City midfielder and Korea Republic set to start their World Cup campaign
This, Korea Republic’s eighth-successive World Cup finals, very nearly didn’t happen. Qualifying ahead of Uzbekistan on goal difference alone, coach Choi Kang-Hee was replaced by Hong Myung-Bo and was tasked with turning the team into legitimate World Cup contenders, as they were when he was captain in 2002.
Round 3 of Qualifying was fairly straightforward, with four wins from six, but the Koreans needed a point in their final game, at home to Iran, to eclipse the Uzbeks. The Iranians won 1-0, and qualification hung in the balance as Uzbekistan beat Qatar 5-1 – just one more Uzbek goal would have seen Korea slip into the Play-Offs.
Attacking has been Korea’s strength in qualifying, with the highly-rated pairing of Arsenal’s Park Chu-Yong and Koo Ja-Cheol of German side Mainz consistently causing defenders problems, but keeping them out at the other end has proved a challenge. The stats in this area have improved as expected under former sweeper Hong Myung-Bo, but with a very dangerous Belgium side to contend with in Group H, wins in the games against Russia and Algeria look like a must.
KIM AS A BLUEBIRD
It would be difficult to argue with the assertion that Kim’s Barclays Premier League highlight last season was his dramatic last-gasp equaliser against defending champions Manchester United at Cardiff City Stadium. The midfielder was in the starting eleven on the day the Bluebirds beat Manchester City 3-2 in arguably the most memorable result of the campaign, and also started both wins over Fulham, the away victory at Southampton and the successful FA Cup trips to Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers – a very impressive record on paper.
Twenty-one starts and a further seven appearances from the bench was a decent return for Kim’s first season at the top tier of the English league system, and has made him an easy selection in Hong Myung-Bo’s squad for Brazil.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-Min looks like being the most pivotal player in Korea’s ranks this summer, with the team earning a reputation for their fast counter-attacks in the last year under Hong Myung-Bo. Scoring twelve Bundesliga goals for Hamburg in 2012-13, Son earned his move to Bayer, where he was a part of their UEFA Champions League campaign last term.
Ki Sung-Yueng, who was influential in keeping Sunderland in the Premier League this season, acts as the outlet for the defence, creating space for the likes of Bolton Wanderers’ Lee Chung-Young to set off attacking out wide. It will be interesting to see how Hong deploys Ki – whether he sits in the deeper role as he did at Swansea City, or presses up the field in the way he was asked at the Stadium of Light, Ki could be one of Hong’s most important dilemmas.
WORLD CUP WARM-UP
World Cup preparations for South Korea have been fair from ideal as they gear up for Tuesday’s opener against Russia. A first warm-up saw Tunisia’s Zouhaier Dhaouadi’s goal hand South Korea a shock defeat in their first warm-up match on May 28. Kim Bo-Kyung came on for the final twenty-five minutes in place of Son Heung-Min, but the Koreans were unable to get back into it. Kim came on as a substitute in their second warm-up match against Ghana in Miami last Tuesday, although a 4-0 defeat, powered by a hat-trick from Jordan Ayew, saw Korea to back-to-back defeats ahead of their World Cup opener.
THE COACH: HONG MYUNG-BO
South Korea’s most-capped player, 45-year-old Hong Myung-Bo captained his country to fourth place in their home World Cup in 2002. Since hanging up his boots, Hong has taken charge of South Korea’s Under-20 and Under-23 sides, as well as taking in a spell as a coach at Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala under his former National Team boss, Guus Hiddink. He also coached the men’s Olympic team to bronze at London 2012.
Only having taken over last July, the Republic of Korea coach isn’t looking any further ahead than the Taeguk Warriors’ first fixture, when the opponents will be Fabio Capello’s Russia at Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba. “I feel that the most important match will be the opening match against Russia,” Hong told World Soccer magazine last month. “The result we get from that game will have a major influence on the games against Algeria and Belgium. That game will determine the flow of the group.”
THE SOUTH KOREAN VIEW
“South Korea has some depth on the wings and in midfield. Son Heung-Min, Lee Chung-Yong, Koo Ja-Cheol, Kim Bo-Kyung and Ki Sung-Yueng are still in their early-to-mid-twenties and should form the core for years to come. South Korea may be able to pull out a victory, but I don’t think it will be enough to put them in the round of sixteen.” – Yoo Ji-Ho, Yonhap News Agency
SOUTH KOREA 2014 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 Sung-Yueng (Swansea City), 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).
June 17 – RUSSIA VS SOUTH KOREA – CUIABA, 11PM GMT – BBC
June 22 – SOUTH KOREA VS ALGERIA – PORTO ALEGRE, 8PM GMT – ITV
June 26 – SOUTH KOREA VS BELGIUM – SAO PAULO, 9PM GMT - ITV
WATCH KIM BO KYUNG TAKE ON CITY'S OTHER WORLD CUP STAR GARY MEDEL ON EA SPORTS' 2014 FIFA WORLD CUP GAME BELOW