World Cup Prospectus: South Korea
By Young Kim
Nickname: Taeguk Warriors
FIFA Ranking: 55
Previous World Cups: 1954, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010
How Did They Get There?
Lets talk about how lucky they were to get there. With a three point advantage over third place Uzbekistan, South Korea only needed to defeat or draw with Iran in order to secure a spot in the World Cup. Korea, being Korea of course, decided to make things hard for themselves and lost the match 1-0. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan was determined to not only beat Qatar*, but score more than enough goals to reach their first World Cup via goal differential. After Korea lost their match, the players stayed on the pitch to watch the impossible look almost possible. At injury time, Uzbekistan was ahead 5-1 and looked close to scoring several more in the final minute, but Korea let out a sigh of relief as the score remained. Uzbekistan was two goals away from stealing a spot from Korea.
*This country has no right whatsoever to host a World Cup. Should’ve went to USA who were more than qualified to host its second World Cup.
Opponents: Russia 6/17, Algeria 6/22, Belgium 6/26
Predicted Finish in Group H: Third
How can they escape this group:
Korea is in luck because their first two matches are against Russia and Algeria. All they have to do is win those first two matches. Since 2002, South Korea has been 3-0 in their opening World Cup matches. In order to beat Russia, they have to score first! Russia will play defensively and allow Korea to attack relentlessly until they tire themselves and go for the kill towards the end. Korea must be efficient with their goal-scoring chances and demoralize Russia from mounting a counter-attack. In the Algeria match, Korea must avoid competing against their opponents athletically and maintain a composed game on the ground. If Korea wins their first two matches, they can rest their key players in the Belgium match and prepare for whatever behemoth emerges from Group F in the Round of 16.
Why will they finish 3rd?
Between Russia and Algeria, Korea will likely defeat one of the teams in impressive manner and lose in the ugliest fashion against the other. Korea has a habit to playing down to their competition, despite being more than capable of winning easily. They have inconsistently won against teams they should easily handle. My guess is they’ll beat Russia, lose to Algeria, setting themselves up for a must-win against Belgium. Fat chance they’ll make it out.
Grading each position:
Keeper: I’m contemplating about placing a Craigslist ad for a new goalkeeper. Korea’s main keeper, Jung Sung Ryung, has been on a decline and has played like an aged veteran on the wrong side for 40. The problem is he’s only 29 (or so the records suggest). How much worse has he gotten?
The glimmer of hope for the Korean back post in 2010 somehow degenerated into this listless and careless player who claims to be a goalie. He’s as intelligent as Sloth from the Goonies. His reflexes lag like Sloth from the Goonies. His legs barely move like Sloth from the Goonies. It’s like Sloth went to Korea for that plastic surgery and decided to play goalie for the South Korea national team.
Anytime a set piece is played in the air, I find myself clenching my butt and biting my nails for a long three seconds because I know that there’s a 75 percent chance that Jung will misplay the ball and concede a goal. It’s just an inevitable disaster waiting to happen. The backups aren’t as impressive due to lack of experience. A clear prediction after this World Cup is that Korea will place a new keeper and nurture him for 2018. 2012 Olympic hero Lee Bum Young perhaps?
Defense: Hong Jeong Ho and Kim Young Gwon may be the best center back pairing in Korean football history since Kim Tae Young and Choi Jin Cheul in 2002. That really doesn’t say much since no one outside South Korea really knows these guys, but it gives Korea some false sense of security that their backline is stable. Flanked by Lee Yong and Kim Jin Su, this defense boasts high quality by Asian standards, but on the world stage they will leave fans holding their breath every time the opponents bring the ball into their box. Watch how 11 Koreans try to play defense by chasing the dribbler, completely missing their assignment leading to an easy goal two passes later. Every defensive possession is like a new story to unfold. Korea will be a fun team to watch, for hilarious reasons.
Midfield: It’s likely Hong Myung Bo will play the 4-2-3-1 formation since it best suits the personal he has on this squad. Sunderland’s Ki Seung Yong will play the central midfield and look for ways to create some sort of offense. Bolton Wanderer’s Lee Chung Yong will flank the right while Bayer Leverkeusen’s “Sonsation” will play the left wing. Mainz 05 wild horse Koo Ja Cheol will play behind the striker, and Cardiff City’s Kim Bo Kyung can supplant any of these guys off the bench, thus giving Korea their first all-European midfield.
Oh wait, I totally forgot someone. Kashiwa Reysol’s defensive juggernaut Han Kook-Young will be playing the defensive midfield, which means if Ki wants to have the freedom to move the ball up the pitch and find his open man comfortably, Han will have to do his job well. The question is, how well can a J-Leaguer perform on the world stage? European clubs scouted him, but he opted to stay in the J-League to safely secure playing time and be fit for the World Cup. We also saw some gutsy performances against Brazil and Switzerland, but his recklessness might raise concerns about potential disciplinary issues. The defensive midfield never was a strong position in Korean football history, and it’s likely the fact that it’s an unattractive position to play that has deterred Koreans for wanting to play it. It’s scary to imagine how Korea’s ability to put pressure on the attack and rests on the feet of a J-League midfielder.
Forwards: Watford FC’s Park Chu Young is the likely starter for the national side despite the fact he didn’t score a single goal for his clubs this season. After a spectacular showing in the 2012 London Olympics, things just went downhill for Park. He never left the bench for Arsenal, he transferred to Watford and after two short appearances he got hurt. Yet he somehow redeemed himself for the national side after scoring the opening goal against Greece in a friendly. However, Park’s goal doesn’t show how great he is. It just shows how thin Korea’s frontline is. Kim Shin Wook is a top performer in the K-league, but the 196 cm giant just can’t find the net due to his immobility. Ji Dong Won was stripped of his confidence in Sunderland, but had his career salvaged after being loaned to FC Augsburg where he is recovering from the contagious disease called Paulo Di Canio-itis (Jozy Altidore is still bedridden from this). Pretty much Korea’s chance to find the back of the net rests on a guy who saw less than 10 matches this season in the club level. Good luck.
Coaching: Hong Myung Bo was rushed into this position right after Korea limped their way through the qualifying rounds. Somehow his presence removed the bitter aftertaste of Choi Kang Hee football and rejuvenated the squad into playing a more pressuring and direct style of football (sort of like what Hiddink did in 2002). He said that he will have no bias in his selection, but most players he picked were the ones who had success playing in his U-20 World Cup or the 2012 Summer Olympic team (both teams exceeded expectations). Of course, that’s not a bad thing. Hong seems set with the selection he has made and while there are no qualms regarding his likely starting 11, he can only hope that his players can readjust to his play and get accustomed with one another over the course of training camp and their two friendlies before the cup.
Will they win the World Cup?
Bottom Line: If the same referees from 2002 are present, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!
What’s To Love About Korea?
South Korea boasts the widest variety of dishes, but the most notable in the world is their barbecue. From pork bellies marinated in red wine to short ribs, Korean barbecue is certainly an enjoyable cuisine to have with a side of soju (potato wine) and assorted vegetables.
They’re also known for their professional e-gaming leagues for online games like Starcraft and League of Legends. South Korea is known for being the best E-Gaming nation in the world and boasts professional gamers who are paid by sponsorships to win tournaments and make TV appearances. They celebrate the world’s best Starcraft player like the way Portugal celebrates Ronaldo.
Their fans are something else. The Red Devils are one of the most emotional and excitable fans in the football world that aren’t prone to violence. They pretty much stole the show in 2002. In every Korean football match, they throw concerts, write new songs, close down half of Seoul to throw a parade, swallow 16 ounces of sadness after losing a match, and then go on the Internet to criticize whichever player was responsible for losing the match to the extent of cyber bullying. Can’t you tell how much I love and hate being a Korean?