Group B: South Korea

Organised yet fluid, unbeaten in qualification yet vulnerable in friendlies, with young stars but an ageing backbone, South Korea are a mass of contradictions...

With eight appearances on the global stage to their name, South Korea can be proud of their World Cup finals appearance record. In South Africa, the Asian Tigers will be desperate to match that quantity with quality - and prove that they’ve got the ability to warrant global respect as a team.

Their home tournament in 2002 saw South Korea clock their first ever tournament win, and bag a place in the last four. Last time provided a debut victory on foreign soil. This one is all about surviving the first round for the first time ever overseas. For Korea, the second round equals success.

The omens so far are mixed. Qualification from Asia’s Group of Death was smooth: they were unbeaten against their northern neighbours, westerly giants Saudi Arabia and Iran, plus whipping-boys UAE.

However, the Seoul media and public are uncertain at the moment as to whether this is a good team or not. Calls for Guus Hiddink’s return in February after a chaotic 3-0 defeat against China was followed by fulsome praise as Ivory Coast were beaten 2-0 in London.

Much hope rests on the ‘Fab Four’. This offensive quartet consists of Manchester United’s Park Ji-sung, Lee Chung-yong of Bolton Wanderers, Celtic’s Ki Sung-young and AS Monaco star Park Chu-young.

Park aside, the Fab Four are young. But as the competition approaches, more 2002 veterans are crawling out of the woodwork. Goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae is still there at 36, Lee Young-pyo is now a likely left-back starter and Frieburg’s Cha Du-ri has just been recalled to the right-back spot. Further forward, Ahn Jung-Hwan (now 34) and Kim Nam-il (33) are both in the frame.

The Fab Four’s fine form gives hope that one of Korea’s traditional weaknesses – an inability to convert chances into goals - is now not a problem. Especially as the stamina, pace, teamwork and never-say-die attitude are all still there, a clinical Korea would pose problems for all Group B opponents and the movement in attack – from the two Parks and the skilful Lee - is a part of Korea’s game that has improved over the years.

Ask any Red Devil what concerns them about the World Cup – apart from the fact that the Seoul media seems to believe that a trip to Johannesburg means almost certain death – and they will all say the defence.

The country has failed to produce a commanding centre-back since ‘the Eternal Libero’ Hong Myong-bo retired in 2002 and the number of different partnerships tried over the years would surprise even the most itchy-fingered tinkerman. It’s still hard to predict exactly which two stoppers will take the pitch against Greece but whoever it is, recent inability to defend set pieces is a gift that the Greeks (and others) would gratefully accept.

Interesting fact
South Korea were the 17th best performers at the 2006 World Cup.

The Coach: Huh Jung-moo 
Hiddink’s predecessor returned in December 2007 to an underwhelming reception – hardly surprising as he was, at the very best, third-choice after public rejections from Mick McCarthy and Gerard Houllier. It didn’t start too well but a willingness to trust in young players and a knack for getting a result gained the respect – if not affection – from the fans.

Key Player: Park Chu-young 
He’s always been able to link midfield and attack, and now the intelligent striker has added goals to his CV. One of Asia’s best.

Probable Team (4-4-2): Lee Woon-jae; Cha Duri, Cho Yong-hyong, Lee Jung-soo, Lee Young-pyo; Lee Chung-young, Ki Song-yong, Kim Jung-woo, Park Ji-sung; Park Chu-young, Lee Dong-gook

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the players
Q&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation 

Greece, June 12, 12.30pm, Nelson Mandela Bay
Argentina, June 17, 12.30pm, Johannesburg
Nigeria, June 22, 7.30pm, Durban

Qualified First in AFC Group 2
Korea DPR (A) 1-1
United Arab Emirates (H) 4-1
Saudi Arabia (A) 2-0
Iran (A) 1-1
Korea DPR (H) 1-0
United Arab Emirates (A) 2-0
Saudi Arabia (H) 0-0
Iran (H) 1-1

World Cup record
1954 1st Round
1986 1st Round
1990 1st Round
1994 1st Round
1998 1st Round
2002 Semi-final
2006 1st Round

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