ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
|South Korea qualified automatically
as host nation.
|Participations: (5) 1954, 1986,
1990, 1994 and 1998
|Best placing: First round elimination
|Topscorer: Hong Myung-bo, 2 goals
|Hong Myung-bo is the hosts' most
experienced player and will now appear in his fourth World Cup. His leadership
in defence will be vital to how well South Korea perform in their own tournament.
VERDICT: First round exit
|South Korea have still not made it past the first round
despite participating in every cup since 1986. Now with home crowd on their side
the chances will definitely increase to finally be successful, but does the team
actually have what it takes on the field? We predict South Korea will be the first host
country in history to be eliminated in the first round.
HOSTS IN DANGER OF MAKING HISTORY
by Peter Goldstein
South Korean fans are worried. In 14 tries, their team has yet to win a game
at the World Cup -- and this time there's a lot more at stake. Could they be
the first host team to fail to advance from the group stage? The coach is
Guus Hiddink, who has tried to accustom the Koreans to the principles of
Total Football, playing his men in a variety of positions. After a long run
of disappointing results, the team finally seems to be coming together,
although they have yet to beat a quality opponent. Still, there remain a
number of question marks on the squad. Hiddink has said he knows who his
starting 11 will be, but if so, he's the only one who does.
The questions start at keeper, where neither Lee Woon-jae nor Kim Byung-il
has been convincing lately. Kim, the keeper at France '98, can be dazzling
at times, and is a fan favorite, but is given to simple mistakes and erratic
decision-making. Lee is the opposite: limited in scope, he's good at the
basics. Right now Lee seems to have the edge.
The team has usually played a 3-5-2, although a strong 4-4-2 performance
against Finland suggests another option is available. A fixture in the back
line is 32-year-old Hong Myung-bo, Korea's all-time leader in caps, who
appears to have recovered from a stress fracture of the shin. He's a fine
sweeper, intelligent in both defense and attack, although probably slower
than he used to be. Captain Yoo Sang-chul, active, quick, and decisive, has
been playing central defense, but with Hong back, he will probably move to
midfield. At the moment the leading candidates for the other back line spots
are Choi Jin-Chul on the right and Kim Tae-Young on the left. Choi is strong
and good in the air; Kim has all-round skills and is a real battler, but at
times temperamental. In a 4-4-2, Choi would probably share the center with
Good news is the rise of 23-year-old Song Chong-gug, a potential starter
either on the right side in defense or midfield. His enthusiasm occasionally
finds him out of position, but he's a superb talent, quick, with excellent
ball control, tackling and playmaking skills, and that Korean specialty, a
tremendous long-range shot. For the right wing other candidates are veteran
Choi Sung-yong or newcomer Choi Tae-uk. The latter is very fast, the better
dribbler and maybe the better attacker; the former is experienced, more
consistent, and the better all-round player. Kim Nam-il has recently made a
case as a right-sided midfielder; he's a rough talent, modest in skill but
aggressive, and with a good field sense. Yoon Jung-Hwan is a playmaking
type, at times brilliant in attack but apt to neglect his defense.
On the left side of midfield we'll likely see Lee Young-pyo, who provides
energy, good vision and ball skills, and occasional scoring power. Park
Ji-sung, another typically active midfielder who's strong on free kicks, is
another possibility here. On the left wing one candidate is Lee Eul-young,
an intelligent attacking player who's just now coming into his own. Then
there's the speedy Lee Chun-soo, a rising star at 20, who can play on either
The best of the strikers is Hwang Sun-hong, a creative center-forward who
plays well with his back to goal and is good in the air. But he's 34, and
very injury prone. Choi Yong-soo plays very aggressively and has a strong
right foot, although there's not much finesse in his game. Ahn Jung-hwan has
plenty of pace and dribbling ability; he might also be an option at
attacking midfield. Youngster Seol Ki-hyun of Anderlecht is fast and can
penetrate defenses, and if he can get over knee problems, will challenge for
Although this year's lineup is still unsettled, Korean football is a known
quantity: fast, physical, with seemingly unlimited energy, but technically
limited and unsure in front of goal. Hiddink can do little to change this.
His chopping and changing has come in for a lot of criticism, but there are
signs it may finally be paying off. Some of the younger talent seems to be
developing, and Hiddink is smart enough to settle on a lineup in the final
friendlies. No guarantees, but don't be at all surprised if Korea puts the
many years of failure behind them.
A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY
by Jan Alsos
South Korea have participated five times in the World Cup, but
still havenít won a single game. Their first appearance was in 1954, but sixteen goals
conceded in two games against Hungary and Turkey meant a solid bottom position in the
They didnít qualify again until 1986. The results improved in Mexico and even a point was
captured -- against Bulgaria -- but they still finished bottom of the group. In Italy four years
later three more defeats followed, but their only goal scored by Hwang Bo-kwan on a
free-kick against Spain was a beauty. More great goals from long range followed in USA
1994 and two draws were secured against Bolivia and Spain -- the latter after being two
goals down -- but still not enough to go through.
France Ď98 saw South Korea go home after the first round for the fifth consecutive time and
this was arguably their least impressive showing in recent years.
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