South Korea will be participating in their ninth FIFA World Cup in a row, having never missed out on qualification since 1986.
Having qualified for every edition of the competition since 1986, South Korea have managed to get out of the group stages only on two occasions.
The first of the two instances came in 2002, when playing on their home soil, the Reds made it all the way to the semifinals and finished in fourth place in the competition. More recently, they made it to the round of 16 in the 2010 edition in South Africa.
Their qualifying campaign was far from ideal, as they had to rely on Syria not defeating Iran, following their goalless draw against Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian qualifiers, to make it through to the main event.
Managed by Shin Tae-yong, South Korea will be third lowest ranked team in this summer’s event in Russia, currently occupying the 61st place in FIFA World Rankings. The worrying factor for them is that they have just won two games in the World Cup since their semifinal run in 2002.
Group and Fixtures
The Reds have been drawn in Group F, alongside reigning world champions Germany, while they will also have to contend with a dangerous Mexico side and surprise package Sweden.
South Korea kick off their World Cup against Sweden on the 18th of June, followed by Mexico five days later. They will then play against champions Germany on the 27th of June.
The manager announced the final 23-man squad that will be making the trip to Russia for the tournament.
2018 러시아 월드컵으로 향하는
대한민국 축구 국가대표팀의
최종 23명 명단을 발표합니다!
모두 하나되어 대한민국 선수들에게 승리의 함성을 외쳐주세요.
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) June 2, 2018
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)
South Korea will be led by influential and experienced midfielder Ki Sung-yeung, who only recently left Swansea City following their relegation from the Premier League in the 2017/18 campaign.
There was no space in the squad for Crystal Palace midfielder Lee Chung-yong, in spite of him having made 79 appearances for the national team, owing to a lack of playing time with his club, as was the case with former Sunderland and Borussia Dortmund attacker Ji Dong-won. Jeonbuk Hyundai left-back Kim Jin-su was another notable absentee, owing to a persistent knee problem.
Former Barcelona youth player Lee Seung-woo, who plays for Hellas Verona in Italy, did make the cut for the squad, days after making his international debut in a friendly. The 20-year old is a product of the famed La Masia academy and is held in high regards within the South Korean footballing community. Along with him, fellow rookies Moon Seon-min and Oh Ban-suk will also be on the plane to Russia.
A lot will be riding on RB Salzburg striker Hwang Hee-chan, with the 22-year old coming into the summer’s tournament on the back of a solid season with the Austrian outfit, where he scored 13 goals and set up 4 more in 37 appearances.
But the MVP of this South Korean side will be Tottenham Hotspur attacker Son Heung-min. The 25-year old enjoyed the best season of his career with Spurs, netting 18 times and registering 11 assists in 53 appearances across all competitions. Currently the top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history, his experience at the top level will come in very handy for Shin Tae-yong’s side in Russia.
The 49-year old was brought into the fold in June last year to replace German coach Uli Stielike, when South Korea’s chances of making it to the World Cup in Russia were dwindling, following defeats to Qatar and China. Despite a dodgy start, he managed to guide the Taeguk Warriors to the main event in Russia.
Shin Tae-yong knows the team well having worked with a number of players during his time as the manager of the South Korea U-20 side as well as the U-23 outfit in the Olympics, yet has found it difficult to get the best out of his squad till date.
Under him, the team have lacked an identity and seem like a side who are yet to figure out the best tactics. In the year since the 49-year old has been in charge of the squad, South Korea have experimented with several formations starting with the 3-4-3 to the 4-2-3-1, to the 4-4-2 along with a number of other variants of the three-at-the-back setup but haven’t looked settled in any of the formations.
However, the coach dropped a hint that he is likely to go in with the 4-4-2 in Russia in order to extract the best out of star man Son Heung-min.
The experienced Kim Seung-gyu is likely to get the nod between the sticks for the Reds once the tournament kicks off. He is likely to be screened by a back four comprising of the 31-year old Lee Yong at right-back and Hong Chul at left-back with Jung Seung-hyun and 51-time capped Kim Young-gwon in the heart of the defence.
Former La Masia starlet Lee Seung-woo is set to occupy the left wing and try to create opportunities going forward while 25-year old Incheon United star Moon Seon-min, who only made his international debut a week ago, is likely to get a starting berth on the right-flank, having scored in his first match. Captain Ki Sung-yeung will man the middle of the park along with Jung Woo-young.
Main man Son Heung-min will pair up with Hwang Hee-chan at the top and look to cause problems to opponents with their pace and zippy movement in the final third.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): S. Kim; Y. Lee, Y. Kim, S. Jung, C. Hong; S. Moon, Ki, W. Jung, S. Lee; Hwang, Son;
South Korea may have qualified for the World Cup for the ninth consecutive time, but their qualifying campaign was filled with indifferent and inconsistent displays. In Ki and Son they do have bonafide star players, but the quality of the rest of the squad, especially in defence, is a major worry for the Reds, especially going up against some dangerous attacking sides like Germany and Mexico.
With Germany all but guaranteed to top the group, it is hard to imagine Shin Tae-yong’s side put up a fight for the second spot against Mexico or Sweden for that matter, and a bottom finish in Group F seems to be the most likely outcome for them in Russia.