South Korea struggled throughout the qualification to FIFA World Cup 2018, because of both offensive and defensive troubles. This poor run to Russia 2018 resulted in the firing of Uli Stielike, who has been replaced by former under-23s and under-20s manager Shin Tae-yong. He isn’t a great tactician, but a motivator loved by the locker room. There is some decent attacking quality over there although South Korea scored just once away in a not-so-strong final FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying group where Shin Tae-yong’s side only collected four wins out from 10 matches.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min and Swansea City’s Ki Sung-Yeung are the brightest stars. The squad also have some good midfielders such as Lee Jae-sung.
In defence, the Koreans lack a classy no.1 goalkeeper, even if they have a couple of good options in Kim Seung-gyu and Cho Hyun-woo. Kim should be the starter, but Cho could provide competition between the posts.
On the back-line, assuming Shin will opt for a four-man lineup, South Korea continue their good tradition at the full-back positions with Lee Yong on the right, and Kim Min-woo, and Park Joo-ho battling for the left-back starting spot. All three projected full-backs have offensive skills that make them able to push higher up to provide offensive width.
Many troubles lie at the centre-back spots. Jang Hyun-soo and Kim Min-jae are the likely starters, but they are not a sure thing and Kim Min-jae also suffered an injury that could keep him out of the FIFA World Cup 2018. Should Shin fail to risk Jeonbuk’s 21-year-old, Hong Jeong-ho should be the starter paired to Jang.
In midfield, the aforementioned Ki Sung-Yeung will anchor the middle of the field. Who will pair him? Jung Woo-young played a lot alongside Ki Sung-Yeung through the qualifying rounds to Russia 2018, but Lee Chang-min is another viable option. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ Lee Jae-sung should start out wide.
Up top, Tottenham’s Son Heung-min is the main threat with RB Salzburg’s Hwang Hee-chan battling to pair him: he’s a very mobile and hard-worker forward. Troyes’ Suk Hyun-jun has been left out from the provisional 28-man roster due to his ineffective performances this Ligue 1 season while Lee Keun-ho was one of the five players cut in Shin Tae-young’s final 23-man roster. Jeonbuk’s forward Kim Shin-wook has also been included. The list includes 12 players from the Korean league and 5 playing in Europe.
Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC)
Kim young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu), Yun Yong-sun (Seongnam FC), Kwon Kyung-won (Tianjin Quanjian), 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)
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)
Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur), Hwang Hee-chan (FC Red Bull Salzburg).
From a tactical point of view, Shin Tae-yong relies on a 4-4-2 formation, but he also experimented a fluid three-man backline system which is a must for almost every Korean head coach after Guus Hiddink, so it is unclear how Korea will be lined up at Russia 2018.
Shin Tae-yong’s South Korea defending in a 4-4-2 with Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan up top in the friendly game against Honduras.
The same 49-year-old Shin revealed to the press that South Korea could “come up with new tactics,” different from 4-4-2, in their opening game against Sweden on June 18. That said, the initial 4-4-2 too looks fluid with the team in possession.
South Korea trying to build out from the back starting out from a fluid 4-4-2 against Honduras. Both full-backs are high up the field (right-back Go Yo-han out of picture).
Should Shin Tae-yong line up a three-man backline, the formation should be a 3-4-3, which better suits Kim Min-woo and Ko Yo-han, the wing-backs the Korean coach selected in his final 23-man squad. With this formation in place, rumours are that Shin Tae-yong could make Jung Woo-young a centre-back, raising questions about who will pair Ki Sung-yueng in the centre of the field. Moving left-back Park Joo-ho to central midfield remains an option. That said, Korea’s three-man backline has been trashed in a friendly game against Bosnia.
South Korea’s three-man backline in possession against Bosnia.
Whatever his decision will be, Shin Tae-yong should insist on having his side moving the ball out from the back in the build-up with the goal to play a kind of football based on quick and short passes through the field.
Player to watch
Son Heung-Min is the most coveted of the team’s players. The 25-year-old forward is not a regular with Spurs, but he still scored 12 Premier League goals, also adding six assists and providing an 11.02 in terms of expected goals (xG). Son Heung-Min improved since he joined Tottenham from Bayer Leverkusen back in 2015 and he’s the key man in South Korea’s offence. The only question is where Son Heung-Min can produce at his best. In fact, he has been lined up on the left, as a lone striker and also as a second forward under Mauricio Pochettino. In the friendly games against Colombia and Serbia, Son Heung-Min has been used as a forward in a 4-4-2 formation and the team looked improved, providing two decent performances. Surely South Korea’s chances to progress to the knockout stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup rely on “Sonaldo”.
Young player to watch
Hwang Hee-chan. The 22-year-old forward raised eyebrows with his display at RB Salzburg, where he played 37 games (all competitions included) scoring 13 goals in the 2018 season, continuing his development. Hwang Hee-chan is quick and consistent and showed glimpses of class that made him the projected next Korean football star. Good at centre-forward, he can also be lined up on the flanks, much like Son.
Lee Seung-woo. The former Barcelona wonderkid has surprisingly been included in South Korea’s final 23-man squad for the FIFA World Cup 2018. He could be the wildcard player to watch. The 20-year-old forward and winger joined Hellas Verona in Serie A last summer and he also scored his first Italian goal with a fantastic effort. He didn’t play so much this season, but he still showed his dribbling and speed skills. His change of direction and technical ability with the ball at his feet earned him the nickname of the “Korean Lionel Messi”. Even if this is too much, Lee is one of the best young players in Asia.