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K League in the World Cup

The 2018 World Cup is just weeks away and K League players are poised to play a pivotal role in the Taegeuk Warriors bid to survive a tremendously difficult Group F with Sweden, Mexico, and reigning champions Germany. Our writers take a look at which players have received the call up and what they can offer on the international stage. 
(image via Fox Sports Asia)

Goalkeepers


Cho Hyun-woo - Daegu FC

Cho Hyun-woo has been with Daegu FC since making his professional debut in 2013, and will become the club's first ever player sent to the World Cup Finals. He was awarded the Golden Glove in K League Challenge (now K League 2) in both 2015 and 2016, and in K League Classic (now K League 1) last year. He is well known as Dae gea among Daegu fans as the combination of Daegu and Manchester United's David de Gea because of his performance in net and body shape. His strengths include good reflexes, aerial ability, command of his area, and a strong mentality. In the National Team setup, it seems that he will mainly act as the second choice following Kim Seung-gyu. However, he will continue to compete with Seung-gyu for the starting spot in the World Cup.

- Jung Muyeol

Defenders


Park Joo-ho - Ulsan Hyundai

After falling out of favour at Borussia Dortmund, the 31-year-old left-back moved to K League with Ulsan Hyundai last winter in an attempt to ensure his seat on the plane to Russia.  It seems to have worked as Park featured heavily in Korea's recent friendlies with Northern Ireland and Poland. An attacking full-back by nature, Park has spend much of his time at Ulsan in a central midfield role. This flexibility will make him an attractive squad option for Shin Tae-yong, even if he isn't in the manager's first team plans.

- Dan Croydon


Kim Jin-su - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (cut due to injury)

Korea’s first choice left-back is still a doubt for this particular tournament after suffering medial ligament damage when last tasked with international duty against Northern Ireland back in late March. When fit, the Jeonju-born defender is an important part of Jeonbuk’s squad, providing a valuable supply of crosses and stretching the play through overlaps that help unlock tight opposition backlines. His club have admittedly coped admirably without him, but they still certainly miss the former Bundesliga player. He was expected to return to action early May, yet at the time of the Korean squad announcement, had barely begun light jogging. With two other left back options in the preliminary squad capable of filling in, expect Kim to be cut if his recovery time cannot be sped up.

- Matthew Binns


Lee Yong - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

With Kim Jin-su normally on the left, Jeonbuk try to mirror his talents with Lee Yong on the right. Lee Yong comes into the national team at the expense of teammate Choi Chul-soon, who has been playing on the left flank recently to cover the injured and absent Kim. This is not to undermine Lee, though. The 31-year-old has proven a difficult proposition to get past, and is also one of the strongest crossers of the ball at his club. Lee tends to be quite attack-minded at his club, unafraid to venture further up field to assist in his side’s attacking play. Whether this will be required for Korea given their tough group remains to be seen, but Lee is a reliable, if not glamorous, choice for the right-back role.

Matthew Binns


Go Yo-han - FC Seoul

Go Yo-han has been selected in the provisional World Cup squad – and several of the last Korean National Team squads – because of the various qualities he possesses. As FC Seoul’s Vice Captain, he has leadership qualities and is vastly experienced at club level. Granted, Go only has 19 caps for Korea since his debut in 2009, but at league level the one-club man has notched over 300 appearances. What Go Yo-han also offers, which ironically may be why he hasn’t cemented a regular place in the team, is his versatility. Going to a World Cup, having players who can play in a number of different positions is extremely important, especially if there are any unforeseen injuries. Go can play at right-back, right wing-back, right wing, left wing, central midfield and has played in each of those spots for FC Seoul and Korea in the last 12 months alone. Being so versatile may have hurt him locking down a spot in Shin Tae-yong’s starting XI because he’s not an out-and-out right back, for example. However, he will be on the plane because of how hardworking he is and how seamlessly he slots into any position whenever he pulls on the red shirt.



Kim Min-woo - Sangju Sangmu

Kim Min-woo provides less defensive stability than fellow former Suwon full-back, Hong Chul. But what he lacks in solidity he makes up for in pace, drive and dribbling. The wing-back-cum-attacking midfielder has unbelievable pace and often attempts to utilise that in one-on-one situations out wide. He also has a very good delivery and put on a number of assists in his one season in Suwon. He has started the year well at Sangju Sangmu and looks likely to make the final squad. On his day, he has the X-factor needed to win huge games.

- Scott Whitelock


Hong Chul - Sangju Sangmu

He is widely regarded as the greatest left-back that Suwon have ever had and his return to the club he loves this summer has long been awaited. He is a polished, well rounded defender who rarely makes mistakes with his defending. Added to that, he has a sublime left foot and the energy to get up and down the wing with relentless ease. His partnership with Yeom Ki-hun, when he was at Suwon, was instrumental to Suwon winning the 2016 FA Cup and if he does make it into the final squad, he will be a player that the manager can trust to carry out his orders to perfection.

Scott Whitelock


Yun Young-sun - Seongnam FC  

Yun Young-sun is one of only two K League 2 players to feature in the 28-man provisional squad for the World Cup. Although, having being called up eight times before, he has only made four appearances. Two came in the starting line up, and he only has one full 90-minute performance thus far. Yun Young-sun has played for Seongnam FC since 2010, minus the two years at Sangju Sanmu for military service, which ended earlier this year. Unfortunately for this centre back, his lack of experience in the national side may see him cut from the final roll call. Although, the long time Magpie had a strong performance in the East Asian Cup back in January, so there might be a ray of light shined upon him when the final squad is named.

- Michael Redmond


Oh Ban-suk - Jeju United

Shin Tae-yong made the decision to include Oh Ban-suk in the preliminary World Cup squad, thanks in large part to the injury to Kim Min-jae. Regardless of who he may be replacing, Oh's importance to Jeju cannot be underestimated. His absence in the early stages of the season cost Jeju an opportunity to contend for the knockout stages in the ACL, and the club's league form lagged without him as well. Since his return to the lineup, the team's standing has vastly improved. He has been the anchor of Jeju's back line as a strong presence on the left, and, given the chance at the national level, could produce similar results. He doesn't shy away from physical contact, and instills confidence in his teammates just by his presence on the pitch. He is already regarded as one of the best at his position in the K League, and surely would not disappoint given the chance to represent his country in Russia.

- Branko Belan

Midfielders


Lee Jae-sung - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Of all the K League players selected for the 28-man squad, Lee Jae-sung’s position was always a given. Lee picked up the division’s MVP award last season and is integral to his club’s setup, playing in central attacking midfield role, though is capable on both flanks, as he is often called upon for the national side. The 25 year-old is enjoying his fifth season at Jeonbuk and continues to improve each year, leading many to wonder when he will leave for pastures new. Given his military exemption, there is no reason why European club’s should be put off by signing this exciting prospect. Perhaps the World Cup will be the stage that will allow him to showcase his talents to potential suitors.

Matthew Binns


Ju Se-jong - Asan Mugunghwa

In a group as difficult as Korea have, ball retention will be of utmost importance. A large part of what Ju Se-jong had done for FC Seoul before leaving for Asan Mugunghwa as part of his military conscription, is keep the ball and maintain possession. The former Busan IPark man also has a tremendous range of passing. He can link up with the centre backs he often sits in front of as well as the more advanced midfielders and forwards with defence splitting through-balls. Having someone like Ju Sejong to sit in front of the back four would be a benefit for most sides. However, it could be argued that in this sense he is a touch too similar to Ki Seung-yeung. As the captain, Ki will always get the nod and will be one of the first names on the team sheet. However, Vissel Kobe’s Jung Woo-young will perhaps be seen as Ju Se-jong’s direct competitor for a place on the plane to Russia. Frankly, with the qualities that Ju possesses, and if Ki operates from central midfield instead of in front of the back four, then there could be space for both Ju and Ki in the Korea team. All will depend on formation and how Shin Tae-yong wants to set his team up.


Moon Seon-min - Incheon United

Moon Seon-min's fantastic start to 2018 has lead directly to this first ever national team call-up. Moon is currently the top Korean scorer in K League 1 and when considerings he's playing for a side in the relegation battle, that's impressive by itself. He brings commitment, pace and a strong first touch to the depleted South Korean attacking options. He also links up well with tall central strikers and fellow speedy wingers. Finally he spent a number of seasons playing in Sweden, which could be a useful advantage during that key group stage game.

- Tim Barnes

Forwards


Kim Shin-wook - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Many national team observers continue to scratch their heads over why Kim Shin-wook was selected over the likes of FC Porto/Troyes AC forward Suk Hyun-jun, but given his recent performances in both the EAFF E-1 East Asian Championships and the national team’s January winter camp, it would seem churlish to exclude him. The towering striker found the net seven times across those six international fixtures, though admittedly the opposition were far weaker than any side Korea will face in Russia. ‘The Wookie’ has also been performing well in the AFC Champions League though, bagging five goals and five assists, contributing to his team’s progression to the quarter finals. Normally Kim would only remain a backup option to be called upon when Shin Tae-young’s Korea is getting desperate late in a game, but given recent injuries to other squad members, he may well be getting more minutes than initially envisaged at this World Cup.

Matthew Binns

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