World Cup 2014 preview: South Korea – Can Son Heung-Min help cause a stir in Brazil?

Son Heung-Min

In Group H everyone is talking about Belgium’s World Cup 2014 side and whatever your view on Marc Wilmots’ side they do look likely contenders for top spot in the group. That leaves the second spot in a three-way battle between Russia, Algeria and South Korea.

The South Koreans changed their coach last year and the 2002 hosts will be feeling confident about causing some damage to their opponents. Their biggest concern, though, will come at the back where they are heavily susceptible to conceding goals.

In order to prove to the world that they have the potential to become an established force in world football South Korea have to reach the knock-out stages in Brazil. If they don’t they are at risk of being usurped by other nations.

Good to Know

Population: 50.2 million

Total World Cup Appearances: 9

Best Finish at a World Cup: Fourth, 2002

Most recent World Cup performance: Round of 16, 2010

Nickname: Taegeuk Warriors

Fun Fact: February 14th is a day dedicated solely to men rather than women as it is in most of the West. (via listverse.com)

Player with the most caps: Hong Myung-Bo

- Played centre-back for South Korea between 1990 and 2002

- Was captain during South Korea’s best ever performance in 2002

- Won 136 caps

- Often considered one of the greatest Asian players of all time

World Cup Squad

Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-Ryeong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-Gyu (Ulsan Horang-I), Lee Bom-Young (Busan I’Park)

Defenders: Park Joo-Ho (Mainz), Yun Suk-Young (QPR), Kim Young-Kwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Hwang Seok-Ho (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Hong Jeong-Ho (Augsburg), Kwak Tae-Hwi (Al Hilal), Lee Yong (Ulsan Horang-I), Kim Chang-Soo (Kashiwa Reysol).

Midfielders: Ki Seung-Yueng (Sunderland, on loan from Swansea), Ha Dae-Sung (Beijing Guoan), Han Kook-Young (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Jung-Woo (Guangzhou R&F), Son Heung-Min (Bayer Leverkusen), Kim Bo-Kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-Yong (Bolton Wanderers), Ji Dong-Won (Augsburg).

Forwards: Koo Ja-Cheol (Mainz), Lee Keun-Ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-Young (Arsenal), Kim Shin-Wook (Ulsan Horang-I).

Manager: Hong-Myung Bo

Yes, the man with the most caps in South Korean history is also now the manger following a change in coach in 2013. Hong was the captain during South Korea’s astonishing run to the semi-finals under Guus Hiddink in 2002. He previously managed the South Korean youth teams before becoming the coach of the senior side.

There is a strong Dutch influence in the way Hong’s teams play, he likes to field a 4-2-3-1 normally and barring any injuries this will be the way in which he lines up with in the opening game against Russia. Hong is idolised by the squad’s younger players and is reverting back to the principles of swift counter-attacks using South Korea’s pacey wide men to devastating effect.

As mentioned previously, the real headache for Hong comes at the back where South Korea’s defence looks suspect, particularly from set-pieces. The full-back area has been a real problem and number one goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong could be the man who lets the country down. The finest defender South Korea have ever produced needs to organise his troops well If they are to progress.

Best Player: Lee Chung-Yong

Bolton fans may disagree but for South Korea Lee Chung-Yong is the heartbeat of this team. Most of South Korea’s good work goes through him on the right hand side and if he hits top form he can be a real nightmare for opposition full-backs.

With quick feet both with and without the ball, Lee has the all the attributes to be a top winger and there is no doubt he would be playing with the world’s best had it not been for a horrible leg break suffered in 2011. His finishing leaves a lot to be desired but in terms of creating chances he is up there with the best.

Lee created 79 chances for his team-mates at Bolton this season, placing him in the top ten for chances created in the Championship. If Lee has a strong World Cup there is no reason he cannot secure a move back into the top flight of English football. Bolton have been kind to Lee since his injury and the player respects that but a player of that calibre deserves better than Championship football.

Best Young Player (23 or below): Son Heung-Min

Son Heung-Min is the current darling of South Korea football and, along with Lee, plays a key role in this team. Operating on the opposite flank to Lee, he is the polar opposite of his more experienced team-mate. Son will look to cut in from the left and get himself into goal-scoring opportunities on a regular basis, it is up to the rest of his team to find him.

Son ended his debut season with Bayer Leverkusen with ten Bundesliga goals and four assists, a very healthy return. His strong form has, in fact, led to links having been reported between Leverkusen’s Son Heung-Min and interest from Liverpool, with the Reds already having rounded off successful negotiations with the German side for midfielder Emre Can.

He is quick, can shoot powerfully with both feet and is a man that opposition defences will have to watch very carefully due to his intelligent movement.

If South Korea are to make it out of the group stages a lot will depend on how well Son and Lee play. If the pair turn up firing on all cylinders they could surprise a few people.

Key stat

In 2002 South Korea became the first nation to co-host a World Cup when they shared the tournament with Japan.

Squawka says…

Group H is tricky. Belgium are the favourites but this is the first time a lot of their players will have played on this stage and that could be their undoing. South Korea will be well organised and they have experience within their ranks and in the dugout.

If South Korea are to come unstuck at this stage it will be because of their defence which looks suspect. Set-pieces are also a problem so Hong’s men will probably have to look to outscore their opponents.

They will also be heavily reliant on Son and Park Chu-Young, the man who never plays. If those two can produce form South Korea will be a tough match for most and they should reach the last 16.

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Pete Sharland
Pete Sharland
Pete is the editor of our new Ball Ctrl section and is a Chelsea fan from London. He is an advocate of Ligue 1 football and is being converted to MLS week by week. He thinks few things are better than a well timed slide tackle.
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