The Nations of the 21st World Cup – South Korea

South Korea National Team

South Korea NT

Taegeuk Warriors

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.

South Korea

Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 4-3-3
Current FIFA World Ranking (May 2018) – 61st
World Cup 2014 Finish – 1st round exit
Russia 2018 Group F (Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea)
Formation – 4-2-3-1 (variable)
Strengths – Theoretical Attacking power
Weaknesses – Defense, Health,
Major Threats – Son Heung Min, Ki Sung-Yueng

A nation that knows how to make a run as an underdog, South Korea enters their 9th straight World Cup faced with not only a weaker squad than they’re accustomed too, but also facing one of the toughest groups in the entire competition. Not an ideal scenario, but can strong individual attacking play lift them into the knockout rounds for only the third time? Eh, probably not.
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Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

Did you know: Only three teams from outside of Europe or South America have ever made the Semifinals of the World Cup? South Korea’s 2002 run seems like oh so very long ago. Whether it’s realistic or not, the KFA and fans alike see their squad as a team having potential to pull another upset on the big dogs and make a run. However, for this edition of the (Taegeuk Wariors), just making it out of the group would be a huge accomplishment. Most fans are at peace with this harsh reality and just hope for strong showings in their group matches, win or lose.

DEFENSE:

There are two major issues with the defense. First is the fact that they don’t really defend all that well. Seems like a problem. Manager Shin Tae Yong has used a traditional 4 man back line but – perhaps after his group’s porous efforts – has experimented with a 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 as well. Now, it’s important to note that Shin took over with only two matches left in the qualifying group, so it remains to be seen what he truly prefers, but regardless of formation, this position group was near abysmal. In what amounted to a weak qualifying group, South Korea conceded five goals over two legs to Qatar, and ten goals overall. If teams like Qatar and China are breaking down your backline, you can imagine what Germany or Mexico will do.

To make matters worse, South Korea will only be able to field half of their first choice back line in Russia, as injuries have struck in a bad way. Kim Jin-su and Kim Min-jae won’t be making the trip, and a beleaguered unit suddenly looks shambolic. Fans already were at peace with the fact that this wasn’t a high performing defensive group, but now things look really dire. Kwon Kyong-Won and Jang Hyun-Soo look to be the centerback pairing most likely to be deployed in Russia. Kyong-Won was at one time the subject of European interest, but has since settled in as a solid starter in the Chinese Super League. He represents the highest pedigree player to be included in the defensive group. The lack of top flight club experience for the defense makes one curious how they’ll deal with the upper level talent they’ll face at the World Cup. Hyun-Soo joins Won to create a tandem that, while young and industrious, don’t excel in some of the more technical aspects of central defensive play. They do however add to the attack off indirect set pieces, as each of them has scored a handful of goals for club and country. Just don’t expect them to effectively stop the opposing set pieces with regularity. Out at the fullbacks you can expect to see Lee Yong and Kim Young-Gwon. Yong has 26 caps and has been a regular with the squad for the past few years, but he’s now 31 years old so it remains to be seen if he can still generate the form that allowed him to be named in K-League best XI twice in the past five years. Kim Young-Gwon is who you’d point to if you’re looking for a fullback who adds to the attack. He hasn’t scored for his country, but chipped in 4 goals for his club this season in the K-League. A dribbly fullback, he may not be given the opportunity to attack much with much of the emphasis being put on trying to shore up a leaky defense.

Things aren’t much rosier when you look to the keeper position. Kim Seung-Gyu is a perfectly respectable keeper, but he’s far from the world’s best and with the problems in front of him, he’s certain to be called into action early and often. The lack of quality here is the biggest issue for any hopes South Korea has of making it out of this group. They’ll need to play better than they have in recent memory to solidify their defensive half enough to knock off the big dogs they’re faced with.

MIDFIELD:

There’s some hope when you look to this midfield. In the past, this position group has been populated with a smattering of players from Europe’s biggest leagues. There are fewer than before now, but there are some names fans of European soccer will recognize who should be able to hold their own. Down the left wing will be Lee Chung-Yong of Crystal Palace fame. Lee provides a bit of pace up the wing, and is widely known for his vision and passing ability. Unfortunately, due to some of the upheaval this past season at Palace, he’s not seen the minutes you’d like to see heading in to a World Cup, so form is questionable. But he’s played a major role at the senior level for his country for the past decade, and will enter as the second most capped player on the squad. The man who holds the title of most experienced Korean is Captain Ki Sung-Yueng. A central midfielder by trade, he’s been a solid player in the English Premier League with Swansea City. With great vision and passing ability, Ki will need to control the middle of the park at the World Cup. He’s also an adept set piece taker, so if South Korea is going to nick a goal at some point, he represents a great opportunity to do so.

Alongside Ki in the pivot should be Park Joo Ho. More of a defensive minded midfielder than the box to box Ki, he’ll be the one most often tasked with screening the back line and starting attacks. He’s seen time all across the defensive midfield and back line at the club level, even making a number of appearances for Borussia Dortmund, but he’s never been able to stand out against the world’s top players. We’ve talked about the weaknesses in defense for South Korea, and Park will need to have success protecting them in order for the other midfielders to start thinking about getting forward.

What you have in these three players is experience not only at a high level, but also at smaller clubs who have needed to play a certain style to knock of the talent laden bigger sides. Experience in that kind of situation is going to be crucial, because with some of the talent deficiencies this team has littered around the park, it’ll be tough to come out and play an open game. They’ll likely need to stay compact and defensive and hope to eventually catch a team on the counter if they’re to get all three points in some of these matchups.

The last member of this four man midfield is likely to be Lee Jae Sung, and while he hasn’t had experience outside of the K-League, he’s one of the more exciting young players in the squad and has been in great form for his club. He provides both finishing and creative play from the right side and could become one of the surprise stars of this tournament if South Korea find themselves making an unexpected run. He rounds out a midfield that definitely has some talent. If they can click and work together well, things could start looking up for South Korea.

Son SK

Son Heung Min

STRIKERS:

The strikers offer both the biggest strength and one of the biggest question marks for South Korea. Son Heung Min is a star for Spurs, but where is the best place to play him, and who is the right choice to put next to him in attack?

Son is easily the best player on this squad and the only South Korean player you could consider among the best at his position in the World Cup. He’s a player with tremendous pace and a nose for goal who has shown at times he can carry a team by himself. If he’s over a late season ankle injury, then he’s a deadly attacker, and certainly will be the player opposing defenses will be primarily occupying themselves with stopping. Finding the place where he is most effective for the South Korea attack is crucial for manager Shin Tae Young. Son normally plays down the left wing as a wide forward for Spurs, but that’s because he’s got Harry Kane as a true Number 9 in the center. There is no one close to that level in this squad, so can he maintain his play from out wide without a star striker drawing away pressure. If the answer is no and you move him to be an out-and-and striker, does his skillset translate well? He’s certainly done it at times with some success. Son is lightning quick and deadly with the ball at his feet, but he may not have the space he needs if he’s playing inside and can be bullied off the ball by strong central defenders. And he’s certainly not a player who can act as a target man if the style becomes direct. The best option may be to split the difference and play him as a striker, but in a tandem with a second forward partner. This will allow Son some space out wide to use his speed and quickness, but also puts him closer to the center of the action.

Yet this answer breeds another question – who is the right man to partner with him? It might just be Kim Shin-Wook. This would create a versatile pair, because for all the attributes Son brings to the lateral aspects of the game, Kim brings to the vertical aspects. What I mean is he’s tall. Really, really tall. 6’6” to be precise. Adding a big aerial threat for long balls and headers next to Son seems like most effective pair, but it’s possible we see a rising star like Dijon’s Kwon Chang Hoon play further up the pitch next to Son.

GAME by GAME (v Sweden, v Mexico, v Germany)

*Keys to Sweden game: In the first game of the group, South Korea will need to make a statement if the other games are to matter. Can they utilize the speed of Son to break down a slower Swedish backline? Will they be able to defend enough to be in a position to take advantage of any Son goals? It feels like if they give up more than a goal here, they’ll have a hard time taking more than a point. But win, and things suddenly get interesting in the group.
Prediction: There’s just too many inconsistencies in the back line, this looks like a comfortable Sweden win.

*Keys to Mexico game: Mexico sports a relentless attack. Can South Korea even slow them down? Again their small chances in this match hinge on them being able to take advantage of the pressure Son puts on the defense, while somehow being able to hold off El Tri on their own end.
Prediction: Mexico win big

*Keys to Germany game: This match represents the best chance for South Korea to get out of the group. *** Spits out water*** WAIT WHAT??? Ok, bear with me here. This match is a walkover if Germany are still worried about winning the group. South Korea just don’t have the horses to run with Die Mannschaft. But, BUUUUT, If South Korea were to have won either of their first two, and if Germany have nothing to play for, send out a B-Team and just try to get away without an injury, then maybe, just maybe, South Korea could do enough to get through. That’s a lot of ifs and buts, and I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s more fun to think about than whether Germany could put 5 goals or more
Prediction: Germany score 5 goals or more and win big

south korea

The South Korea 23 for Russia 2018

Here’s the South Korean Roster for Russia 2018
GOALKEEPERS (3): Kim Seung-Gyu, Kim Jin-Hyeon, Cho Hyun-Woo

DEFENDERS (10): Kim Young-Gwon, Jang Hyun-Soo, Kim Min-Woo, Lee Yong, Go Yo-Han, Hong Chul, Jang Seung-Hyun, Yun Yong-Sun, On Ban-Suk, Park Joo-Ho

MIDFIELDERS (7): Ki Sung-Yueng, Koo Ja-Cheol, Lee Jae Sung, Jung Woo-Young, Ju Se-Jong, Moon Seon-Min, Lee Seung-Woo

FORWARDS (3): Son Heung-Min, Kim Shin-Wook, Hwang Hee-Chan

Piece by James Wilkinson, frequent Center Circle writer, an avid fan of Tottenham Hotspur and the USMNT.

 

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About the author: James Wilkinson

 

An upstart soccer fan, I've been rabidly following Tottenham ever since Harry Kane took the world by storm. What I lack in soccer knowledge I make up for in pure passion for sports. I went to undergrad at TCU (Go Frogs!) and developed a bit of a reputation for taking intramural sports a bit too seriously. But lets be honest, if the game has a ball I'll play it anytime, anywhere. Currently working on an MBA at Mizzou, join me here at SoccerPro as I learn how to write about sports, and laugh at me if I fail miserably!

Website: https://www.soccerpro.com

 

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One Comment

  • South Korea will have a decent world Cup. However I dont expect them to match their best (semi in 2002) but at least they will get to the 2nd round

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