Sweden 1-0 South Korea: 5 things we learned

Sweden came out on top in a dour affair with South Korea that was settled by a VAR-gifted penalty.

REUTERS/Matthew Childs

After the frenetic excitement of the weekend, a less excitable World Cup match was on the cards. There will have been little surprise, perhaps, that the encounter between South Korea and Sweden would provide it.

As both teams huffed and puffed their way towards parity, Kim Min-woo brought down Victor Claesson in the box and, after the referee allowed play to continue, the Video Assistant Referee asked him to take another look.

When Andreas Granqvist slotted the ball away cooly, it very much looked as though that was that. South Korea did fashion a number of chances but it proved to be insufficient to affect the scoreline.

With Germany losing on Sunday, the result puts Sweden in poll position in the group. However, a result will be needed against one of Germany and Mexico if the Scandinavians are to progress.

Here are five things we learned from the game:

  1. 1 Shin changes things up

    REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

    Having fielded his side in a 4-4-2 formation for the majority of the warm-up fixtures in the run-up to the World Cup, Shin Tae-yong put out a 4-3-3 against Sweden with Kim Shin-wook joining Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan.

    In the event, this roll of the tactical dice didn't pay off. Whilst it gave South Korea the numerical advantage in the centre of midfield, Sweden were happy to transition the ball through the wide areas in attack. 

    Out of possession, too, the Swedes were able to give double coverage to Son on the left-hand side of their defence with Emil Forsberg dropping back to help out Ludwig Augustinsson. 

    Having spent the week playing mind games with so-called 'Swedish spies', Shin 

  2. 2 Swedens strikers continue to raise questions

    REUTERS/Matthew Childs

    Before the tournament began, questions had been raised about the ability of Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen to be prolific enough for the Swedes to progress deep into the competition.

    These fears were hardly allayed when the ball bounced out to Berg in acres of space in the South Korean box with only Cho Hyun-woo to beat. Striking the ball straight at the helpless Cho, Berg will look back on the chance to open his account with bemusement.

    He is unlikely to find himself with the ball at his feet with a better chance of scoring in future games so perhaps he will have been secretly pleased to see Andreas Granqvist stepping up to slot away the penalty when it came.

    South Korea are one prospect, Germany are quite another. Sweden will need to finish those chances that present themselves or they will soon find themselves heading home.

  3. 3 He's not the messiah...

    REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    International football is a different beast to domestic football. But it is not that different.

    Son Heung-min had his best season as a Tottenham player last season, functioning well as a foil for Harry Kane from a wide area in the forward line. But with teammates like Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli alongside him, it is hardly surprising why.

    In international football, while the temptation is to build a side around an individual, much more can be eked out of a team playing a system that works well for them - just ask Gareth Southgate. 

    As a result, the gap in quality between the best and worst teams - Saudi Arabia notwithstanding - is lower, suggesting that a level of pragmatism can get you a long way in international tournaments. *cough* Portugal *cough*

    In South Korea's case, an over-reliance in Son Heung-min has failed to produce anything in the way of convincing performances. Perhaps Shin Tae-yong should go back to the drawing board and thing of a team-first approach.

  4. 4 Is 4-4-2 enough?

    REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    Sometimes you can't beat an old classic.

    The 4-4-2 formation is one such old classic, making a return to the footballing scene in recent years.

    But where it has tended to be used in more of a 4-2-2-2 iteration, allowing teams the ability to play an aggressive counter-press, Janne Andersson has set up his side in two flat fours with two strikers in front of them.

    Whilst 4-4-2 was popular because it spreads players around the field in a fairly even arrangement, it's order is also its weakness, opening up too many easy channels that can be exploited by opposition players.

    This predictability was clear in the case of Sweden, who laboured hard throughout the game and whose best chance came from a South Korean mistake.

    South Korea are the weakest team in this group. Unless Andersson can introduce a little more guile into his team before their games against Germany and Mexico, then there is little hope of progression. 

  5. 5 VAR may work but at what cost?

    REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    "VAR works" is the message from this World Cup so far.

    Whilst this is true, though, VAR working is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

    Take the Switzerland goal against Brazil, for example. The goal should have been disallowed but VAR had very little to say about it. Did VAR fail? "No," the answer comes back. "It was the referees using VAR that failed."

    Under these criteria, there is no situation in which VAR can fail. However, there are questions yet to be asked about the use of technology in football.

    On the one hand, there has been a marked up-tick in penalties given this tournament - 1.7 matches per penalty versus 3.25 matches per penalty previously. With many of the games being low-scoring affairs, it remains to be seen whether or not the fans are happy to watch games like this one which are settled by a single VAR-given penalty.

    On the other hand, the rules of the game are clearly insufficient for the sort of scrutiny that VAR is now giving. 

    Take the Ki Sung-yeung tackle on Toivonen which did not result in a penalty. Getting the ball before the man, questions were raised about whether or not the fact that the ball was cleared before the player is enough to prevent this sort of challenge being allowed.

    The rules need clarifying and, until they do, VAR will continue to be contentious.

    What were your thoughts on the game? Let us know by commenting below.

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Jon Mackenzie


Jon Mackenzie is the Football Editor at RealSport.

Regularly appearing on talkSPORT radio, his work has also featured in The Economist, The Blizzard, Tifo Football and on the Futbolgrad Network.

A UEFA and Premier League-accredited journalist, Jon also founded A Team of John O'Sheas podcast and hosts it every week.

Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie