WORLD CUP: Son key to South Korea avoiding 2nd candy attack
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Progress for South Korea’s players will be avoiding being pelted with candy again on their return from the World Cup.
After enduring three poor performances by the team in Brazil four years ago, fans were waiting at Incheon International Airport to make their anger felt.
If collecting a solitary point in a group containing Russia, Algeria and Belgium was tough, the challenge looks even more daunting this time with World Cup champion Germany, Mexico and Sweden in Group F.
The road to Russia offered few signs of progress.
In the third round of Asian qualifying, South Korea picked up only two points from five away games to leave a place at a ninth successive World Cup looking uncertain. Coach Uli Stielike was fired and Shin Tae-yong was drafted in as a replacement to get the team over the line with two tense goalless draws.
As the players celebrated in Uzbekistan, there was criticism at home that the party was undeserved given the unconvincing performances.
To add to the concerns for Shin, his team has also been thinned by injuries to important players like wingers Yeom Ki-hoon and Lee Keun-ho, and fullback Kim Jin-su. All three will miss the trip to Russia, along with several others.
That puts pressure on young and unproven players like midfielder Lee Seung-woo.
The most important players on the team are playmaker Ki Sung-yueng and Tottenham striker Son Heung-min.
Lee Jae-sung scored South Korea’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina at Jeonju on June 1, a farewell to fans on home soil. It was a worrying result.
The country has become accustomed to World Cup qualification since the 1982 failure and there is a desire to see more appearances in the knockout stage. Only twice have the Taeguk Warriors advanced from their group, in 2002 when they made the semifinals on home soil and in 2010 when they reached the round of 16.
This will be South Korea’s ninth straight World Cup.
Enthusiasm at home seems to be lacking for this team, partly due to the results, and no doubt overshadowed by a summit between Donald Trump and North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.
Here’s a closer look at the South Korea team:
Shin Tae-yong took the job in July 2017 and did just enough to qualify.
Shin likes to surprise tactically and he has experience in large tournaments: with the under-23 team at the 2016 Olympics, and at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup. In both events, South Korea advanced through the group stage before being eliminated in the first game of the knockout round.
Shin may back off on his attacking game and focus on defense in Russia.
South Korea still lacks at a top-line goalkeeper. Viseel Kobe goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu is the No. 1 but could get competition from Jo Hyeon-woo and Kim Jin-hyeon.
Shin is not averse to a three-man defense but usually opts to use four.
South Korea is traditionally strong in the fullback position with Lee Yong strong on the right. Kim Min-woo should be on the left with the injury to the other competitor for the spot, Kim Jin-su. Both can get forward and attack.
Jang Hyun-soo is one likely starter in central defense with the other spot up for grabs.
Ki Sung-yeung is the captain and the center of the attack. The other central midfield spot could go to fullback Park Joo-ho, who has been effective there at times.
Another midfielder to watch is Barcelona youth academy player Lee Seung-woo.
The challenge will be to get the best out of Son Heung-min. At times, the Tottenham forward he has featured on the left, as a second striker and as a lone striker.
It looks as if Son will start as part of a two-pronged attack with the other forwards vying to partner him.
South Korea opens in Nizhny Novgorod against Sweden on Monday, followed by Mexico on June 23. South Korea will rely on getting points from those games before closing out Group F against Germany on June 27. None of South Korea’s group games are in St. Petersburg, where the team is based.
Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Jo Hyeon-woo (Daegu FC)
Defenders: Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu), Yun Young-sun (Seongnam FC), 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)
Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea), Jung Woo-young (Vissel Kobe), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa FC), Koo Ja-cheol (Augsburg), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United)
Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Hwang Hee-chan (Red Bull Salzburg)
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Wade reported from Tokyo.