South Korea went through their qualifying campaign, losing just one game and finishing behind Iran in the group. Son Heung-min was tied for the lead in Asian qualifying with four goals and no team conceded less than South Korea’s three goals in 10 matches. But the competition in Qatar will be radically different from qualifying, and the South Koreans will be well aware of that with Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez lined up opposite them in the group stage.
The Taegeuk Warriors are led by manager Paulo Bento, who has a 63.5% winning percentage since taking over South Korea after the 2018 World Cup. His conservative style has rubbed off some critics in the wrong way, but after a full World Cup cycle, Bento will know what he expects from such a tight-knit group. (Fun fact: he also coached Portugal in the 2014 World Cup, which also included a game against current Group H opponents Ghana).
South Korea didn’t look particularly inspiring in their last international window, drawing with Costa Rica and grating through an unimpressive Cameroon side with a 1-0 victory. He was also crushed by Brazil, 5-1, in a friendly this summer, but recent wins against Iran, Egypt and Chile should give him some hope. Still, hope won’t be enough to get through this group, especially with Son suffering from a recent broken eye socket suffered in the Champions League. He will be in Qatar, but his effectiveness is now a question mark for a team with little room for error.
Group H schedule (all times Eastern)
– Uruguay, November 24 8 a.m.
– Ghana, November 28 8 a.m.
– Portugal, December 2, 10 a.m.
Paul Bentohired August 2018
Players to watch
Son Heung-min, striker
The Tottenham striker arrives in Qatar as South Korea’s golden star and one of the players to watch throughout the World Cup, provided he is able to play at full capacity after having suffered his injury against Marseille. Son really jumped onto the international scene at the 2018 World Cup when he scored twice, including an emotional 96th-minute goal against Germany. Since then, Son has scored 89 goals for Spurs, including a career-high 23 league goals last season which saw him share the Premier League Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah. He will have high expectations in Qatar, but the 30-year-old star is likely to be held back by his recovery.
Kim Min-jae, defender
The imposing centre-back was a revelation in his first season at Napoli. Essentially brought in as a replacement for Kalidou Koulibaly, who joined Chelsea in the summer, Kim exceeded all expectations at Napoli and was even named Serie A Player of the Month in September in his first full month in the league. He’s a fearless centre-back who combines a relentless nose for the ball and excellent positioning with physical tools that could see him line up against any star striker.
Hwang Hee-chan, winger
The Wolves winger has plenty of experience for his 26-year-old and will soon be making his 50th international appearance. Hwang has crossed Europe with stints in the Austrian Bundesliga, German Bundesliga and now the Premier League, and arrives in Qatar after playing a starring role for South Korea four years ago in Russia. While he is yet to score for Wolves this year, Hwang impressed in his debut season in the Premier League a year ago with five goals.
Candidate in small groups
Jeong Woo-yeong, winger
Jeong was snatched from South Korea by Bayern Munich aged 17 and went on to play for Bayern Munich II the following year. In 2019 he moved to Freiburg, with Bayern retaining the right to buy him out. Now 23, he has gradually become a vital force in the Bundesliga attack with 10 goals over the past two and a half seasons. Jeong will be paired with Son in South Korea’s attack as Bento will try to use his pace and playing ability to create chances.
world cup history
Last appearance: 2018 (Group stage)
Best result: Fourth place in 2002
Outlook and expectations:
Despite missing the knockout stage in Russia, South Korea will have fond memories of the 2018 World Cup. Their final minutes were spent celebrating a win over Germany who knocked out the defending champions of the World Cup in one of the biggest victories in the country’s history. South Korea will be looking to take the next step having made the knockout stage twice in their history, including that superb run to the semi-finals in 2002 as co-hosts.
But to do that in his 10th straight World Cup will take a hugely organized effort, and maybe a little luck along the way. Like their 2018 run, most will see South Korea lose twice, although if that shocks a group favorite again, the Taegeuk Warriors will be in good hands. However, registering four points in this group would be a major achievement, as it means taking points away from Uruguay in the group opener and/or Portugal in what could be a desperate group final.
World Cup team
GUARDIANS: Jo Hyeon-woo (Ulsan Hyundai), Kim Seung-gyu (Al Shabab), Song Bum-keun (Jeonbuk Motors)
DEFENDERS: Cho Yu-min (Daejon Citizen), Hong Chul (Daegu FC), Kim Jin-su (Jeonbuk Motors), Kim Min-jae (Napoli), Kim Moon-hwan (Jeonbuk Motors), Kim Tae-hwan (Ulsan Hyundai ), Kim Young-gwon (Ulsan Hyundai), Kwon Kyung-won (Gamba Osaka), Yoon Jong-gyu (FC Seoul)
MIDFIELDS: Hwang In-beom (Olympiacos), Jung Woo-young (Al Sadd), Kwon Chang-hoon (Gimcheon Sangmu), Lee Jae-sung (Mainz), Lee Kang-in (Mallorca), Paik Seung-ho (Jeonbuk Motors ), Son Jun-ho (Shandong Taishan)
FORWARDERS: Cho Gue-sung (Jeonbuk Motors), Hwang Hee-chan (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Hwang Ui-jo (Olympiacos), Jeong Woo-yeong (Fribourg), Na Sang-ho (FC Seoul), Son Heung-min (Tottenham ), Song Min-kyu (Jeonbuk Motors)
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