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Russia 2018 World Cup Preview

South Korean 23 Man Squad World Cup 2018 Preview
The squad has been announced and the 23 players who will represent South Korea at the 2018 Russia World Cup have left for their training camp in Austria. K League United's National Team Correspondent Steve Price has decided to ask a few of our writers what their thoughts are on Shin Tae-yong's squad selection and South Korea's chances at the World Cup.

South Korea finished the domestic part of their preparations with a two-nil win over Honduras and a three-one loss against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those games gave Shin Tae-yong a chance to see how some new additions to the national team fitted in and also gave him the chance to test some new tactics. There's still two more friendly matches to go for South Korea to fine-tune their preparations for the competition but with the announcement of the 23-man squad, we now know who will be representing the Taeguk Warriors in Russia. I decided to ask KLU editors Matt Binns and Ryan Walters, KLU's Jeju United writer Branko Belan, and KLU's Seoul E-Land writer Michael Redmond what they thought about South Korea's preparations for the World Cup.

Steve Price: Which game are you most looking forward to?

Branko Belan: I am most looking forward to the opener against Sweden. I think it is the best chance for Korea to secure points in the group. It's also paramount for them to get off to a positive start.

Ryan Walters: Being from the States, it'd be difficult to pick anyone other than Mexico for this. As the USA's fiercest rival, I've become quite familiar with El Tri over the years, and with the likes of Carlos Vela and the dos Santos brothers now plying their trade in MLS, that familiarity is at an all-time high. Liga MX has a slew of world class players ready to make their mark on the international stage alongside their higher profile European-based counterparts. Throw in the fact that it's the second game in the group stage and both sides are likely to need all three points, and this is easily the match to watch in my mind.

Matt Binns: The Mexico game. Being the second game of the group, not only will make it crucial that Korea record a victory to either stay in contention or possibly even progress (depending on the outcome of the Sweden match), but it is the only match of the three that will be on during Saturday evening, likely meaning most of the nation will consider tuning in.

Michael Redmond: I am actually looking forward to the Mexico game the most. If Korea can get a result against Sweden, then the game could be vital. It will be an attacking Mexico side, which will make it a very open game.

SP: Which player(s) who didn't make the cut should have been in the 23-man squad?

RW: Given the lack of options up top, Troyes AC striker Suk Hyun-jun probably should have at least been called into camp. If not originally, certainly after Lee Keun-ho went down injured in his final league game before the break.

MB: Tianjin Quanjian centre back Kwon Kyung-won was perhaps the most surprising given that I felt his fellow defender Oh Ban-suk had a night to forget against Bosnia and Herzegovina. While Kwon’s club has recently made the AFC Champions League quarter finals, his side have not been doing too well in the league. The player also only has a handful of caps to his name so perhaps the manager saw it as one inexperienced player too many.

Maybe Lee Dong-gook or, more sensibly, Ji Dong-won, Lee Chang-min and Nam Tae-hee should have been allowed a run in the 28 man squad so we could instead consider their exclusion further. The fact that no injured player was replaced by anyone from the standby list indicates that Lee Chang-min and Ji’s instructions to wait by the phone were merely a symbolic gesture.

MR: Even though at the age of 39, I would of liked to see Lee Dong-gook make the squad. His age is a big factor in not making the side, but he has been a regular, in a very good Jeonbuk team. With six goals in 13 games for the K League champions, he could have been added experience in the side for the tournament.

SP: Which player(s) who is in the squad should have been left at home?

BB: My pick would be Park Joo-ho. I can't really see his position being defined in the team, and there are better players ahead of him.

MB: From the initial 28, perhaps Moon Seon-min was not expected to make it on the plane, but a combination of serious injuries to other players and a calmly taken goal by Moon during an somewhat mixed performance against Honduras ensured he was going to Russia. Perhaps, given the plethora of defenders going though, I felt Oh Ban-suk’s performance did not warrant his inclusion, but maybe the manager saw it as simply a bad day at the office for the Jeju defender, who has been solid at club level.

MR: Oh Ban-suk has had a great 2017 with Jeju United, but I feel 30 years of age is slightly too old to be called up for your first cap for Korea. Inexperienced at playing in the Korea squad, he was a questionable pick considering his age and lack of tournament experience.

SP: Who will be the standout player in South Korea's side this World Cup?

BB: I would say Lee Jae-sung. He will be key to creating offensive opportunities. Of all the players in the squad, I would say most eyes of scouts at the tournament will be on him, as there is a good chance he makes a move to Europe after the finals.

RW: With all eyes on Son Heung-min as per usual, someone else is going to need to stop up and score some goals. Both Lee Seung-woo and Lee Jae-sung have shown they can be that player, but I'm expecting a strong tournament from Red Bull Salzburg striker Hwang Hee-chan. His game can be a bit streaky at times, but he has the most incisive off the ball runs of anyone on the team and the strength and determination to either win the ball back or hold it up for his side.

MR: I think it’s very easy to say that Son Heung-min is their most valuable and vital player in the side. He has been a leader in attack in qualification and he will make his presence known at the early stages of the tournament. If he continues the form he has been having at Tottenham Hotspur, then South Korea stand in good stead to get out of this challenging group.

SP: Lots of fans criticize Korea's defenders without stating who they think should start instead. It's time for everyone to put their money where their mouth is. What do you think Korea's best center-back pairing is?

BB: Kim Young-gwon and Jeong Seung-hyun. Both have international experience, which is an important asset on the world stage. Korea will need players with some mileage under their belts to compete.

RW: Jang Hyun-soo will certainly be back there, and assuming/hoping it's a four man backline, Kim Young-gwon could partner up well with him. The latter played well in Korea's thorough performance against Honduras and did well to shut down the middle in the limited chances the Central American side created.

MB: Given Shin Tae-yong’s penchant for a back three, are we sure it will actually be a pairing? That said, I will reluctantly opt for the partnership of Kim Young-gwon and Jeong Sung-hyeon. In an ideal world, we would be bracing ourselves for the arrival of Kim Min-jae and the return Hong Jeong-ho, but serious injuries to both players in their club’s campaign meant they would either be unavailable or too much of a risk for selection. Therefore, I’ll opt for the pairing that actually kept a clean sheet against Honduras.

MR: We saw Shin Tae-young experiment in the two warm up games with his defense. Starting with four at the back against Honduras, and 3 against Bosnia and Herzegovina. I can see the Seongnam man Yun Young-sun getting the nod in at least one game. We may also expect to see Swansea player Ki Sung-yeung play at the back too, as we saw in their last encounter.

SP: Lee Seung-woo played pretty well against Honduras, is a massive fan-favourite, and is certainly going to be important for the national team in the future, but should he be in the starting line-up in Russia?

BB: He's young and provides a spark, but the question is can he do it on the biggest stage? I would like to say yes, but he has to be consistent.

RW: I'm tempted to say it depends on the formation and the opposition, but the short and simple answer to this is yes. The youngster may not have made much impact at Hellas Verona just yet, but he's looked the part in a national team shirt and offers another goal scoring threat and much needed pace.

MB: While I still do not think playing such a young, unpolished talent on the world’s biggest stage with so little professional minutes under his belt is a good idea, Korean fans seem to actually be excited about seeing him play. He also proved many doubters wrong, myself included, with a solid debut against Honduras so why not? He paired up well with Son Heung-min and the manager is familiar with his abilities. I just hope that if things do end up going terribly wrong for the Taeguk Warriors, that it will not knock the confidence of one of Korea’s brightest prospects.

MR: Lee Seung-woo is young and still developing as a player. I believe we will see his involvement in Russia, as he will be a more vital part of the team in years to come. Korea should give the winger some game time, and give him a taste of an international tournament.

SP: Can South Korea make the last 16?

BB: Korea looked poor against Bosnia, which makes it highly doubtful that they can progress through the group. Experimenting with the back line with the finals just around the corner is exactly what didn't need to happen. Time is thin, and things are still very much unclear as to how Korea will line up, so I have my concerns - it's very much an uphill battle.

RW: Why not? The glory of this tournament is that anything can happen, and weaker teams have gotten out of tougher groups in the past. Germany obviously creates a slew of headaches on their own, but scheduling is on the Taeguk Warriors' side there with the reigning world champions up last and potentially already through to the next round. Sweden and Mexico are both likely to be favored by the bookmakers, but there's no reason to think Korea can't hold their own against them if they're firing on all cylinders.

MB: Anything is possible, but it will depend on if Shin Tae-yong can iron out the defects with his 3-5-2 formation or ideally scrap it altogether. In both pre-World Cup friendlies on Korean soil, the home side did at least show flashes of attacking promise which could cause concern to their opponents, but have been somewhat overlooked by the recent defensive horror show. But if they can defeat Sweden in their first group match, the team may start to believe in their abilities.

MR: I don't think it’s impossible, but they have three other very good teams in the group. It will be a lot more clearer if they can get points off Sweden in their opening game. Mexico will be tough and Germany will too much for the side. Although, in saying that, if Germany have already qualified by the third game, then maybe they rest a few key players for the game against Korea.

Got some different views? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook what you think of South Korea's preparations for Russia 2018 and their chances of reaching the knockout stages, or even winning the whole thing!

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