(ATTN: ADDS player's comments in paras 11-12)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 27 (Yonhap) -- For South Korea's World Cup tuneup match against Cameroon Tuesday night, head coach Paulo Bento donned his mad scientist hat and did more match-to-match tinkering than usual.
The result was encouraging, and not just because South Korea prevailed 1-0 at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
After a 2-2 draw against Costa Rica last Friday, Bento declared there would be multiple changes to his starting lineup against Cameroon, and that he would try a different tactical system.
Bento inserted five new names to his starting XI, including midfielder Son Jun-ho. And Son was a central figure in the new-look South Korean attack Tuesday.
When South Korea were in possession, Son, ostensibly the defensive midfielder, dropped all the way back to the line of defense. He assumed the role of the field general, the starting point for Bento's patented buildup from South Korea's own zone.
With center backs Kim Min-jae and Kwon Kyung-won staying at home for a back-three formation, fullbacks Kim Jin-su and Kim Moon-hwan were free to roam into the attacking zone.
That decision paid off, with Kim Jin-su's hard shot inside the box creating a rebound for Son Heung-min's header in the 35th minute. Kim Moon-hwan, replacing much-maligned Yoon Jong-gyu at right fullback, didn't look so out of place while handling his offensive responsibilities.
But when Cameroon went on the offensive, South Korea went back to their usual, back-four setup, with Son Jun-ho and fellow midfielder Hwang In-beom helping out on defense.
Bento has mostly been starting Jung Woo-young in the holding midfield position, and Jung had that assignment against Costa Rica. Jung is a more defensive-minded midfielder with limited offensive skills, while Son, the 2020 K League 1 MVP for the champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, is a more versatile type, capable of taking over a match on both sides of the ball.
And he handled his game-calling responsibilities admirably Tuesday, potentially creating internal competition with Jung for the starting midfield gig at the World Cup.
"I wanted to play this game like this was my last. I wanted to show everything I had," Son said. "I am happy to have contributed to the victory at least a little bit today."
As for his chances of making the World Cup team, Son said, "I hope I've left a positive impression today. I've long dreamed of playing at the World Cup, and I will do my best until the very end to realize that dream."
Up front, Jeong Woo-yeong, the 23-year-old attacker for SC Freiburg, showcased some motor playing behind starting forward Son Heung-min.
The energizer had already shown some promise in an offensive role against Chile in a June friendly match, and his ability to cover much ground can come in handy depending on the matchup.
On Tuesday, Jeong got his uniform dirty while wreaking havoc in the attacking third with his off-the-ball movements and also helping out on defense when he could.
Bento said he was pleased with both the effort of his players and the result.
"We expected a strong team in the physical way with a good, direct game, with fast players that are strong in the heading duels," Bento said of Cameroon. "In the offensive transition, they could make good transition and create problems for our team. The most important was the way we avoided that in the first half with good ball possession and good defensive transition. In the second half, our opponent had more ball possession in some moments but we were able to defend in the right way."
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