Russia 2018: Sweden beat South Korea 1-0

Russia 2018: Sweden beat South Korea 1-0
June 18 21:03 2018

There is a feeling with VAR that all it is doing is replacing one sort of controversy with another. In days gone by, Swedish fans would have railed against the non-award of a penalty for Kim Min-woo’s lunge on Viktor Claesson and the rest of the world would rapidly have forgotten and moved on. But now, in this happily technological age, South Korea fans can rail against the eventual award of a penalty for the same challenge as the rest of the world rapidly forgets and moves on.

Should it have been a penalty? Maybe. Janne Andersson, the Sweden manager, called it “crystal clear” while Shin Tae-yong, the South Korea manager, did not mount any argument. Kim’s challenge was forceful and followed through into the Krasnodar winger but he did seem to get a toe to the ball first. That makes the decision subjective and a judgment call for the Salvadoran referee Joel Aguilar.

He had given little impression in the rest of the game that he was an official whose judgment was necessarily to be trusted, but he was in an excellent position not more than eight yards from the incident. If his instinct was that it was not an offence it is hard to know what he could possibly have seen on the replay to make him change his mind.

But he did, and Andreas Granqvist converted the penalty, giving Sweden a win that had always seemed likely to eventually come their way, if only because South Korea were so passive.

Shin suggested his players had been “psychologically” intimidated by the height of the Swedish players, a theme to which he returned again and again. “We prepared a lot to play against tall players,” he said; negative reinforcement perhaps did the rest. Sweden have the second-tallest squad at the tournament, behind Serbia, whom South Korea could still theoretically meet in the round of 16, a prospect that must appal Shin.

There are some games so uneventful that their uneventfulness itself becomes heroic. It was not that this was dull, as such, because there was an unexpected degree of needle, perhaps provoked by the spying scandal that erupted in the buildup as a Sweden coach, Lars Jacobsen, attended South Korea’s closed training camp in Austria – not realising, he said, that it was not open to the public. Happily for him, it was open to anybody staying in a nearby house that conveniently overlooked the training ground and so, to combat that, Shin had his players switch numbers in the belief that, as he put it, “it’s very difficult for westerners to distinguish between Asians”.

Andersson seemed vaguely bemused by the whole furore. “I don’t know if it confused us,” he said. “The guys had 1,630 video clips they went through, boiling it down to a 20-minute video presentation. I think they learned to recognise those players.”

Shin, anyway, was probably worrying unnecessarily. Whatever his big secret was, it remains a mystery, impenetrable to anybody who endured this festival of hard-running shape maintenance. Perhaps he is waiting to unleash it on Mexico or Germany; perhaps it was all just an enormous bluff. There was no sleight of hand here, no subtlety, no disguise, nothing that was not thoroughly predictable, other than the selection of the reserve goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo on the grounds he is taller than Kim Seung-gyu.

In terms of nothingness, though, the game failed. It came close to setting a record for eventlessness but, as 19:59 passed into 20:00, a square ball across the box found Marcus Berg unmarked eight yards out. The al-Ain forward’s shot struck the thigh of the advancing goalkeeper Cho, but the point was that it was a shot.

Had the game gone just another 59 seconds without a shot it would have equalled the post-1966 World Cup record set in Brazil four years ago in the Netherlands’ quarter-final against Costa Rica. As the game began to take shape, there was little doubt which side was dominant. “We had this match under control and we didn’t concede many chances,” said Andersson. The penalty may have been questionable but Sweden exerted enough pressure to win. And they were definitely taller.

[Guardian UK]