South Korea were one of the first sides to qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia but, after their controversial successes in 2002, they’ve rarely contributed to the tournament in an exciting way. They will be looking to change that this time around as their team includes a couple of top-class players who play at the very biggest clubs in Europe but, in case you wanted to improve your Korean football knowledge, here is more than you need to know about South Korea.
How did they qualify?
They came second in their Asian qualifying group, just the 7 points off Iran in top spot, which secured automatic qualification. Their group included world heavyweights Syria, Uzbekistan, China and Qatar so they’ve really outdone themselves by scraping through as runners-up.
Who will I recognise?
Unless you’re a huge fan of the K-League (the first division of Korean football), not many of them. The standout player is of course Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son and he’s worshipped in his homeland at almost a godly status. Son has a decent scoring record for his country of 17 in 57 games but it’s nothing compared to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Thomas Muller. Regular Premier League viewers will also know the likes of Ki Sung-Yueng and Lee Chung-Yong who have 169 appearances between them for their national side. Sunderland fans will remember Ji Dong-Won, who currently plays his football in Germany, because of his famous last-minute winner against Manchester City for the Black Cats but the sensible Sunderland fans will remember that other than that goal, he wasn’t setting the world alight during his time in the North East.
Who should I watch out for?
38-year-old Lee Dong-Gook has been a regular in the Korean squad for almost two decades but he has been omitted from the most recent one. In case you’re wondering why I’ve singled out an old aged pensioner, he has scored over 30 goals for his country in over a century of games so, unless he retires before next summer, expect to see him in the squad for the World Cup just because of experience. Not only is he a successful footballer but he’s also appeared on a Korean reality show called ‘The Return of Superman’ where he has to take care of his 5 children without his wife for 48 hours. It is as bizarre as it sounds and you can look it up on YouTube. After being slightly sidetracked there, I can recommend you keeping a close eye on Kwon Chang-Hoon of Dijon. The young attacking midfielder has more international goals than Dele Alli in half the number of games and he may be an influential part of the Korean side by next summer.
Who’s in charge?
Former AFC Champions League winner, Sin Tae-Yong, is at the helm of South Korea and has a wealth of managerial experience with Australian and Korean club sides as well as having roles in the Korean youth system. He was appointed in June 2017 after a rocky qualifying campaign up until then but he’s not an entertainer. His only two games so far have been two goalless draws.
What’s their World Cup record like?
When they’re not bribing referees it’s pretty average. They hosted the competition in 2002 along with Japan and somehow made the semi-finals in very controversial fashion. The officiating in Korea’s knockout games with Spain and Italy led to hundreds of thousands of official complaints but they couldn’t beat Germany, even with 12 men. Other than that particular tournament, Korea rarely make it past the group stages so don’t expect much from them in Russia next year unless FIFA decide to dive back into the brown envelopes.
And finally, have they got any chance of winning the World Cup?
Like England, they’ll just be there to make up the numbers.