The first six matches of the 12 fixtures long AFC qualification group 4 were all played in the Seoul stadium of Dongdaemun, which had been built ahead of the 1986 Asian Games, with a view to the Olympic Games two years later. This was the final one among the set, before the four nations would team up again the following weekend in Singapore to negotiate the final batch in four days, a similar time span to the set which had been played out here in South Korea.
Both South Korea and Malaysia had won their first two matches against the same opposition, although it is fair to say that the Koreans’ two wins had been more impressive. They had annihilated sorry Nepal two days earlier and thus accumulated a goal difference of 12-0 to the Malaysians’ 3-0. South Korea would probably have been held favourites against this opposition on any given day, and the fact that they were playing at home only emphasized their favourites tag even further.
With three matches in the space of four days, South Korea supremo Lee Hoe-taik had already rotated his squad, allowing game time for some of the lesser names in the clash with Nepal. This had still worked well, as they’d completed a 9-0 rout two days prior to this clash between the two teams which were yet to concede both points and goals. However, there is every reason to believe that the line-up which Hoe-taik had put out for this fixture was the one which he believed was the strongest one available to him. Just two players remained from the XI which had taken to the field against Napal, while the manager would start this tie with eight from the eleven who had begun against Singapore four days earlier.
Regarding Malaysia, they would appear to have utilized a 4-3-3 formation in their previous two qualifiers against lesser opposition. They had made one change to their starting line-up from the matches against Nepal and Singapore, and giving way had been forward Zainal Abidin Hassan, with defender Naina Mohd coming into the eleven. This would have been an attempt at suring up their defence against the overwhelming group favourites, as they clearly were in a more defensive formation for this fixture, with two marking central defenders, as well as said Naina coming in to operate as the spare man.
Today’s impartial was 48 year old Japanese citizen Toshikazu Sano, who was an experienced referee at the international stage. In addition to officiating in the World Cup qualifications ahead of the 1982 and 1986 tournaments, he had also been given the honour of refereeing one group stage fixture at the 1984 Olympic Games football tournament (Yugoslavia 4-2 Iraq in Annapolis, Maryland).
Since this particular qualification group had its 12 fixtures staged in South Korea and Singapore, with six ties each, the officiating trios in each fixture had members from three different countries rather than all representing one and the same. Sano had a Chinese and a Hongkongese linesman accompanying him.
South Korea (4-3-3)
|1 Cho Byung-deuk||31||POSCO Atoms|
|3 Choi Kang-hee||30||Hyundai Horang-i|
|4 Cho Min-kook||25||Hyundai Horang-i|
|5 Chung Yong-hwan||29||Daewoo Royals|
|8 Chung Hae-won (c)||29||Daewoo Royals|
|9 Hwang Bo-kwan||sub h-t||24||Yukong Elephants|
|11 Choi Sang-kook||sub 67′||28||POSCO Atoms|
|13 Cho Yoon-hwan||28||Yukong Elephants|
|14 Choi Soon-ho||27||Lucky Goldstar Hwangso|
|17 Gu Sang-bum||24||Lucky Goldstar Hwangso|
|18 Hwang Sun-hong||20||Konkuk University|
|10 Kim Yong-se||on 67′||29||Yukong Elephants|
|19 Sim Bong-sub||on h-t||–||Daewoo Royals|
|1 Mohd Azmi Mahmud||22||Kedah FA|
|2 Lee Kin Hong||24|
|4 Chow Siew Yai|
|7 Ahmad Yusuf (c)||28||Pahang FA|
|8 Lim Teong Kim||25||Kuala Lumpur FA|
|9 Dollah Salleh||25||Selangor FA|
|12 Azizol Abu Hanifah||29||Perak FA|
|14 Kanawathi Ravichandran||7′|
|15 Salim Mahmud Muhaidin||27|
|16 Prazip Ravindran||sub h-t||25|
|19 Naina Mohd Ismail||sub 81′|
|6 See Kim Seng||on 81′||24|
|17 Zainal Abidin Hassan||on h-t||26||Selangor FA|
What we have available to us from this game is footage consisting of 20 minutes of highlights, with approximately ten minutes from each half. This is obviously not a whole lot to base a verdict on, although studies do at least reveal basics such as formations and an introduction to player positions.
Kicking the game off were the visitors through their star forward Salleh along with midfielder Hanifah. They had reinforced their defence through the addition of a third central defender since the two wins against Nepal and Singapore: Naina Mohd had come in to work as the spare man behind man-marking centre-backs Siew Yai (who’d keep an eye on Soon-ho) and Kin Hong (looking after Sun-hong). At the same time, the third forward since those two fixtures, Zainal, had been sacrificed; he was now among their five substitutes. So this was a Malaysian set-up in what was a pretty defensive 5-3-2 formation. While we do not possess any video material to back this hypothesis up with, it is likely to believe based on the players who had started that the Malaysians had sported a 4-3-3 formation in their opening two qualifiers. Today’s was a formidable opponent, and so they’d have felt compelled to try and shut them out to the best of their ability.
The hosts were, to little surprise, looking quite the more impressive side in this contest. They had quick, nimble players across the pitch, and they made use of swift transitions from defence to attack, something which the opposition struggled to cope with. They were not afraid to use direct means, as displayed to perfection when they went ahead early through centre-forward Choi Soon-ho. He ran through with the Malaysian defence caught square from left-back Gu Sang-bum’s impressive ball from the halfway line, and struck a firm, low shot just beyond the reach of goalkeeper Mahmud, who had otherwise lent an agile impression. In fact, the ‘keeper had got a couple of fingers to the ball, but it was not sufficient to keep the strike out.
The Korean Republic were working in a very distinct 4-3-3 formation, and we find it likely that they’d been making use of this formation also in their previous two qualifiers, although the playing personnel had been changed around for the Nepal game two days earlier. The players looked confident in their respective roles, and they had Cho Yoon-hwan sweeping behind the more marking central defender Chung Yong-hwan ahead of him. The latter looked to orientate himself towards Malaysia’s leading marksman Dollah. Both full-backs were willingly pushing forward, particularly Sang-bum along the left.
While we believe that Cho Min-kook had played at the heart of their defence in both his contributions earlier in the week, he was most definitely their defensive midfielder on this occasion. He patrolled the rear of their engine room behind the pair of more advanced midfielders in skipper Chung Hae-won and Hwang Bo-kwan, who both worked overtime in chasing the opposition whenever South Korea were out of possession. Both were capable of delievering a pass, although it must be said that Hae-won was easily the more eye-catching of the pair on this occasion.
Further forward, the Koreans’ three men in attack were operating according to defined roles, with goalscorer Soon-ho through the centre, Choi Sang-kook as a left-sided frontrunner, and with Hwang Sun-hong seen more towards the right hand side of attack. With the pair of two-way midfielders often pushing on behind them, South Korea were often spoilt for choice when it came to finishing an attack. Remember, this was against an opponent which had previously not conceded a single goal from two, although this probably said just as much about the other two nations in this particular qualification pool.
It is very difficult to get much of an impression of their players during these highlights reel, although we have been able to work out their respective positions. There is no doubt that they’d reinforced their defensive line by adding another body, although it seemed to make little difference as the hosts were much the better side, and South Korea had arrived at a number of first half opportunities, despite the most slender of half-time leads.
Both full-backs were mostly pinned back inside their own half, as they were usually on the defensive, although there is evidence of one forward foray by left-sided defender Salim, without him ever reaching the pass which had been intended for him. Both Mohd, the spare man in defence, and central defensive colleague Siew Yai display some level of competence in possession, whilst their midfield three stand little chance against high quality opposition. They are barely seen across the halfway line during the first half clippings which we’re privy to, although it seems apparent that they’re attempting to reach striker Dollah Salleh, the man who had notched in both their two previous qualifiers.
For the start of the final 45, Malaysia had made a change in their line-up: They’d replaced starting forward Ravindran with Zainal. The substitute had featured in their previous two outings, and through the benefit of hindsight, we know that he’d even go on and play a starting role in two of their remaining three qualifiers, also not being picked in the starting eleven for the second meeting with the Koreans. The home side’s half-time change had meant midfielder Bo-kwan off for Bong-sub in a like for like change.
There had been no reason for South Korea’s management team to make any changes during the half-time interval, though in the early second half footage they looked like they’d taken their foot off the pedal, allowing the Malaysians to even arrive at a couple of opportunities. They did have a couple of players capable of holding on to the ball, probably first and foremost dangerman Salleh, though in midfield, Azizol Hanifah also shielded it well from opposing players. A skewed clearance from a South Korean defender saw Malaysia midfielder Lim Teong strike one low on target with his left foot from 18 yards, although it was comfortably held by goalkeeper Byung-deuk. Despite their superiority, South Korea could not allow themselves to be complacent.
You lose sense of the time element when you’re left with a cut version of any football game, and this is no different. After a couple of sequences in which Malaysia had looked to mount some pressure, they suddenly find themselves two goals down courtesy of a decisive first time finish by Sun-hong, the hosts’ right-sided forward, who on this occasion had moved into the centre. They built along the right, eventually working the ball out from Min-kook and into right wing territory, where full-back Kang-hee had arrived to pin a perfectly flighted ball towards the near post for Sun-hong to guide into the back of the net. The ‘keeper had no time even to flinch, and libero Mohd didn’t get near enough to put a tackle in. Spotless finish, and the Koreans only emphasized what was, after all, a gulf in class between the two sides.
Despite going two goals down, Malaysia didn’t just lay down and surrender. They continued to give it a go, even if this meant exposing themselves at the back. They showed some aggression in the middle of the pitch, and Lim Teong, who had had that shot on target earlier in the half, won possession to thread a pass in behind the hosts’ libero Yoon-hwan and through to substitute Zainal. Darting through with just the ‘keeper to beat, the striker rushed his shot, and only found the side netting. With a greater level of composure, he could’ve steadied himself further, taken an extra touch before firing in his effort, but he didn’t. Manager Hartley would surely have prefered his main striker to have been in that position rather than Zainal.
As the half wore on, Malaysia looked to have some tired legs, and they began losing their defensive grip on the Korean players to an even greater extent. This led to South Korea producing further goalscoring opportunities, although somehow they failed to capitalize, as Sun-hong missed a couple of fine chances. In midfield, the home side had Min-kook who enjoyed spreading the ball out wide for either full-back to get to high in the pitch, and there was greater evidence in this second half of right-back Kang-hee attacking than his counterpart across the pitch Sang-bum. When they had introduced their second and final substitute of the game, left-sided forward Sang-kook had been replaced by Yong-se. The latter proved a handful in the air for the Malaysian centre-backs, among which libero Mohd would be replaced by Kim Seng with some ten minutes to spare.
The South Koreans’ cushion appeared safe enough, but they didn’t just sit back and protect what they had already got; they kept pushing for more. In another attack which was focused towards Kang-hee along the right, the full-back swung the ball in from wing territory towards the edge of the area, where captain Hae-won hit it first time, though he couldn’t aim his volley on target.
Based on these highlights, it only seemed just that South Korea were finally rewarded with a third goal. They found so much space along their right hand side, and so this was naturally from where their next goal was worked. Libero Yoon-hwan played it into the path of right-back Kang-hee, and finding himself in the area, the defender squared it for Sun-hong to once again fire it into the back of the net first time with his right foot, this time high behind the despairing Malaysian goalkeeper. Their overworked defence had to surrender for a third time, though it seemed as if they could have few complaints.
There was still time for a fourth, and by this point the home side were just strolling through the opposition’s midfield without facing any resistance. They had all the time and space they could’ve wished for, but lack of precision saw captain Hae-won hit the top of the bar with a curled effort from his right foot deep inside the area. No defender ever came near enough to close him down.
The final whistle must have come as a relief to the visitors, and with a comprehensive 3-0 scoreline, South Korea had done just about what they could to secure their passage through to the next phase of the World Cup qualification, and this despite the fact that they still had to negotiate the same three opponents in Singapore, starting in about a week’s time.