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World Cup 2022 team preview: South Korea

The Taeguk Warriors will be making their 11th appearance at football’s showpiece event

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South Korea will be making its 11th appearance in the World Cup [Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

Previous World Cup appearances: 10
Titles: 0
Best finish: semi-finals (2002)
World Cup record: W6 D9 L19
Goals scored: 34
Biggest win: 2-0 (Germany 2018)
Player to watch: Son Heung-min (if he’s fit)
Ranking: 28
Fixtures: Uruguay (November 24), Ghana (November 28), Portugal (December 2)

The Qatar edition will be South Korea’s 10th consecutive appearance at the World Cup and 11th in total. No team from Asia has played in as many world cups as the Taeguk Warriors.

The watershed moment for South Korean football came in 2002 when the national team made it to the semi-finals on home soil. That Guus Hiddink side taught a nation to dream, and since then, South Korea have entered every World Cup with the hopes of millions pinned on the team.

Past World Cup performances
Since 2002, South Korea have only made it past the group stages once in four attempts and have won just three of its past 13 World Cup matches. One of them was in 2018 in Russia, where they famously defeated defending champions Germany 2-0 and knocked them out of the tournament.

Their only appearance in the round of 16 in the past 10 years came in 2010 when they were defeated by Uruguay, their opponents in their opening game of this year’s World Cup.

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South Korea registered a famous win over Germany in the 2018 World Cup [File: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez]

Who’s in their group?
Along with Uruguay, South Korea find themselves in a tough group, which also features Portugal and Ghana.

“Objectively speaking, it will be tough for us to make it to the round of 16,” former South Korea captain Park Ji-sung said at a World Cup trophy showcase event in Seoul in August.

While expectations may be low, hopes are still high. Park said that few had expected South Korea to make it to the semi-finals in 2002 and added that “with the support of our fans here, I think a trip to the round of 16 is possible”.

Qualification and recent form
When manager Paulo Bento took charge of the side in August 2018, South Korea were ranked 57th in the world. Four years on, the Taeguk Warriors enter this year’s World Cup ranked 28th, the highest they’ve been since 2012.

In this period, South Korea retained the Asian Games in 2018, registered wins over high-calibre teams like Colombia, Egypt and Chile, and sailed through qualification for the upcoming World Cup, losing just once in 17 games.

Player to look out for
Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min is the face of South Korean football. Last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner was the highest scorer for the team in the World Cup qualifiers with seven goals. While Son has struggled with his form with Tottenham this season, he enters the World Cup having scored four goals in his past six international appearances.

Son is currently level with Park for the most goals scored by a South Korean in a World Cup, and Park expects him to break the record in Qatar.

Son “scored once at his first World Cup [in 2014] and then had two goals at his second World Cup”, Park said. “Since this will be his third appearance, I think he will net three goals and give us a lot to cheer about. And obviously, the record will be his.”

But Son’s participation currently hangs in the balance. Tottenham confirmed that the forward will be undergoing surgery after suffering a fracture under his left eye in their Champions League game against Marseille at the start of the month. While the club hasn’t provided a timeline for his return, it will be a race against time for Son to make it on the plane to Qatar.

Son
Son Heung-min carries South Korea’s hopes at the World Cup, if he makes it to the squad [Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera