Fourteen matches and no losses gets South Korea through Asian qualifying and into World Cup 2010, but perception holds they can not be real contenders. Despite relative struggles from group mates Nigeria (who have failed to impress since the end of qualifying) and Greece (whose unimpressive stretch extends through qualifying), the 2002 semifinalists have received little respect from the punditry filling out their World Cup brackets.
Perhaps it is because South Korea failed to make the second round in Germany. They don't have an elite goal scorer, captivating playmaker, enforcer at the back, or elite goalkeeper. They come from a region neglected (by us) because of its time zone, and without a notable manager guiding the side, it's difficult to conjure an image of what they do and what they will do. Memories of a fit, willing, difficult team do not inspire dreams of long World Cup runs, begging the question what (if anything) there is to like about South Korea.
Although South Korea did not make the knockout round in Germany, they were the best finisher who failed to advance (1-1-1), and given they have added important parts (Lee Chong-Yong, for one) and are in a group with less depth, a relativistic comparison should pique our curiosity. While they still don't have an elite goal scorer, they have five players who can score goals: Lee, Park Cho-Young, Park Ji-Sung, Lee Dong-Gook, and Ki Sung-Yong, whose distribution could add a playmaking element that hasn't been as prominent in the past. The back is a bit suspect - be it in the line or in goal - but the improvements the team's made plus the qualifying results should open people's minds to the possibility that South Korea could be dangerous.
They are still one of the most disciplined, fit, and technically sound teams in the world. With the improved quality of the K-League, the baseline talent level of the team has been raised. Add in the emergence of players like Lee Chong-Yong and Ki Sung-Yong with their continued rise as a soccer power and you have a nation that is positioned to take advantage of a thin Group B.
How They Got Here
South Korea entered Asian qualifying in the third round and went undefeated through a four team group that included North Korea. They were, however, unable to defeat their rivals to the north, something they were allowed to correct when they were drawn in with the North Koreans in fourth (and final) round qualifying. Again, South Korea went undefeated in the group, finally getting a win over North Korea while also avoiding the pitfalls of former World Cup qualifiers Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Iran.
Players To Watch
Lee Young-Pyo is the most experienced player on the team with 113 caps. The 33-year-old Al-Hilal left back will be playing in his third and final World Cup. His speed and skill on the ball will make his combination with Park Ji-Sung difficult for their opposition to manage.
Lee Chong-Yong shined for Bolton this year in England and is the team's best player, a fact mildly obscured by his age: only 21. On the right with fellow 21 year old Ki Sung-Yong in the middle, South Korea has augmented their squad with two class players who will be a part of two or three more World Cup-aspiring squads. The question is whether this is too much, too soon for two vital cogs in the Asian Tigers' machine.
Park is the icon. He is the most recognizable Korean thanks to his time with Manchester United - the player who has set the standard for so many of the Lees and Kis that are coming through the system. Though he lacks Lee's skill, the captain is the Tigers' most important player. Having been through the battles with United, he's capable of guiding his team through the tough, decisive moments which will define matches against Nigeria and Greece.
How Far They Can Get
Knockout stage is a realistic goal, and once there, the team is capable of beating any team that does not play to their potential. However, this is not a team build for a long run. With their deficiencies at the back, it's only a matter of time before they run into a team with the skill to find a weakness.
|June 12||Nigeria||Johannesburg (Ellis Park)|
|June 17||Korea Republic||Johannesburg (Soccer City)|
|Lee Woon-Jae||37||131||0||Suwon Bluewings (Korea)|
|Kin Young-Kwang||26||14||0||Ulsan Hyundai (Korea)|
|Jung Sung-Ryong||25||16||0||Seongnam Ilhwa (Korea)|
|Lee Young-Pyo||33||113||5||Al-Hilal (Saudi Arabia)|
|Cha Du-Ri||29||47||4||Freiburg (Germany)|
|Kim Dong-Jin||28||61||2||Ulsan Hyundai (Korea)|
|Oh Beom-Seok||25||38||2||Ulsan Hyundai (Korea)|
|Kang Min-Soo||24||31||0||Suwon Bluewings (Korea)|
|Cho Yong-Hyung||26||32||0||Jeju United (Korea)|
|Lee Jung-Soo||30||25||2||Kashima Antlers (Korea)|
|Kim Hyung-Il||26||2||0||Pohand Steelers (Korea)|
|Kim Nam-Il||33||93||2||Tom Tomsk (Russia)|
|Park Ji-Sung||29||88||12||Manchester United (England)|
|Kim Jung-Woo||28||55||4||Gwangju Phoenix (Korea)|
|Lee Chung-Yong||21||24||3||Bolton Wanderers (England)|
|Ki Sung-Yong||21||22||4||Celtic (Scotland)|
|Kim Jae-Sung||26||8||2||Pohang Steelers (Korea)|
|Kim Bo-Kyung||20||6||0||Oita Trinita (Japan)|
|Ahn Jung-Hwan||34||71||17||Dalian Shide (China)|
|Lee Dong-Gook||31||83||25||Jeonbuk Motors (Korea)|
|Park Chu-Young||24||41||14||Monaco (France)|
|Yeom Ki-Hun||27||34||3||Suwon Bluewings (Korea)|
|Lee Seung-Yeoul||21||8||3||FC Seoul (Korea)|
South Korea Team Data Card
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