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S. Korea feel gap with world football elites after loss to Spain

All News 15:10 June 02, 2016

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea found out the hard way there's a big gap between themselves and the world's football elites after getting tutored by Spain in a humiliating yet friendly defeat.

South Korea, 54th in FIFA rankings, fell 6-1 to No. 6 Spain at Red Bull Arena in Salzburg, Austria, on Wednesday. This was the first time that South Korea surrendered six goals in a match since their 6-2 loss to Iran at the 1996 Asian Cup quarterfinals.

South Koreans had been impressive since head coach Uli Stielike took the helm in September 2014. Before facing Spain, they had enjoyed a 16-match undefeated streak, along with 10 consecutive shutouts -- though those results were mainly collected against Asian countries.

Their unbeaten run raised expectations for South Korea's performance against Spain, their first European opponents under Stielike, but the match turned out to be a nightmare. The Spaniards easily snapped South Korea's unbeaten streak and reminded them that they might just be a big fish in a small pond.

Stielike admitted that Spain outplayed South Korea in almost every aspect of the game. The German coach added he didn't expect that the gap between Spain and South Korea would be this big. After all, Spain were the strongest opponents that Stielike had faced in his 27 matches.

"Spain played football at a different level than South Korea," he said. "Spain had no problem in controlling the game with their technical abilities."

Left back Yun Suk-young, who also played 80 minutes before being replaced by Rim Chang-woo, said that the players were mentally pressured after conceding goals.

"Spain were playing the game with ease after scoring first, but we were in a rush and couldn't display our style of play," he said. "Our defenders and midfielders should have shown organized moves, but it's a pity we failed to do that."

But South Korea still have one more test in Europe. The Taeguk Warriors next take on the No. 29 Czech Republic on Sunday in Prague. The team will fly to the capital of the Czech Republic later Thursday.

For the clash against the Czechs, Stielike said his players should first overcome the trauma of the crushing defeat against Spain.

"What's important is our mental strength," he said. "We will prepare thoroughly to overcome the this situation and play well against the Czech Republic."

Against Spain, Stielike ordered players to press the opponents with a high-defensive line and to take away their ball possession. But with a lack of stamina and technical abilities compared to the Spaniards, the South Koreans failed to execute their tactics.

It is not certain whether South Korea will come up with the same tactics against the Czechs as they used versus Spain. But it's at least promising that the players have three days to prepare for the match, meaning they will have some time to pick up the pieces, recover their energy and learn from their mistakes from the defeat.

"The pressing in the midfield should be based on organized movements from each player, said Jang Ji-hyun, a football commentator for local broadcaster SBS. "Against Spain, the players only had a short period of time to learn the tactics and get to know their teammates, so it actually backfired. The team should reconsider their tactics when they play against strong teams."

South Korean players will try to reduce their mistakes against the Czech Republic. In Wednesday's match, they collapsed on their own, making ball control errors and passing mistakes, and reacting late to stop the Spanish attackers. After David Silva opened the scoring for Spain with his free kick in the 30th, they appeared shaken up both mentally and physically.

Just two minutes after that goal, defender Jang Hyun-soo tried to head the ball back to goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon, who fumbled the ball against Alvaro Morata and let Cesc Fabregas slot the ball into an empty net. Kim then looked sluggish as he moved out late to narrow the angle on Manuel "Nolito" Agudo's strike in the 38th and failed to clear the corner kick that landed on Morata's head in the 50th.

For Spain's fifth goal in the 54th, the South Korean defenders left Hector Bellerin alone with the ball about to reach the goalkeeper's hands. But the Arsenal right back didn't give up on the ball and delivered it to Nolito, who easily found the back of the net. In the 89th, Kim failed to intercept Aritz Aduriz's pass headed to Morata and was punished by the Juventus striker.

Team captain Ki Sung-yueng, who played full time in the midfield, admitted that his players made too many mistakes during the match and said this should not happen when they face the Czechs.

"I think we collapsed after surrendering the second goal," he said. "South Korea have been making mistakes in big matches against strong teams, but if we keep repeating that, there will be no progress. We have to work on reducing mistakes."

kdon@yna.co.kr
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