World Cup One to Watch: Hwang Hee-chan – South Korea

Hwang might be the lesser known of South Korea's dynamic duo upfront, but he still has the capability to cause defences problems in Russia this summer.


REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

When it comes to South Korea, Son Heung-min is inevitably the first player that comes to mind. 

But Son is not the only forward the Koreans have based in Europe. Step forward Hwang Hee-chan. 

The 22-year-old has just finished his third season at Red Bull Salzburg, scoring 13 goals in all competitions, including in their remarkable Europa League quarter-final comeback against Lazio. 

Hwang has been linked with the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool in the past and could potentially put himself in the shop window with good performances in Russia. 

Pacy and direct, with the ability to finish with either foot, Hwang will be looking to release some of the attacking burden from Son Heung-min. 

In the group stage, South Korea face Mexico, whose centre backs could boast a combined age of 69. With Son and Hwang’s shared dynamism and trickery going forward, they could cause havoc. 

As a duo, they will be pivotal to South Korea’s chances of progressing to the knockout stages. 

Past Season

It’s been a patchy 2017-18 season for Hwang Hee-chan compared to the year before. 

He did manage to score in the Champions League in Salzburg’s away goals defeat to Rijeka, following it up with three goals in the first five games of the league season. 

This progress was curtailed by a hamstring problem, keeping him out for two months. 

A November return followed but goals were suddenly hard to come by for Hwang as he struggled to recapture his previous form, scoring just two league goals in the remainder of the campaign.

REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

He did, however, manage to play a key role in their successful cup runs, getting assists against Real Sociedad and Borussia Dortmund on the way to the Europa League semi-finals, this while bagging a brace in Salzburg’s 7-0 quarter-final win over Klagenfurt on the way to the final. 

Hwang finished the season with a thigh injury but has returned to fitness in time to start South Korea’s warm-up games against Honduras and Bosnia. 

International Experience

Hwang featured for South Korea in the 2016 Olympics, scoring in a 3-3 draw with Germany in Rio, having made his senior international debut earlier that year. 

He also scored against Qatar in qualifying for Russia 2018. However, his momentum was stalled by that hamstring injury in the autumn, ruling him out of four consecutive internationals.

REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Has 12 caps, scoring twice, with his other international goal coming in a friendly against Poland. 

Whilst Hwang is inexperienced at senior international level, his record at youth level was exceptional, scoring 19 goals in 24 games at under 17 to under-23 level. 

Tactical Profile

Although coach Shin Tae-yong likes to vary his tactics, South Korea are likely to play with a 4-4-2 in Russia this summer. 

Against weaker sides in qualifying, they would look to dominate but Shin recognises that they are up against a higher calibre of opposition this summer, and will probably look to play on the counter. 

Hwang’s role in this will be upfront with Son, and the duo have the potential to cause havoc with their pace and directness. 

With opponents likely to place a lot of focus on Son, Hwang could benefit from the extra space that his partner’s clever movement will create.

How do you think Hwang Hee-chan will perform in Russia? Let us know by commenting below.

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Etienne Fermie

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Étienne Fermie is a writer for RealSport, specialising in football and tennis.

Having featured in the Guardian and on LoveSport Radio, Étienne also co-founded the 3pm Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @etiennefermie 

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