South Korea vs. Tunisia: 6 Things We Learned
Zouhaier Dhaouadi scored the only goal as Tunisia ran out 1-0 winners against South Korea at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Wednesday, a setback in the Taeguk Warriors' preparations for this summer's World Cup in Brazil.
A strong South Korea team failed to impress on the day, and coach Hong Myung-bo will surely have a lot on his mind and even more planned for his training sessions ahead of the tournament.
The Koreans will be playing one more friendly against Ghana before starting their World Cup campaign in Group H alongside Belgium, Algeria and Russia.
Here are six things we learned from South Korea's 0-1 home loss against Tunisia.
Underwhelming Performance from South Korea
Wednesday's match was South Korea's penultimate friendly before their World Cup campaign begins next month, and they failed to impress in front of an expectant and excited home crowd.
It was an uninspiring performance from Hong Myung-bo's men—chances were few and far between for the home side, as they struggled to break down Georges Leekens' organized Tunisia team.
As they were expected to do, the South Koreans dominated the play for most of the match but failed to take the few opportunities that went their way, and Dhaouadi punished the home side's slackness with a cool finish that ultimately proved to be the winner.
Key Injury to Hong Jeong-ho
The last thing anyone—coach, player or fan—wants in a pre-World Cup friendly is an injury to a key player, especially when there's no performance of note to take away.
Unfortunately for the Taeguk Warriors, their fear came true when Augsburg defender Hong Jeong-ho, who has scored one goal in 24 caps, had to be taken off after an ankle injury just around the hour mark.
The injury looked serious, and his World Cup campaign looks to be at risk.
Not an ideal outcome for coach Hong or for the player himself, but they will be hoping that his replacement on the day, Kwak Tae-hwi, has enough to step up.
Strong Squad, but Lacking in Experience?
We compiled a guide on the South Korea 23-man World Cup squad when it was first announced earlier in May, where we noted that theirs will be one of the youngest squads taking part in this summer's tournament.
With an average age of just 25 and 15 out of the 23-man squad aged 25 or under, the Koreans will be fielding youthful sides in Brazil, which could put less pressure on the players but also provide a harder path to qualification from the group stages.
Many of the players in Hong's squad have experience playing in Europe and as such have played at the highest levels of club football around the world, but perhaps what South Korea currently lack most are experience and leadership.
While this was by no means as glamorous a friendly as South Korea's final warmup match against Ghana, Tunisia provided more than a match on the pitch.
Tunisia actually just missed out on qualification for the World Cup after losing a playoff to Cameroon, but some of their approach play on Wednesday—especially in the buildup to Dhaouadi's winner—was encouraging.
That this was Leekens' first game in charge of the Eagles—he previously managed the Belgian national team—was a timely and friendly reminder of what he can bring to the Tunisian national team.
As Leekens gets to know his players better, he will have a chance to unlock some fascinating potential within that squad.
Benchmarking Their Tunisian Opponents
According to the FIFA World Rankings, as of May 8, 2014, South Korea are ranked 55th in the world, six places below 49th-placed Tunisia.
Their next friendly opponents, Ghana, are ranked in 38th and will represent a similar level of opposition to the South Koreans, which will be useful for Hong's side to play against a decent team around the same level.
The World Cup will be a quite different story though: Belgium, Algeria and Russia are ranked 12th, 25th and 18th respectively, representing quite a cut above the South Koreans' current level.
South Korea chose relatively well in their opponents for practice matches; now Hong needs to make sure he can coax a few goals out of his talented but young squad in order for them to have a shot at making it past the group stages.
Much to Do for Hong Myung-bo
So there is still a long way to go for South Korea yet.
They must move on quickly in getting themselves ready for their next friendly against Ghana, who will provide quite a different experience compared to Tunisia.
Considering that the South Koreans were by and large the dominant side against Tunisia, perhaps Hong's most immediate objective in the remaining weeks is to get his squad to produce more reliable output.
He'll need it against their illustrious group-stage opponents.
If that happens, though, maybe they could yet spring a few surprises in June.