S. Korea unveils youthful World Cup squad with few surprises

May 8, 2014
World Cup

(From top, left to right) First row – Head coach Hong Myung-bo, GKs Jung Sung-ryong, Kim Seung-gyu, Lee Bum-young. Second row – Kim Jin-soom Yoon Seok-young, Kim Young-gwon, Hwang Seok-ho. Third row – Hong Jung-ho, Kwak tae-hwi, Lee Yong, Kim Chang-soo. Fourth row – Ki Sung-yeung, Ha Dae-sung, Han Kook-young, Park Jong-woo. Fifth row – Son Heung-min, Kim Bo-kyung, Lee Chung-yong, Ji Dong-won. Bottom – Koo Cha-cheol, Lee Geun-ho, Park Chu-young, Kim Shin-wook. (Yonhap)

(Yonhap) — South Korea announced a youthful squad for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil on Thursday, with few surprises among the 23 players who will take part in football’s grandest extravaganza.

Head coach Hong Myung-bo unveiled the roster at the National Football Center (NFC) in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, north of Seoul. Hong had repeatedly said he would not make surprises for the big tournament, and mostly lived up to his words, with the majority of the players having seen plenty of action under Hong since he took over the national team last June.

South Korea will be making its eighth consecutive World Cup appearance in June, and will field a young team with a strong international flavor against Algeria, Belgium and Russia in Group H. Kwak Tae-hwi, at 32, is the only player over 30, and 17 of the 23 players ply their trade in overseas leagues.

The squad features five carryovers from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa: forward Park Chu-young, midfielders Ki Sung-yueng, Lee Chung-yong and Kim Bo-kyung and goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong.

South Korea has made it out of the group stage twice, reaching the semifinals at the 2002 tournament it co-hosted with Japan, and advancing to the round of 16 in South Africa before losing to Uruguay.

Hong’s squad will begin training at the NFC. South Korea will host Tunisia on May 28 for its final pre-World Cup match at home, and will depart for Miami two days later to set up a base camp there. South Korea is scheduled to play Ghana in the United States on June 10 and travel to Brazil on June 12, five days before the first match against Russia.

Leading the attack will be forward Park Chu-young, who is under contract with Premier League’s Arsenal but was loaned to a second-division English club, Watford, earlier this year.

Park has played sparingly for Arsenal since joining the club in August 2011, and his chances of making Hong’s squad once appeared slim. The coach had said he would only select players getting regular minutes on their respective teams, but in a controversial decision, Hong called up Park for a friendly against Greece in March. Park responded by scoring the opening goal in South Korea’s 2-0 victory in Athens, quickly throwing himself into the conversation for the World Cup.

Park has won 62 caps and netted 24 goals, the most on the current team. He also played at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, and will be counted on to add a much-needed scoring punch to a lethargic offense.

Joining the 28-year-old striker up front will be Kim Shin-wook of Ulsan Hyundai and Lee Keun-ho of Sangju Sangmu, a pair of talented, if inconsistent, players from the domestic K League Classic.

Kim, the 2013 K League Classic MVP, will be South Korea’s tallest player at 196 centimeters (6-foot-6), and he is a surprisingly nimble attacker for his size. Lee, the 2012 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Player of the Year, can play on either flank, and he ranks second on the current unit behind Park with 18 international goals. He was a surprise snub for the 2010 World Cup.

The secondary line of attack will features rising stars based in Europe, led by Bayer Leverkusen’s dynamo Son Heung-min. He has scored 21 goals over the past two Bundesliga seasons in Germany and can wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his burst of speed.

Another Bundesliga player, Koo Ja-cheol of FSV Mainz 05, brings versatility to the offense. He can play as an attacking midfielder behind center forwards or shift over to wings to create chances.

Hong Myung-bo said he would name the captain later on, but Koo seems to be a likely candidate. He has served as team captain under Hong at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup, the 2010 Asian Games and the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Kim Bo-kyung of Cardiff City, a crafty 24-year-old once anointed by Park Ji-sung as his heir apparent, is also able to play multiple positions on offense. Kim was South Korea’s youngest player at the 2010 World Cup.

Lee Chung-yong of Bolton Wanderers, has been a fixture on the right wing for South Korea, and will once again be asked to be the creative force on offense.

Ki Sung-yueng, who was loaned by Swansea City to Sunderland in the Premier League this season, will be the team’s primary holding midfielder, his physical play and vision allowing him to dictate the pace on offense and keeping opponents at bay on defense.

Hong Jeong-ho of FC Augsburg and Kim Young-gwon of Guangzhou Evergrande have played nine matches as a tandem for Hong Myung-bo, and will likely be the primary centerbacks in Brazil. Kim Jin-soo of Albirex Niigata and Lee Yong of Ulsan Hyundai are expected to take the fullback positions.

Suwon Bluewings’ Jung Sung-ryong, 29, was the No. 1 goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup and remained the top custodian for ensuing years, with no one on the horizon to challenge him for the job. Yet Jung’s game slipped last year in both league and international play, and his struggles coincided with the emergence of Ulsan’s 23-year-old netminder, Kim Seung-gyu.

Hong may eventually tap Jung, the more experienced of the two with 59 caps compared to Kim’s five, to be his keeper in Brazil.