South Korea FIFA 2014 World Cup Team Guide

Christopher AtkinsContributor IMay 21, 2014

South Korea FIFA 2014 World Cup Team Guide

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    Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    East Asian powerhouse South Korea enter this summer's World Cup in improving shape. There have been promising recent wins over Greece and Switzerland, albeit tempered by defeat to Russia, that suggest Hong Myung-bo may just be finding the right formula.

    Hong has only been in the job a year, with Korea having opted to change manager post-qualification. The former international captain has opted for a young side based upon his former Olympic charges, many of whom are now Europe-based.

    Korea have recent pedigree when it comes to reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup, having done so on two of the past three occasions. That will be their minimum expectation once more.

    So, what do Korea have to offer this time around?

Road to the Finals

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    Despite qualifying for the World Cup without the need for a playoff, Korea still saw the need to part company with head coach Choi Kang-hee after the qualification campaign. That, in itself, should say enough about the standard of performance.

    While they breezed through the first group stage of two, finishing on top of a group that also contained Lebanon, Kuwait and UAE, they encountered trouble in the final round.

    In the end, it was only goal difference that saw them avoid a playoff fixture at Uzbekistan's expense. Given that Korea possess some of Asia's most sought-after talents, it was considered simply not good enough to finish comfortably second to Iran.

    Performances have improved since the arrival of Hong Myung-bo, but it still remains that Korea should be performing better than they have been.

    With time together ahead of the World Cup, Hong will hope to foster a team spirit similar to that of his own side in 2002 and take Korea to the knockout stages.

Squad

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    Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

    Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Hyundai), Lee Bum-young (Busan IPark)

    Defenders: Kim Jin-su (Albirex Niigata), Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Yoon Suk-young (QPR), Hwang Seok-ho (Hiroshima Sanfrecce), Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg) Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Lee Yong (Ulsan Hyundai), Kim Chang-su (Kashiwa Reysol)

    Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng (Sunderland), Ha Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Han Kook-young (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Jong-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton Wanderers), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen)

    Forwards: Koo Ja-cheol (FSV Mainz 05), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Watford), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Hyundai)

Manager Profile: Hong Myung-Bo

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    Capped on 136 occasions for his country, Hong Myung-bo is the greatest defender in South Korean football history and was captain of the side that came in fourth against all odds in the 2002 tournament.

    Since retirement in 2004, he has earned his spurs with South Korea's Under-20 and then Under-23 sides, earning bronze medals at both the Asian Games and the 2012 Olympic Games with the latter. That result set him up to eventually take the reins of the senior national team last summer.

    Hong has leaned heavily upon the players that served him so well in the Olympics to build what is a young squad for this summer's World Cup. He is also fortunate to be able to count upon the experiences of more Europe-based players than at any time in Korea's history.

    His trust in players who have served him well in the past is most visible through the selections of both Park Chu-young and Yun Suk-young, neither of whom have enjoyed much playing time at the club level.

    Hong has also spent time at Anzhi observing former national team manager Guus Hiddink, a man who has greatly influenced Hong's vision of the game in which he attempts to play open, attacking football.

Star Man: Ki Sung-Yueng

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    Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    If South Korea are to reach their potential this summer, they will need to ensure they are able to retain possession in midfield and bring their skilled attacking players into play. Both tasks will be primarily the responsibility of Sunderland loanee Ki Sung-yueng.

    Ki has enjoyed an excellent second season in the Premier League, acting as a major driving force for the Black Cats as they both reached the final of the League Cup and avoided what had seemed to be certain relegation.

    Following the arrival of Uruguayan manager Gus Poyet, Ki was put in place at the heart of the midfield and he excelled with the responsibility of the role.

    If things had played out differently, though, the Korean may not have been selected to attend this summer's World Cup. Ki had been at loggerheads with former national team coach Choi Kang-hee and it was only the arrival of Hong Myung-bo last summer that saw him return to the setup.

    Ki is an excellent passer of the ball and, as he has shown in his time in both England and Scotland, diligent in his defensive work. If he can perform to his best, Korea stand a real chance of performing well in Brazil.

One to Watch: Son Heung-Min

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    Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    If Korea have one attacking player who other sides will be paying particular attention to, it is Leverkusen winger Son Heung-min. While the 21-year-old may only recently have come into an important role for his country, he has shown over the past two Bundesliga seasons that he is a real talent.

    With Lee Chung-yong set to play a more traditional wingers role on the right of a front three, Son will look to use his trickery and pace to cut in from the left flank to cause trouble in the area.

    It will be the responsibility of the likes of Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol to ensure he gets the ball in the right areas, but if Korea can consistently isolate him one-on-one against opponents, they will be in business.

    Son is the one player of truly top-level potential in the Korea squad and, indeed, a starring role at the World Cup could even see him move on from Leverkusen later in the summer—just a year after moving from Hamburg.

    To win games in major tournaments, a moment of individual quality is often required as two evenly matched sides come crashing head-to-head. For Korea, Son is the most likely to come up with those special moments.

World Cup Record

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    Besides qualifying once in 1954, South Korea did not grace the World Cup stage until 1986. Since that tournament, they have now qualified for their eighth successive competition.

    Only on two occasions have they advanced past the first round, reaching the Last 16 last time around and, memorably, finishing fourth when they hosted the competition alongside Japan in 2002.

    That tournament was a turning point for Korean football and an ever-increasing number of their players are now finding their way to top European leagues.

    They are unlikely to match their 2002 performance this time around, but will feel confident of emerging from the group stage.

     

    Switzerland 1954: Group Stage

    Mexico 1986: Group Stage

    Italy 1990: Group Stage

    United States of America 1994: Group Stage

    France 1998: Group Stage

    South Korea and Japan 2002: Fourth Place

    Germany 2006: Group Stage

    South Africa 2010: Round of 16

Group Stage Fixtures

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    South Korea will be confident of making a splash at the 2014 World Cup, with Belgium, Russia and Algeria making up one of the less traditionally prestigious groups at the competition.

    While none of the three should be underestimated, Korea will feel that they can be a match for any of their opponents and conditions should also play into their favour with their players used to heat and humidity.

    With Belgium likely the strongest opponent they will face, Korea must ensure a good points haul from their opening two games. The middle fixture of the three against Algeria will, in particular, be considered must win.

     

    Russia vs. South Korea

    June 17

    Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba

     

    South Korea vs. Algeria

    June 22

    Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre

     

    South Korea vs. Belgium

    June 26

    Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo