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Keep up the good form, add a little more spice

January 4, 2016
National under-23 football team members train at Jebel Ali Shooting Club, Dubai, on Dec. 31. The squad will compete in the Asian Under-23 Championship, which will be a qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics, in January. (Yonhap)

National under-23 football team members train at Jebel Ali Shooting Club, Dubai, on Dec. 31. The squad will compete in the Asian Under-23 Championship, which will be a qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics, in
January. (Yonhap)

By John Duerden

If last year was a good one for the South Korean national team it was mixed as far as domestic league football was concerned. However, there are hopes that things will improve in the New Year.

john.duerden@gmail.com

john.duerden@gmail.com

For the national team, the target is simple ― keep its great form going. Under coach Uli Stielike, the Taegeuk Warriors have gone from strength to strength and lost just one game out of 20 in 2015.

The team is as good as through to the final round of qualification to the 2018 World Cup when the games and opposition will be a good deal tougher. Despite that, there is no reason for Korea to fear anyone, because at the moment it is No. 1 in Asia.

However, in the summer attention will turn to Brazil _ at least, that is the hope. In 2014, the senior side had a nightmare at the World Cup in Brazil. In 2016, the Olympics in Rio will give Shin Tae-yong’s team a chance to match the heroics of the 2012 lineup, which won bronze, memorably defeating Japan.

But first the team must qualify by being one of the top three in January’s Asian Under-23 Championships in Qatar. In a group with Iraq, Uzbekistan and Yemen, South Korea is a favorite to make the knockout stage, but nothing can be taken for granted. It will be a tough challenge.

The nation has been so successful in qualifying for the Olympics and World Cups over the years that fans almost take the tournaments for granted. Another traditional area of success is the Asian Champions League.

With 10 continental championships won by K-League clubs, there is always hope for more trophies after the last victory in 2012. The rise of Chinese clubs makes it more, difficult with Guangzhou Evergrande winning two of the last three ― but Korea’s best teams can never be ruled out.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors has won the last two K-League titles and has been busy in the transfer market, meaning the Greens are already favorites to make it a hat-trick. The addition of Kim Bo-kyoung is significant. After losing his way in the English Premier League, the skilful attacker could really make a difference if he returns to form.

It is still early days as far as the transfer market is concerned, but at least one other familiar face is returning to the Land of the Morning Calm. Dejan Damjanovic broke the hearts of FC Seoul fans (and brought a smile of relief to defenders) in late 2013 when the striker left for China.

He is back now and after finishing 2015 as the third-highest scorer in the Chinese Super League ― which has plenty of dangerous forwards ― it looks as if the Montenegrin marksman still has plenty to offer.

Pohang Steelers will be looking to challenge at home and in Asia under new coach Choi Jin-cheul, who replaces Hwang Sun-hong, while Suwon Samsung Bluewings still has Seo Jung-won at the helm but maybe needs a little more investment if it is to improve on last season’s second, although the promotion of Suwon FC to the top tier for the first time is sure to add some spice.

And that is what the league needs; a little more spice and excitement. That is what fans will be looking for in 2016.

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