Group F: South Korea are up against it in Group of Death

It was a close call in Asian qualifying for South Korea but they managed to slip in

South Korea’s Son Heung-min will be key to their chances of progressing at the World Cup. Photo: Getty Images

South Korea’s Son Heung-min will be key to their chances of progressing at the World Cup. Photo: Getty Images

 

South Korea (500-1)

Who are they?

It’s 16 years since South Korea’s heroics at their home World Cup when they saw off Italy to reach the semi-finals. While the country has been in the headlines recently it’s been almost exclusively to do with relations with their nearest neighbours and not the national team who will have their work cut out for them in what looks to be the closest thing to a group of death at this year’s tournament. They only managed to scrape through qualifying and recent friendly losses to Poland and Northern Ireland won’t inspire much confidence.

World Cup moment

For this we must go back to 2002. After finishing as runners-up in their group, South Korea were drawn against the mighty Italy in the last 16. Roy Keane was at home watching from his couch (probably) as one of the World Cup’s greatest shocks materialised. After forcing the game to extra-time with a 1-1 draw which included a missed penalty from Ahn Jung-hwan, it looked like spotkicks would be needed to separate the teams. That was until Ahn rose up to meet a header in the 117th minute, this time getting the better of Gianluigi Buffon and sending the nation of South Korea into chaotic celebrations. A reported three million people flooded the streets of Seoul in delirious scenes. Even the chairman of North Korea’s football association, Ri Kwang-gun, wrote to his South Korean counterpart offering congratulations. Another moment like that this year could do a lot for tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Jung Hwan Ahn heads past Gianluigi Buffon to send South Korea into dreamland in 2002. Photo: Gary M. Prior/Getty Images
Jung Hwan Ahn heads past Gianluigi Buffon to send South Korea into dreamland in 2002. Photo: Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

How did they get here?

By the skin of their teeth. With just four wins from 10 games – all of which came at home – South Korea relied on the failures of others to see their run of appearing at every World Cup since 1986 continue. A tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria’s failure to beat Iran, was enough for them to book their place in Russia.

The gaffer

Despite qualifying for Russia, South Korea’s poor performance along the way was enough for manager Uli Stielike to lose his job with two games remaining. He has been replaced by Shin Tae-Yong who, so far, has not managed too much of a change in fortunes. The 49-year-old has managed the national team at a number of underage levels and obviously knows the system well but the World Cup will be a different matter altogether.

The main man

Such is the hero status of Tottenham’s Son Heung-min in South Korea that, when Spurs are being shown on Korean television, the scoreline graphic simply shows Son’s face instead of the Spurs crest. Imagine RTÉ doing something similar with John O’Shea. Son is the highest Asian scorer in Premier League history and comes into this World Cup off the back of his best season to date. He is by far and away the best South Korean player – scoring 20 goals in his 63 appearances for his country – but it’s hard to see them progressing on his talent alone.

The one to watch

Kwon Chang-hoon is a 23-year-old attacking midfielder who plays for Dijon in Ligue 1 and is widely regarded as South Korea’s next big hope to make it big in Europe. The midfielder was joint top scorer at his club this season and has already netted four times in 16 games for his country. A standout performance in Russia could see him join Son and Ki Sung-Yueng in England in the not too distant future.

The verdict

While there is no real Group of Death at this year’s tournament, Group F may as well be for South Korea as they face Mexico, Sweden and Germany. It will be a surprise if they manage to finish anywhere better than last.

The squad

Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC)

Defenders: Kim young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu), Yun Yong-sun (Seongnam FC), Oh Ban-suk (Jeju United), Kim Min-woo (Sangju Sangmu), Park Joo-ho (Ulsan Hyundai), Hong Chul (Sangju Sangmu), Go Yo-han (FC Seoul), Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea City), Jung Woo-young (Vissel Kobe), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa FC), Koo Ja-cheol (FC Augsburg), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United)

Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur), Hwang Hee-chan (FC Red Bull Salzburg).

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.