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South Korea's Asian Games Squad

This year's Asian Games, hosted in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang, sees South Korea U23 manager Kim Hak-bum select a team consisting of the brightest young Korean talents and a few well-known wildcards as they prepare to compete and claim gold. In doing so, they will ensure military exemption for another generation of the country's footballing finest.

Held every four years, the Asian Games is a multi-sport event across the continent with the region's best athletes as they compete for bronze, silver and gold medals. For South Korea's participants though, winning gold provides not only a chance to build national pride, but an alternative method of avoiding approximately two years of national service, something all Korean men are required to complete before the age of 30.

For Korea's footballers, this means avoiding both the draft and playing for either Sangju Sangmu or Asan Mugunghwa in the Korean football divisions, as well as opening new career opportunities overseas. The last Asian Games hosted in Incheon saw South Korea claim gold, allowing for a generation of talent to continue their footballing careers without worry of consigning their peak years to the country's military.

Teams must consist of twenty players made up of under 23 year olds and three wildcards who can be of any age (denoted below with an asterisk). Most notably, this year's team selection includes Tottenham Hotspur player and National Team hero Son Heung-min, who knows that this competition is his last opportunity to obtain military exemption.

Goalkeepers


Cho Hyun-woo* (Daegu FC)

Cho Hyunwoo, nicknamed Dae Gea, has been with Daegu FC since making his professional debut in 2013 and gained international fame after the Russia World Cup, where he fascinated international football fans with brilliant saves between the sticks. Joining the Asian Games team in 2018 was not in his initial plans, but solid and consistent performances in the World Cup have enabled him to play for the U23 team as overage player. There is no doubt about his ability, particularly as he has such good reflexes, aerial ability, strong mentality and composure. He is expected to be the first selection in goal and his ability will be certainly shining again after the Korea team reach the knockout stage.

- Jung Muyeol


Song Beom-keun (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

Until the inclusion of wildcard Cho Hyun-woo sprung into the frame, Jeonbuk goalkeeper Song Beom-keun looked a shoe-in to be representing his country between the sticks at this tournament. After an encouraging performance at the U20 World Cup last year, the K League champions swooped in for his signature during the winter and quickly propelled him to first choice within a matter matches into his first professional season. Admittedly assisted by a stellar defence, Song has led the domestic clean sheet table by some margin for quite a while and has played his part in fending off tough opposition on the continental stage to help his club reach the Champions League quarter finals. There may have been the odd occasion where the 20 year-old’s inexperience has threatened to surface but, when he has been called upon, he has usually answered. Song has the full backing of manager Choi Kang-hee, a highly decorated coach with a track record of trusting first-team goalkeepers from a young age (see Kwoun Sun-tae), which will almost certainly aid his development. If pre-season rumours of European club interest had any substance, Korea may very well have not one, but two goalkeepers plying their trade in higher leagues in the future. Well, if they can claim gold and that elusive military exemption that is.

- Matthew Binns

Defenders


Hwang Hyun-soo (FC Seoul)

Despite his tender years at just 23-years-of-age, Hwang Hyun-soo has become an important player for FC Seoul over the last two seasons. Learning from the likes of Kwak Taehwi and Lee Woonghee, Hwang has shown leadership qualities that have earned him the captains armband for the U23s, including for the AFC U23 Championships in January 2018 where the Taeguk Warriors got to the semi-finals. Hwang has come through the ranks at FC Seoul and made his first team debut in 2017 and went on to make 26 appearances and scoring three goals that year. Hwang Hyun-soo brings many qualities to the team; he has great technique and is very comfortable on the ball. He also has the right temperament for a centre back and can be aggressive and imposing when it is needed. It is of little surprise to see Hwang Hyun-soo in the Asian Games squad and may be a contender for the captaincy.

- Paul Neat


Jeong Tae-wook (Jeju United)

Jeong Tae-wook is a tower of a man.  At 195 centimeters, he has the ability to be a shut down man for opposing attackers.  He has made ten starts for his club, Jeju United this season, and continues to improve with each match.  Having featured for South Korea already at the U-20 World Cup last year, he will be a vital piece to Korea's hopes at the upcoming Asian Games.

- Branko Belan


Kim Min-jae (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

After an impressive first season at Jeonbuk, one in which he featured in every game which he was available, Kim Min-jae was destined to be on the plane to Russia. Therefore, the sight of him limping off injured in a home match to Daegu just a couple of weeks before that squad announcement was simply heartbreaking. He will get other chances to shine at senior level soon undoubtedly, but he is still of a young enough age to compete at the Asian Games, while also boasting the capabilities of one of the best domestic defenders around. The first thing many notice about Kim is his sheer mass. For someone still developing, his muscular presence has put off some of the best attacking talents plying their trade in Asia. What is more impressive though, is his general reading of the game, interpreting play at a level some of his more mature compatriots struggled to match at this year’s World Cup. Assuming he is back to full fitness, Kim Min-jae’s role in this team’s defence could prove pivotal in helping obtain the much sought after gold medal.

- Matthew Binns


Kim Jin-ya (Incheon United)

Incheon United youngster Kim Jin-ya is an useful addition to the South Korean Asian Games squad, as he can play in a few different roles. Recently he's been more of a right back, but he often plays wide midfield and even attacking midfield. He is quick and committed in the tackle. He has only one goal to his name in the K League, but isn't scared to have a go at goal.

- Tim Barnes


Cho Yoo-min (Suwon FC)

Although listed as a midfielder on the club website, 21 year-old Cho has been a mainstay in the centre of Suwon FC's defence this year. Cho has undoubtedly been one of Suwon FC's more consistent performers this season playing alongside numerous defensive partners and is comfortable as part of both a back 3 and a back 4. A fan favorite, Cho is a committed player who is good in the air, reads the game well and likes to pass it out from the back. His only blip this season has been an unnecessary red card on the way to a 5-0 loss in Gwangju. A good showing in Indonesia coupled with a strong end to the season should see him playing at a higher level next season.

- Joe Quinn


Kim Moon-hwan (Busan IPark) 

A crowd favourite at Busan after bursting onto the scene last year, Kim started out as a winger but some of his best performances at IPark have been at full-back. A speedy dribbler with good positional sense, Kim runs all day long and only his end product is occasionally lacking. Looked impressive during the U23 Championship in January (despite getting sent off against Syria), and his versatility will make him a useful squad member.

- Tom Marcantonio


Lee Si-yeong (Seongnam FC): 

Lee Si-Young is going into the Asian games with little to no tournament experience for Korea. The 21 year old defender has only played four times for Seongnam this year, and only one of the appearances saw him in the starting eleven. Out of the four games Lee has featured in, Seongnam have lost two of them and conceded seven goals. A feat uncommon for the team sat top of the table. Hopefully for Lee, his call up can show both his national team and club that he has the potential if given the game time.

- Michael Redmond

Midfielders


Lee Seung-mo (Gwangju FC)

Lee Seung-mo featured at the U-20 World Cup last year for Korea, so the international experience he brings will be a plus for the country.  On loan to Gwangju this season from Pohang, he hasn't seen a lot of action thus far, but definitely can be an important asset for Korea in the middle of the park.  The upcoming tournament could be a breakout chance for him.  He has all the tools, and will be counted on to provide a spark if the team are to make a deep run in the tournament.

- Branko Belan


Jang Yun-ho (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

The third Jeonbuk player on this list is perhaps the least well known, yet arguably has had the longest experience at the professional level for the club. Jang Yun-ho is currently playing in his fourth season in Jeonju, yet has still to find a regular starting place in the team. Given that he is only 21 years of age though, time is very much on his side. His best season for Jeonbuk will undoubtedly be two years ago, where he became entrusted as a regular in defensive midfield during the mid-season period whilst the club awaited the return of now-captain Shin Hyung-min from military service. Despite Shin’s return that autumn, he was unable to be registered for the AFC Champions League, meaning that Jang maintained his spot in Asia’s premier club tournament through to the semi-finals, helping his team reach the final, which they would go on to win. In terms of ability, he has proven to be a reliable enough option when called upon and seems to be part of his club’s long term plans if he can remain patient. He will certainly be a decent enough option for Kim Hak-bum’s squad going into these Asian Games and could well be poised for a starting berth sitting in front of the defence.

- Matthew Binns


Kim Gun-woong (Ulsan Hyundai)

Kim burst into Ulsan's first team in the summer of 2016 aged just 18, starting five games and coming off the bench in another seven. However, since then he has found his first-team opportunities limited, making just four appearances in two years. Nevertheless, the holding midfielder has a place in the U23s squad, most likely due to his imposing physique and tough tackling. Kim's strength lies in his ability to break down opposition attacks and play no-nonsense passes, so expect him to feature only against the more technically proficient teams.

Dan Croydon


Hwang In-beom (Asan Mugunghwa)

Hwang In-beom has been the shining light for Daejeon Citizen ever since his first breakthrough season in 2015. Despite a turbulent season for the Purples, which ultimately ended in relegation, the local-born midfielder lit up Daejeon World Cup Stadium with some scintillating performances, and has done ever since. In his debut season Hwang In-beom scored four goals in the K League Classic, including an absolute screamer against Jeonbuk Hyundai, as well as strikes against fellow K League giants FC Seoul, Pohang Steelers, and Seongnam. In 2016 Hwang became a key member of the Daejeon side, making 32 appearances and scoring 5 goal - returning to the fold after a horrendous leg break. Hwang In-beom can play as an attacking midfielder, as well as a deep-lying playmaker due to his vision and passing ability. With great balance and poise, not to mention an eye for goal, a move to Europe has been in the offing for a couple of years and so the 21 year-old has began his military service early but may well earn exemption with a gold medal at this year's Games.

- Paul Neat


Kim Jung-min (FC Liefering)

Kim spent his youth career with Gwangju before moving to Austria this January. He joined FC Liefering, Red Bull Salzburg’s feeder club, and it’s hoped that his career will follow the same trajectory as RB Salzburg’s Korean striker Hwang Hee-chan. Kim Jung-min played a few games for RB Salzburg’s youth team before making his debut for Liefering, but has played almost every game since making his debut in Austria’s second tier back in March. He has mainly been played as a right midfielder, but has also played in central midfield and up front, and has got three goals and two assists in 13 appearances.

- Steve Price


Lee Jin-hyeon (Pohang Steelers)

Left-footed central midfielder who is also capable of playing further upfield on either side. Being left footed helps his team open up the field and this is even more so with his strong range of passing. Crucially for this kind of competition he has big game experience. Gained from his loan spell at Austria Wien where he played in not only the biggest games in the Austrian Bundesliga but also in the Europa League. He even started against the former European heavyweights AC Milan. Will be motivated for the gold in order to one day return to Europe military service exempted.

- Ross Davis

Forwards


Son Heung-min* (Tottenham Hotspur)

Don’t expect to see Son Heung-min during the group stage. After a long season with Spurs and his efforts at the World Cup, Son Heung-min is likely to be rested until the knockout stages of the Asian Games. Kim Hak-bum will want his star player to be able to peak in the later stages of the competition, rather than be fatigued by the humidity of Indonesia. Son had the best season of his career in 2017/18, and scored twice at the World Cup, but with all the pressure on him to perform, he might try and do too much himself, and he’ll certainly be heavily marked.

- Steve Price


Hwang Ui-jo* (Gamba Osaka)

Hwang Ui-jo’s selection was probably the most controversial of all of Kim Hak-bum’s picks, not least because he takes up one of the three hotly contested wildcard slots.  There have even been claims of nepotism and favoritism, and not just from netizens, but from reporters and elected officials too. When it comes to footballing ability, Hwang has a strong case for selection. He’s scored at a rate of almost a goal every two games for Gamba Osaka this season and is currently joint third top scorer in the J. League. He was the K League’s second highest goalscorer in 2015, and can play on the right side of a three-man strikeforce as well as down the center. However, he is quite similar to some of the other strikers in the squad and there will certainly be some fans who will say the wildcard should have been used to bring in Seok Hyun-jun or to strengthen other parts of the team.

- Steve Price


Na Sang-ho (Gwangju FC)

The young Gwangju striker is proving to be a real talent and currently leads the K League 2 scoring charts after firing the South Jeolla side into the playoff reckoning. Na made his first team breakthrough last season during Gwangju's relegation year, scoring his first goal against then soon-to-be Champions Jeonbuk. Relegation may actually have been the best thing for South Jeolla-native as, despite the club falling on hard times, it has afforded him plenty of first team action. Already in double figures for the season, Na Sang-ho has become vital for Gwangju and his goals alone make up for 11 of the team's points, not to mention a brace in the 5-0 demolition of Suwon FC. A striker that can score all kinds of goals, Na Sang-ho could become a name to keep an eye on for the rest of the season, especially if the Asian Games earn the second-year pro military exemption and some of the K League 1 giants come knocking.

- Paul Neat


Hwang Hee-chan (RB Salzburg)

After averaging a goal every 150 minutes in his first full season with Red Bull Salzburg and some strong performances in World Cup Qualifying, Hwang Heechan seemed primed to shine on the global stage at this year's World Cup. Instead he was mistake-prone, shaky, and largely vacant in his three appearances. Still a largely raw talent at just 22-years-old, Hwang should be expected to have ups and downs in his progression, but a lackluster World Cup combined with just five league goals in the 2017/2018 Austrian Bundesliga season is a worrying trend. With tremendous movement off the ball, decisive pace, good vision, and a sheer determination few others on this roster possess, he still has all the tools necessary to become an elite striker. Now more than ever, Hwang needs to show he can put all of those raw skills together in an international tournament and regain his status as one of the Taeguk Warriors' top attacking talents.

- Ryan Walters


Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona)

Despite barely playing for Hellas Verona, Lee Seung-woo earned his first full international cap just before the World Cup. There were worries that he wasn’t quite ready, but Lee impressed for the full national team, and probably deserved more playing time at the World Cup. With Son Heung-min heavily marked and many of South Korea’s opponents parking the bus, Lee Seung-woo’s excellent ball control and trickery could make him the Taegeuk Warriors’ biggest threat at the Asian Games.

- Steve Price

The K League United Podcast

You can now catch our editors run down of the entire Asian Games squad in the all new K League United Podcast. Click to listen to the episode below, or head to iTunes, TuneIn Radio or SoundCloud to subscribe.


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