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Team preview: South Korea

June 1, 2010
By Rachel Ullrich
ESPN.com
(Archive)

South Korea fans always hold on to the dream of 2002 -- the squad's highest-ever finish came on home turf when it finished as a shock semifinalist, but the nation's success has been mixed outside of that glory. In 2006, South Korea failed to get past the group stages despite earning four points (the only team in the competition with at least four points that didn't move on).

So now, with a new coach at the helm, South Korea will be looking to build on the momentum of a successful qualifying campaign and earn a repeat of its 2002 finish. The squad went on a strong run at the end of qualifications, winning four of five games in a tough group in Asian qualifying, but disappointed in the East Asian Championship this year, finishing second but losing handily to China (for the first time in 32 years). It also has had mixed results in pre-Cup friendlies, beating fellow Cup squads Ivory Coast and Japan but losing to Belarus and Zambia, which failed to qualify.

Coach: Huh Jung-Moo

Countryman Huh is currently in his second stint as South Korea's coach but his first World Cup, having been ousted just before the 2002 finals for Guus Hiddink. Despite his status as one of South Korea's legendary players (including a successful stint with PSV Eindhoven in the early '80s), many fans were disappointed in the coach's reappointment to the national team. He eased some of that pressure with an unbeaten qualification campaign, though.

Style of play

South Korea always has been known for its exceptional work rate, often evident in players such as Park Ji-Sung, who is known as "Three Lung Park" because of his incredible stamina. The squad will attempt to put that stamina to use, spreading the field and looking to defeat opponents simply by outworking them. Many of the squad's players also are versatile, able to play on the wings or up top, allowing Huh some flexibility in his formations.

Players to watch

1. Park Ji-Sung. Without a doubt South Korea's most famous player and the one most expected to perform in South Africa. The squad's captain, Park is known for his impressive work rate. The midfielder currently is plying his trade at Manchester United.

2. Park Chu-Young. He's the biggest question mark for the squad, having missed the end of his club season in France with a thigh injury. If he isn't fit, the second prong of South Korea's attack will be noticeably absent and the squad will no doubt struggle. But if he regains fitness, he offers a strong and speedy option up top.

3. Lee Chung-Yong. One of the rising stars on the South Korean team, Lee is a 21-year-old midfielder who currently plays for Bolton Wanderers. Although not a natural scorer, Lee has a killer cross, and can provide some stability for the squad in midfield and set up the two Parks in front of him.

Who's hot

Lee Dong-Guk. Despite a hamstring injury that has plagued the striker for weeks, he was granted a pass into Huh's final 23. Doctors maintain he will be fit within a week, although he is expected to miss South Korea's opener against Greece. Lee, now 31, missed the finals in 2006 with a knee injury after he was dropped from the squad in 2002.

Who's not

Kwak Tae-Hwi. Expected to be a starting defender for the squad, Kwak suffered a knee injury in a 1-0 defeat to Belarus before the squad left for South Africa. Kwak was left off the 23-man roster after the coach learned he would need four weeks to recover.

Three key questions

1. Can South Korea make it out of the group stage for the first time away from home? Despite qualifying for its seventh consecutive World Cup, South Korea has advanced only in '02. That year, the squad shocked Italy 2-1 in the round of 16 and tied Spain 0-0 (advancing on penalties), before losing 1-0 to Germany and 3-2 to Turkey to settle for fourth place.

2. Can the substitutes keep up with the starting XI? Particularly on offense, South Korea lacks viable alternatives to its stars like Park Chu-Young or Park Ji-Sung. Huh even said when announcing his final squad that his fringe strikers simply weren't good enough during qualification. If a starter goes down with an injury, South Korea's attack will suffer.

3. Which South Korea squad will show up? The team has performed well against its higher-ranked opponents -- beating Japan, Australia and Ivory Coast within the past year -- but has had mixed results against lower squads. In the finals, South Korea will hope the pressure will make a difference in the team's competitive edge.

Projected lineup

G Jung Sung-Ryong, Seongnam (South Korea)
D Lee Young-Pyo, Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia)
D Kang Min-Soo, Suwon (South Korea)
D Lee Jung-Soo, Kashima (Japan)
D Cha Doo-Ri, Freiburg (Germany)
M Park Ji-Sung, Manchester United (England)
M Ki Sung-Yong, Celtic (Scotland)
M Kim Jung-Woo, Gwangju (South Korea)
M Lee Chung-Yong, Bolton Wanderers (England)
F Lee Dong-Gook, Jeonbuk (South Korea)
F Park Chu-Young, AS Monaco (France)