The gold standard of Asian soccer, South Korea qualified for its eighth consecutive World Cup and will head to Brazil with plenty of expectations from a feverish fan base that has become accustomed to success over the last decade. Prior to co-hosting the tournament in 2002, mere qualification was seen as a major accomplishment. That’s not the case anymore. Since the Red Devils’ surprising fourth place finish on home soil, the three match bare minimum of the group phase is unacceptable—anything short of a spot in the second round would be seen as a catastrophic failure.
Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Hyundai), Lee Bum-young (Busan I’Park)
Defenders: Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg), Hwang Seo-ho (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Kim Chang-soo (Kashiwa Reysol), Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Lee Yong (Ulsan Hyundai), Yun Suk-young (QPR), Park Joo-ho (Mainz)
Midfielders: Ha Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Han Kook-young (Kashiwa Reysol), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg), Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton), Park Jong-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen)
Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Hyundai), Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Arsenal)
Considered to be one of the all-time greats of Asian football, Hong Myung-Bo will be making his fifth World Cup appearance with the Taegeuk Warriors. The former South Korean international is the only player on the continent to feature in four consecutive tournaments—debuting at Italia ’90. Before taking over the senior side last June, the 45 year-old sweeper coached South Korea to a bronze medal at the London Olympics, having previously managed the under-20 team on the world stage in 2009.
4-2-3-1 (GK) Jung Sung-ryong – (D) Lee Yong, Hong Jeong-ho, Kim Young-gwon, Kim Chang-soo – (M) Park Jong-woo, Ki Sung-yueng, Lee Chung-yong, Koo Ja-cheol, Son Heung-min – (F) Park Chu-young
Group H schedule
June 17: vs. Russia in Cuiaba
June 22: vs. Algeria in Porto Alegre
June 26: vs. Belgium in Sao Paulo
How they qualified
It wasn’t smooth sailing, as South Korea suffered a demoralizing 1-0 home defeat to group winners Iran in Ulsan on the final day of qualifying, which lead to the resignation of manager Choi Kang-Hee, who boldly guaranteed a victory at all costs. The South Koreans crawled across the finish line in second spot – tied on points (14) with third-place Uzbekistan – via the goal difference rule.
A talented core of young, energetic and creative attacking options is the fuel that drives Korea onward. Six of the 12 midfielders and forwards on the plane to Rio ply their trade in Germany and England’s top divisions—a positive sign in regards to the national program’s commitment at the grassroots level and successful development strategy.
The last decade has seen a bevy of South Korean imports making the jump into European football. Progress has been made in some areas (defenders and midfielders), though, one key position fails in comparison to bear ample fruit—goalkeeper. The problem may very well be simply a lack of interest that produces a shallow pool of options. Domestic football (K-League) isn’t enough. South Korea must make it a priority to adequately provide their ‘keepers with the necessary tools required to compete at the highest levels.
Players to watch
Despite residing on opposite sides of the South Wales divide, Cardiff City’s Kim Bo-Hyung and Swansea City’s Ki Sung-Yeung will easily put aside their club loyalties and unite under the Taegukgi flag. Both midfielders will play an influential role in the team equalling or surpassing their targeted success. The youngest player on the roster is by far the most intriguing. Bayer Leverkusen forward Heung-min Son is the latest South Korean prospect who is gaining a tremendous amount of attention from some of European football’s biggest clubs. His versatility and attacking threat is worth paying attention too.
Was South Korea’s third-place finish on home soil in 2002 a fluke? It’s difficult to find an argument that counteracts this assessment. The theory of a host country harnessing the energy and passion of national support was certainly the case 12 years ago. South Korea almost looked unbeatable, it was an epic performance that sadly has never been matched.
Prospects in Brazil
It would be unwise to assume the European nations (Belgium and Russia) that make up half of Group H are outright favourites. This is far the softest of the eight groups, and South Korea and even Algeria have a realistic shot at clinching a top-two finish. If you take World Cup experience into account, the South Koreans have made the most appearances of the current century. Nonetheless, the road realistically ends for whichever teams make it out of this group-consensus of opinion has Germany and Portugal slated as opponents in round two.
World Cup history
Nine World Cup appearances, eight of those coming consecutively, beginning at Mexico ’86. Despite becoming routine participants, South Korea has only twice made it past the group phase, the first happening on home soil in 2002—beating Poland and Portugal to top their group. They followed that up with a controversial win over Italy in the second round, and a penalty shootout victory over Spain in the last eight. Defeats to Germany in the semis and Turkey for third place ended a truly remarkable run. Four years ago in South Africa, they were eliminated by Uruguay (2-1) in the Round of 16.
• 1930 to 1950 – Did not enter
• 1954 – First round
• 1958 – Did not enter
• 1962 – Did not qualify
• 1966 – Did not enter
• 1970 to 1982 – Did not qualify
• 1986 to 1998 – First round
• 2002 – Semifinals (4th place)
• 2006 – First Round
• 2010 – Second Round
Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States