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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #1 For 6/4/14: #25 Korea Republic (South Korea)

Photo from Getty Images 

Projected Formation

                    Sung-Ryong 

   Yun Suk  -  Hong - Kim Young  - Park  Joo 

         Kim  Bo  -   Ki -    Koo  -   Lee 
    
                                Son                
                          
                     Park     

Prominent Bench Options: Ji Dong-Won 

The Runthrough: 

Hong Myung-Bo knew his nation required his services on the touchline just like it did as its country's most capped player ever. 

A second defeat to bitter AFC rivals Iran, this time at home, saw the Taegeuk Warriors barely qualify out of their group and spelled the demise of then manager Choi Kang-Hee. Hong, after guiding the Olympic squad in 2012 to an impressive third place finish (with their victory over their other bitter AFC rivals Japan in the bronze medal match), assured the local media that South Korea needed to return to the style that is synonymous with their philosophy: High tempo, high energy, high fitness and endurance. Whether that will lead to another solid showing in a World Cup Finals is left to be determined. 

Korea will go into Group G having the most recent World Cup experience out of the four participants.   Trendy darkhorse pick Belgium and UEFA counterparts Russia haven't been in the final tournament since 2002, while Algeria just ended their 24-year-old drought in South Africa 2010 with a last place finish in their group. And a decent 2-0 victory over the always difficult Greece side provided another example of Korea, despite their qualifying struggles, being a reputable Asian power to the global community. 

Hong will hope his likely centerback pairing of 24-year-olds Hong Jeong Ho and Kim Young-Gwon play in the tactical disclipine and tireless spirit that he brought to the Korea Republic, especially in their magical 2002 semifinal run on home soil that earned him the Bronze Ball. Despite a first season at Augsburg that saw him in and out of the lineup, Hong was up to the test in helping the plucky Bundesliga side give Bayern Munich their first loss in league play in April. Despite only playing two more times the rest of the season, Hong was solid and garnered a man of the match performance in a scoreless draw with Hertha Berlin.

Although Hong's projected partner Kim has yet to play in a UEFA league, the Guangzhou Evergrande man is developing quite nicely. He was an integral member of that bronze medal Olympic side (who won that medal without star Son Heung-Min), giving his manager first person knowledge of how reliable he could be. Still neither of them are the paciest or strongest of centerbacks and will need to not fall asleep with the likes of Lukaku, Kerzakov, and Feghouli, with their midfield runners, trying to beat them over the top. 

The fullback situation is a little dicey at the moment for Hong after seeing talented 21-year-old left back Kim Jin-Su get injured in their 1-0 home sendoff lost to Tunisia. Park Joo-Ho returns to the squad after a great recovery from his foot injury, hungry to build off a fine season with Mainz 05.  Yun Suk-Young also will be in contention for the left back spot after helping play a role in QPR returning to the Premier League, including a Man of the Match performance against Middlesborough in March. Who will play at right back is a major question, as Yun filled in vs Tunisia while Yong Lee played on the left. Although Lee has done a commendable job, manager Hong will hope Kim can get back healthy in time before the opener against Russia on the 17th. 

Jung Sung-Ryong has become a great replacement for his mentor, the legendary Lee Woon-Jae, and will give Hong confidence in who he has in net. Underrated globally is Jung in the net, who was another massive member of that Olympic squad. This could be his breakthough and become a Korean keeper in a prominent UEFA league, something that even Lee didn't do in his career.   

Korea Republic's midfield is once again technically adapt and represents the soul of the team despite the long retirement of stalwart Park Ji Sung. Ki-Seung Yung received constant rave reviews for being one the few positive stories for Sunderland before ending his club season in April with long term tendonitis problems. He is back healthy now with full rest, something most European regulars don't get after a long season. Also coming in after an encouraging club year is Koo Ja-Cheol, who linked up with Park Joo-Ho to help Mainz to a wonderful 7th place Bundesliga finish.

On the outside though is a different story, as energetic English based players Kim Bo-Kyung and Lee Chung-Yong saw their sides have vastly demoralizing campaigns. Kim couldn't distinguish himself in a season that saw Cardiff City sent back down to The Championship, while Lee witnessed his Bolton side remain in that very same second division of English football. Both, however, have to the ability to make any defense nervous and will hope this World Cup reminds people of why they were and still are highly thought of. 

If the wingers and astute passing center mids can be at the top of the game, that will only make the equally talented forward options even more dangerous to the rest of Group  H. Still just 21, Son Heung-Min has lit up the Bundesliga over the last four years and could go down at the end of his career as being South Korea's greatest ever. Blessed with terrific pace and top class technical ability never before seen from any Korea youngster, Son is ready to have a breakout performance at a tournament like Ji Dong-Won did at the 2011 Asian Cup. Despite an indifferent time with Sunderland, Ji is also an uber talent like Son, so much so that Jurgen Klopp signed him to Borussia Dortmund's squad for next season well back in January. 

Probably hoping a solid club will do the same is Park Chu-Young, who despite his terrific scoring record for country (24 goals in 63 games) has been permanently stuck in Arsene Wenger's wilderness. With barely any action in his forgettable Arsenal tenure, Park tried to find the magic at Celta Vigo and Watford but is still stuck in a massive quagmire of little playing time and no goals. 

Park's current status is a concern for manager Hong, who may give the starting nod of Son's partner to Ji despite his own lack of match play in 2014.  Hong could also choose to play a 4-3-3 with "Ki, Koo, and Kim" as the mid 3 while Lee and Son play off Ji if Park can't reclaim any match sharpness. Despite those fears, Park displayed that all is well with him whenever he places on his country's uniform, clinically finishing in that fine 2-0 win over Greece. 


And therein lies a major concern with Korea Republic: their lack of depth behind the first eleven with Ji (or Park) as their only standout bench option. The first eleven will likely be as accomplished and globally respected as any non-UEFA/CONMEBOL outfit, but the limited choices Hong has available to him could spell their downfall. 

All of their key players will need to stay healthy if they are to produce more great history for their fans back home in Seoul and throughout. And in manager Hong's case, they can do that only if they play the Korean way. 

Under The Radar, Key Player: 

Because he doesn't play in the Premier League or is a hot shot young striker like the confident Son, Koo Ja Cheol still goes vastly under the radar. But make no mistake when reading this that he maybe their most important starter in their lineup. Koo must undertake a role in building off his close bond with club teammate and friend Hong Jeong Ho and protect both him and Kim Young-Gwon in their centerback roles. Ki Seung Yung won't be as physical as Koo can be, as one of them will need to be more of a destroying defensive midfielder to allow the other one to join the front four. 
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