World Cup 2018: South Korea Preview
Widely regarded as the whipping boys of Group F, can the South Koreans perform above expectations to become one of this summer’s underdog success story’s?
After becoming the second Asian team to compete in the World Cup finals in 1954, South Korea had to wait until 2002 before they finally saw their side win the first game at this tournament.
Not only did they win their first final’s match, they went on to beat Portugal and claim a second victory on their way through the group stages, eventually getting as far as the semi-final.
However, they have suffered more disappointments than successes in recent years. Now taking part in the World Cup finals for the tenth time, they will be hoping to break out of the group stage for only the third time in their history.
Given current form and the calibre of opposition they’ve been drawn to face, this will prove an almighty challenge. They have proven people wrong in the past though and will look to once more turn dreams into a reality later this month.
Route to the finals
What started out so promisingly finished with narrow qualification.
Having won all of their eight matches without conceding a goal in the second stage of the Asian qualification section, the third and final stage proved more problematic.
An opening 3-2 win over China was one of only four wins from their ten fixtures. With defeats to Iran, China and Qatar, progression was left on a knife-edge for the Reds.
Their final two matches both produced draws, first at home against table-toppers Iran, then away in Uzbekistan on a nervous night in Tashkent.
While they did just enough to qualify and scored more goals than any other team in Group A, their defence was poor and they failed to score in half of their matches.
This unconvincing set of displays saw their manager replaced and South Korea limp into a set of friendlies which would only prove to serve as further worrying evidence regarding their chances in Russia.
Manager, Shin Tae-Yong, has a penchant for flipping between a 4-4-2 formation or employing a system which incorporates his favoured three centre-backs approach. As such, there’s a level of uncertainty as to how they will begin any given game.
The amount of defensive players included in their 23-man squad might suggests a lineup of five defenders this summer.
However, it very much feels like Shin Tae-Yong is still searching for his best options in both formation, style and personnel.
Key Player: Son Heung-min
Undoubtedly the South Koreans star player, Tottenham’s Son will carry the hopes of the nation on his shoulders.
His latest Premier League season saw him again improve his all-round game, scoring 12 goals and making eight assists from his 37 Premier League appearances.
Furthermore, he scored 4 goals from his 7 Champions League games to prove he can truly deliver at the highest level.
While he could be used as the main striker, he could equally prove useful on the left wing which would see him more involved in the game, rather than potentially finding himself isolated at the top of the pitch.
With Swansea’s Sung-Yueng Ki potentially playing in the left-sided central midfield position rather than his preferred right-sided role, the two Premier League players could link up well to provide some quality in the side going forward.
The three Group F matches are likely to get progressively harder for the Reds meaning they will need a good start to the competition if they’re to have any realistic hope of making the second round.
The opening fixture has them facing Sweden, a team who make up for their current lack of flair with good organisation and also a team looking to make a strong start to the group stage.
A talented but unpredictable Mexico team follows before they face the tournament favourites, Germany, in their final game.
While it may be the best time to play the German’s who could feasibly have already qualified by this point, they too could find themselves with little to play for unless they hit the ground running in Russia.
Prediction: Group Stage exit
Since Shin Tae-yong stepped up from the youth team to take over the manager’s role, he has failed to disprove the critics who accused him of possessing limited tactical knowledge.
With a squad of players who have shown themselves to be defensively weak, they are greatly in need of a tactical edge going into a tough round of fixtures.
Therefore, their expected failure at the group stage looks accurately prophetic and they are highly likely to be leaving Russia before the knock-out stages commence.
How do you think South Korea will do in Russia? Let us know by commenting below.