Optimism is certainly thin on the ground in South Korea as they head into a World Cup in Russia this summer that they barely managed to qualify for. With only four wins from ten games, and a single point from their five away matches, it is a miracle that they qualified. Indeed, it can be said that it is more due to the failings of others that they have a ticket to Russia, rather than their own achievements. Their record World Cup finish was fourth place back in 2002, when they joint-hosted the tournament with neighbours Japan. Drawn in a tough group with Germany, Mexico and Sweden, it would be a surprise to no one if the South Koreans finished bottom of the pile.
Coach Shin Tae-yong has barely managed to hang onto his job after the recent poor run of results, and rumours have started spreading ever since qualification that Dutchman Guus Hiddink may be making a return. However baseless or not these rumours are, it will do the team no good, as they need to unify and gain some confidence before heading to Russia. Former Spain and Real Madrid number two Toni Grande was appointed as assistant coach back in November, and he and Tae-yong have much work to do in preparation for the finals.
- Son Heung-min (Spurs) – Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min is without a doubt South Korea’s star man, and it is essentially single-handedly down to him that they managed to scrape through qualification. Although he has had an outstanding season with Spurs, looking energetic, creative and dangerous, he lacks the support of quality teammates when playing for his nation. The main focus of South Korea’s attacking abilities, Son Heung-min needs to be provided with a decent level of support to be able to perform to the best of his ability and give his nation a chance in Russia
- Ki Sung-yeung (Swansea City) – Captain of the side and approaching 100 caps, the team will look to experienced midfielder Ki Sung-yeung to be the calming influence in Russia. He will need to ensure that his side do not lose their heads when they come under pressure in the finals this summer, but he will have his work cut out for him when he comes up against Germany’s Toni Kroos in the midfield.
- Shin Tae-yong – After a good start, pressure is on the former midfielder Tae-yong following a shaky qualifying campaign and the recent run of poor results. In charge of South Korea’s teams at the 2016 Olympics and the 2017 Under-20 World Cup, Tae-yong will have a job to do to get his side up and running in a seriously tough group. That is of course, assuming he is still the man in charge come June.