Tottenham Hotspur beat Team K League 6-3 in an exhibition game at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Mapo District, western Seoul on Wednesday, capitalizing on a strong second half to overpower a K League squad that was forced to play the last 20 minutes of the game with only 10 men.
As exhibition games go, the Spurs vs. K League clash had it all: Nine goals, including an own goal, two direct free kicks and a penalty, a red card and a rotating lineup of the biggest stars of a top Premier League club and the entire domestic league.
Spurs manager Antonio Conte opted to bench some of his biggest names for the first half, starting the game off with Brandon Austin in goal, Davinson Sanchez, Cristian Romero, and Eric Dier in defense, Emerson Royal, Rodrigo Bentancur, Oliver Skipp, and Ryan Sessegnon in midfield and Bryan Gil, Richarlison and Lucas Moura out in front.
Over the full 90 minutes, practically every player on the Spurs bench would get their time on the pitch, with Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, and Son Heung-min all playing the entirety of the second half.
Team K League went for a different approach, starting the game with a strong squad including goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, fan-favorite Lee Seung-woo, and national team regulars Kim Jin-su, Kwon Chang-hoon, Paik Seung-woo, and Cho Gue-sung.
The K League opted to rotate their lineup throughout the game, sending new legs on roughly every 30 minutes to ensure that everybody got their chance on the pitch.
Things got off to a slow start in front of a crowd of 64,100 at Seoul World Cup Stadium, with both sides trying a few chances over the first 15 minutes but neither able to get anything across.
The back and forth continued throughout the first half an hour, with the crowd marking every touch with pantomime oohs and ahhs, cheering loudly whenever Conte appeared on the screen.
Dier finally broke the silence for Spurs in the 29th minute, taking the ball along the outside of the box and firing it through the box and past Jo with his left foot.
K League went on the offensive following the goal, taking a number of runs at Austin but failing to make anything happen. Yang Hyun-jun had a particularly promising run in the 45th minute, beating Sessegnon and Dier but then sending his shot just wide of the goal.
The K League’s chance to tie the score came two minutes injury time at the end of the half, when Kim Jin-su sent a long cross into the box that Cho headed home to take the match to 1-1 going into the break.
A slightly bizarre halftime mascot race saw the 12 K League club mascots and two Tottenham mascots race the width of the pitch with a trophy and presumably bragging rights on the line. The win went to the Pohang Steelers, the one victory the K League did take on the night.
The fairly uneventful first half was dramatically eclipsed by the second 45 minutes when Spurs sent on the big guns and the goals quickly started flying in.
Spurs pulled ahead immediately in the 47th minute, when Kim Jin-hyuk slid into a Kane cross, narrowly slotting it into the back of the net as an own goal.
Son entered the pitch immediately after the goal rather than with the halftime change, ensuring the World Cup Stadium crowd had the proper chance to cheer at his entrance.
Despite facing the Tottenham A team, the K League squad stayed in the fight, with Lars Veldwijk coming through with a strong equalizer in the 51st minute, firing the ball from just outside the box into the back of the net.
Kane responded immediately, picking up a pass from Moura halfway into the K League half, dribbling it up the pitch and hammering the ball straight into the bottom right corner.
The game quietened down for the next 10 minutes a Son shot forced a corner in the 66th minute. The corner was clear but only went as far as K League’s Jun Amano, who was called out for a handball.
The referee pointed to the penalty spot and Kane gave the ball to Son, allowing the Korean forward to take the spot kick even though he never plays that role for Tottenham. Son fired the ball straight down the middle, beating Kim Young-kwang to take the score to 4-2.
Amano’s redemption was swift. The Japanese player responded with a goal of his own in the 70th minute, a direct free kick that he threaded between Son and Pape Matar Sarr to beat Lloris and take the score to 4-3.
Two minutes later, Son was brought down on the run by Kim Dong-min on the edge of the box. The referee went straight for red, sending Kim off and awarding Spurs a direct free kick.
Kane scored the free kick, Spurs’ fifth goal, but the Tottenham players didn’t look happy about the red card. Both Son and Kane complained to the referee and the Spurs coaches also talked to the match officials on the sidelines, perhaps feeling that facing a 10-man squad wasn’t really what they were looking for in an exhibition game.
The damage was done and all that was left for Spurs was to add one more. Fittingly it was Son that came through with that goal, intercepting a poor pass from Kim Ji-soo in the box and sending it straight into the practically unguided goal.
Son had a few more chances, much to the delight of the home fans, but wasn’t able to get anything across, and the match ended at 6-3.
Still, as exhibition games go, three goals for the K League is still plenty for the local players to celebrate. The six goals from Tottenham gave the fans enough to cheer about, and the red card for Kim Dong-min didn’t overshadow the game, with the excluded player allowed back on the pitch for the lap of honor at the end.
Speaking after the game, Team K League manager Kim Sang-sik seemed most impressed by Dier.
“It goes without saying that Son and Kane have this great partnership,” Kim Sag-sik said, “but I think Dier stood out. His defense was unbeatable against the K League and I can’t help but think it must be unbeatable in Europe as well.”
Conte praised both teams, noting that Spurs played well having only had a few days of training since the summer break.
“We have just started the season and the most important thing is to bring all the players to be fit, for the best game,” Conte said. “I am satisfied with the game. It was friendly, but the mentality of my players is to play every game to win. The first half had good intensity.
“Conceding three goals was a negative and something we need to work on. The Korean team was a good team. They scored three good goals and they play good football. I saw many good players in this team.”
Tottenham will next face La Liga club Sevilla in the final game of the Coupang Play Series on Saturday at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi.
BY JIM BULLEY AND YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]