Since stunning the football world with their progression to the semi-finals of the World Cup on home soil back in 2002, South Korea has become one of the major forces in Asian football and the current squad will be hoping to produce the best showing of the four AFC nations that will be present in South Africa this summer.
Having qualified with relative ease as the winners of AFC Group B, a pool which contained the likes of fierce rivals (and fellow qualifiers) North Korea and a heavily-fancied Saudi Arabia, Huh Jung-Moo’s talented and maturing side has had plenty of time to mentally prepare itself for the World Cup and has enjoyed a number of very positive results of late. Wins over Australia and Senegal in the autumn – 3-1 and 2-0 respectively – demonstrated the considerable attacking potential of the South Korean’s, with victories against Finland, Latvia, Japan and the Ivory Coast in more recent months seeing the team rise to 49th in the FIFA World Rankings. Underestimate The Tigers of Asia at your peril.
Since taking charge of the national team in 2007, Jung-Moo has tended to favour a conventional 4-4-2 formation with two robust central midfielders flanked by a pair of traditional wingers, positions normally taken up by Park Ji-Sung of Manchester United and Lee Chung-Yong of Bolton Wanderers. Indeed, Jung-Moo has plenty of players with European experience to call upon, with five of the squad selected for the Ivory Coast game plying their trade on the continent and another five having had previous experience there with clubs of varying prominence. A technically proficient and well-organised side with a solid, experienced spine, South Korea should be optimistic about their chances of progressing from the group should they come through the crucial first game against Greece without having suffered defeat.
To expect a repeat of the country’s 2002 heroics would be to expect too much, but qualification from the group is most certainly within reach for the South Koreans and would represent a succesful tournament for Jung-Moo’s team. Argentina and Nigeria will be looking nervously over their shoulders.
Probable starting XI: Lee Woon-Jae (Suwon Bluewings); Cha Du-Ri (Freiburg), Cho Yong-Hyung (Jeju United), Lee Jung-Soo (Kashima Antlers), Lee Young-Pyo (Al Hilal); Park Ji-Sung (Manchester United), Kim Jung-Woo (Gwangju Phoenix), Ki Sung-Yong (Celtic), Lee Chung-Yong (Bolton Wanderers); Lee Keun-Ho (Jubilo Iwata), Lee Dong-Gook (Jeonbuk Motors)
The Road to South Africa: 1st in AFC qualifying Group B
World Ranking: 47th