – in particular, Nagatomo continued to bomb forward and Makoto Hasebe played some excellent passes, but they took the lead in fortunate circumstances, when Hosogai scored the rebound from an awful Honda penalty, which itself was generously awarded.
South Korea didn’t seem to have much left in the tank, but continued to hit long balls forward, generally towards Son Heung-Min, the six foot striker who had been brought on when Korea clearly lacked a focal point for their attack. In truth, they created little and were guilty of thumping crosses in from very deep positions, rather than looking to work the ball to the byline (Cha Du-Ri was the main offender), but Hwang Jae-won smashed in a goal following a goalmouth scramble, after Ki Sung-Yueng’s good set-piece delivery.
Momentum was with the Koreans, but they completely lost their nerve in the shoot-out.
In both their knockout games Japan have played brilliant football at points and looked completely toothless at other points – the (very simple) lesson is that they need to score when they’re on top. There seems to be a very strong correlation between getting their full-backs forward and creating clear cut goalscoring chances, even if the full-backs are not directly involved in the attacking play.
South Korea were more than a match for Japan throughout the 90 and 120 minutes – although they rarely turned on the style to the same extent as their opponents, they were far from outclassed. They fell down slightly here because of a confused strategy – the switch to a 4-1-4-1 made them very negative, and they only regained their momentum once they returned to a system with a tall central striker. The defence for that spell in a defensive formation would be that “they weathered the storm” – and they did – but there was no storm to weather until they sat back and let Japan play.Japan 2-2 S Korea: Japan through after penalties