South Korea are one of Asia's traditional soccer powers. They and Japan have bossed the continent for decades now, coasting to World Cup to World Cup, where they've tried to prove that Asia's got real talent. In Brazil, South Korea have a chance to once again show that though Asia's a historically weak confederation, its best teams can compete with anyone in the world.
Since the 1986, South Korea have qualified for each World Cup, though they didn't record a single win in the finals until 2002. That year, while sharing Cup hosting duties with Japan and riding the backs of their adoring local fans, South Korea fucked around and made the semi-finals. That was and still is the furthest an Asian nation has made it in the tournament. They failed to make it out of their group in 2006, but they did get to the round of 16 in 2010, where they lost to Uruguay.
South Korea's journey to Brazil was a little shakier than usual, but never too much in doubt. There are roughly 3,256 teams that partake in Asian World Cup qualifying. To compensate for this and the reality that the best handful of teams being a million times better than the dregs, there are a ton of different phases and stages to determine who will represents the continent on the world's biggest stage. Instead of navigating that labyrinth, just know that South Korea qualified pretty comfortably for one of the three automatic bids, though they did narrowly avoid entering the playoff against what ended up being Uruguay.
In the fairly mediocre Group H, South Korea will feel they should make the knockout stages once again. They probably won't go anywhere from there, but that's no big crime.
Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-Ryong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-Gyu (Ulsan Hyundai), Lee Bum-Young (Busan IPark)
Defenders: Kim Chang-Soo (Kashiwa Reysol), Yun Suk-Young (Queens Park Rangers), Kwak Tae-Hwi (Al-Hilal), Kim Young-Gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Hwang Seok-Ho (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Lee Yong (Ulsan Hyundai), Hong Jeong-Ho (Augsburg), Kim Jin-Su (Albirex Niigata)
Midfielders: Kim Bo-Kyung (Cardiff City), Ha Dae-Sung (Beijing Guoan), Koo Ja-Cheol (Mainz 05), Han Kook-Young (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Jong-Woo (Guangzhou R&F), Ki Sung-Yueng (Swansea City), Lee Chung-Yong (Bolton Wanderers)
Forwards: Son Heung-Min (Bayer Leverkusen), Park Chu-Young (Arsenal), Lee Keun-Ho (Sangju Sangmu), Kim Shin-Wook (Ulsan Hyundai), Ji Dong-Won (Borussia Dortmund)
Taegeuk Warriors; The Reds
FIFA World Ranking
According to Wikipedia, Hong Myung-bo is one of Asia's all-time great players. He spent the vast majority of his career between the Korean and Japanese leagues, though he did play a couple years over here with the LA Galaxy.
Hong's iconic status in large part is due to his World Cup exploits. He was the first Asian to play in four consecutive World Cup finals from 1990-2002, most memorably in that last World Cup, where he captained South Korea in their shocking fourth-place run in 2002.
Players to Watch
Ki Sung-yueng, Midfielder
Similar to his role for his club team, Sunderland, Ki is the primary orchestrator of South Korea's offense. He is a prototypical deep-lying playmaker, which means while he likes to sit pretty far behind the action, he still dictates play by starting most of the attacking moves. Plus, he's good for at least a couple thumps from long range per game, so he'll probably be one of the players complaining about the new ball's unpredictability.
Son Heung-min, Winger
At only 21, Son Heung-min has established himself as the most promising South Korean international and might already be the team's best player. He is a scoring machine. The Bayer Leverkusen forward primarily plays on the left wing, but can also play as the main striker. To facilitate his instinct to score, his go-to move is drifting inside and taking on defenders. With the ball at his feet and in space to dribble, Son is as dangerous a player as Korea have.
Not too much of interest happening here. Korea prefer lining up in your everyday 4-2-3-1. Their strikers are fairly straightforward poacher types, and the real creativity comes from the dribbling tandem of Son Heung-min and Lee Chung-yeung on the wings. Son—South Korea's only really exciting player—likes to cut inside to get into scoring position, while Lee is more of a traditional touchline winger.
The team's depth is in central midfield, though they lack a true number 10 creator-type. In that role will most likely be Koo Ja-cheol, who is a talented guy, just not the creative passer South Korea would be best served playing. Behind him will definitely be Korea's overall best player, Ki Sung-yueng. Ki is solid both defensively and offensively, and will be the player picking the most passes for South Korea.
The rest of the team is pretty unremarkable. Solid, yes, and with a good shot at making it out of their group, but not too interesting.
Group H Fixtures
All times Eastern
June 17, 6 p.m.: Russia vs. South Korea at Arena Pantanal
June 22, 3 p.m: South Korea vs. Algeria at Estádio Maracanã
June 26, 4 p.m.: South Korea vs. Belgium at Arena Corinthians
Top image by Sam Woolley; photos via Getty