Making their tenth appearance in the finals, South Korea will be hoping to emulate their run to the semi-finals in 2002. Ranked 62nd in the World, it would take something of a minor miracle for them to qualify past the group stages.
After a horrendous campaign at the 2014 finals, fans showed up at the airport to vent their emotions. This group looks even more daunting than the one they faced 4 years ago. Coach Uli Stielike was fired during the campaign, and despite getting over the line they have faced a lot of criticism for a lackluster campaign. However, South Korea bounced back somewhat after a shaky start to qualifying and have advanced to their ninth consecutive finals.
They have qualified from the group stages only twice, in 2002 and 2010. Despite an uptick in performances in pre-tournament friendlies, it is unlikely they will make it to the knockout phase.
South Korea Squad Outlook
Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu, Kim Jinh-yeon, Cho Hyeon-woo
Defenders: Kim Young-gwon, Jang Hyunsoo, Jeong Seungh-yeon, Yun Yeong-seon, Kwon Kyung-won, Oh Bansuk, Kim Jinsu, Kim Minwoo, Park Jooho, Hong Chul, Go Yohan, Lee Yong
Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng, Jeong Woo-young, Ju Se-jong, Koo Jacheol, Lee Jae-sung, Lee Seung-woo, Moon Sun-min, Lee Chung-yong
Forwards: Kim Shin-wook, Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan, Lee Keun-ho
Reserves: Gu Sungyun (goalkeeper), Choi Chulsoon (defender), Son Junho, Lee Myungjoo, Lee Changmin, Ji Dongwon (midfielders), Suk Hyunjun (forward)
Squad Talk: It’s fair to say there are very few household names in the South Korean squad. Goalkeeper has always been an area where South Korea has struggled in the past, and this year seems no different. There is more depth in the squad but the overall level of talent is unchanged. Defensively as a whole is an issue, although the full-backs, Lee Yong, and Kim Minwoo, are adept at getting up and down the wings.
Swansea’s Ki Sung-yeung is a stalwart in the middle of the park, but the positions around him aren’t locked down. Part of this is due to the changing formation to try and get the best from Son.
Koo Jacheol is an up and coming star, currently playing club football for FC Augsburg in Germany. With 4 goals in qualifying, he will be one to watch.
Son Heung-min has taken the Premier League by storm in his three years with Tottenham, having scored 30 goals in 99 games. He has been far less prolific for Korea, as he struggles with their style and seems much more contained in the way he plays. With just 5 goals in his last 18 internationals, he’ll be looking to make his mark in Russia.
South Korea have tried many different formations over the years to try and get the best from Son. If they ever figure that out he could become to Korea what Bale is to Wales. However, so far there has been little sign of that. One thing is clear though, it’s that Son is a world-class talent and could easily light up this tournament.
Who’s The Gaffa
Shin Tae-Yong took the job in July last year as Korea looked on the verge of missing qualification. He steadied the ship and did just enough to make it to Russia. He rose to national attention in 2010 when taking Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to the K-League title.
Shin is a tactically gifted coach who has drawn comparisons with Jose Mourinho over the years. However, he has a tendency to be a little too over aggressive at times and this might be exploited at the top level of World football.
He coaches the Under-23 team at the 2016 Olympics and the 2017 Under-20 World Cup team. Both teams made it through the group stages before being eliminated. Korea would be very happy if that was the case this year.
Likely Group Finish: 4th Place
This is a particularly brutal group for South Koreas as they look to qualify for the knockout stages for only the third time. There seems to have been very little progression in their level over the last four years. However, it can’t be forgotten how well they played in 2002 in their home world cup, and they have the work-rate to trouble teams if they get a good start in games.
Lazy Fan Fact: Making their 10th appearance in the finals, South Korea are Asia’s most frequent representative