South Korea have not missed a World Cup since Mexico 1986, making this next instalment their ninth tournament in a row, and tenth overall. Yet despite being part of the World Cup furniture, and with the exception of the 2002 edition as co-hosts in South Korea and Japan, only once have they managed to progress beyond the group stage (in 2010). By the same token, the last three competitions have seen them win just two games.
During qualification this South Korean side was beset with problems and made life difficult for itself in the last clutch of games, going through by a hair’s breadth. In the last five matches they could only muster a win against Syria, and disappointingly slumped to defeat against China and Qatar, the tail-enders in the group.
Coach Shin Tae-Yong normally opts for a 4-2-3-1 formation, with a hard-working midfield and a bank of three sitting behind the striker. However, South Korea’s problems lie in defence, where they give the opposition too many chances – a weakness which they can get away with against lesser teams in the Asia qualifiers but will be found out against higher quality opposition in Russia.
Friendlies against Russia and Morocco saw them ship seven goals, dragging out a miserable run of seven defeats. Nevertheless, this side does have some players that are worthy of attention and have experience at the highest level; players which breathe life and hope into their chances of progressing.
Shin Tae-Yong took over from Uli Stielike after the German trainer was handed his P45 last June. The South Korea coach spent a number of years with the South Korean Football Federation overseeing the youth teams, before being handed the golden ticket to lead out his country in Russia.
|Preferred system: 4-2-3-1
A former playmaker in South Korean club sides and Australia’s Queensland Roar, he was also capped 23 times for the national side.
Under Shin Tae-Yong, South Korea laboured their way through an Asia qualifying campaign in which no side really stood out, and serious doubts linger over their chances, under new management, of getting out of the group.
Son Heung-min is the big name in the South Korea team, and is currently enjoying his third season at Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, forming part of a squad which is growing in quality and reputation as the weeks fly by and adapting seamlessly to the demands of club coach Mauricio Pochettino.
|Height: 183 cm
|Weight: 77 kg
However, despite not getting the domestic playing time he craves, and probably deserves, Son’s professionalism can never be questioned and the South Korean always delivers when called upon — the 14 goals he scored last season are testament to that claim.
In qualifying, he netted seven times to finish top scorer, but, as most Spurs fans will verify, Son is about much more than goals and can effectively play wide, assist and link up with team-mates.