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South Korea's Asian Cup Squad

After capturing gold at the Asian Games in the summer of 2018, South Korea looks to start 2019 off in similar fashion with an extended run in the Asian Cup. Our writers take an extensive look at the 23 men Paulo Bento named to his squad as they prepare for a tournament they will enter as heavy favorites.

Goalkeepers 

(image via breakingthelines.com)
23. Cho Hyeon-woo (Daegu FC)

Cho Hyeon-woo has been named in the Asian Cup squad for the first time in his career, after his amazing performances in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Cho kept his place as number one after the World Cup, however, a minor injury, picked up during the Asian Games, resulted in him dropping  out of the squad and losing his place to Kim Seung-gyu. Cho’s performance against Panama, his first game playing under Paulo Bento, cast some doubts on his passing ability, a skill that is essential in Bento’s tactics. However, since 2013, Cho has been extremely consistent when playing for his club, Daegu FC. During his time with the citizen club, he not only helped the team to get back to K League 1, but also led them to be crowned as the winner of the Korean FA Cup in 2018. Cho has been recognised as the best goalkeeper currently plying his trade in the K League and has been selected as the League's best 'keeper four times since 2015, including K League 2. Cho is well known for his good reflexes, shot stopping, aerial ability, and strong mentality.

- Muyeol Jung

(Image via Getty)
1. Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe)

Kim heads into this tournament as Paulo Bento’s first choice goalkeeper, having cemented his starting position in recent friendly matches. The Vissel Kobe star kept nine clean sheets for his J.League club this season, but it is his form for the Korean national team that hints that he may have rediscovered the confidence that went missing prior to the World Cup. Whilst Kim is a quality shot stopper, historically he has been criticised for lacking authority within the penalty area, but the quality and assurance that he showed when keeping against Chile, Uruguay and Australia looks to have pushed him ahead of Cho Hyeon-woo in the Goalkeepers pecking order.

- Scott Whitelock

(image via newstomato.com)
21. Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka)

Kim has only featured for the national team twice in 2018 and it would take a series of unfortunate events if he was to see any game time in this tournament. The Cerezo Osaka man has spent his entire career with the club, helping them to a domestic double in 2017, winning both the Emperor's Cup and the J-League Cup. But Kim has struggled for form this season, managing to keep a clean sheet in just 14.7% of his games, as Osaka stumbled to a mid-table finish. Having been a part of the squad that came so close in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, Kim will be desperate to make amends for that failure but he will have to displace both Kim Seung-gyu and Cho Hyeon-woo if he is take any revenge.

Scott Whitelock

Defenders

(Image via Zimbio)
15. Jung Seung-hyun (Kashima Antlers)

A recent AFC Champions League winner with J.League 1 side Kashima Antlers, Jung Seung-hyun will be looking to stake a claim for a place in the Korean National Team for the AFC Asian Cup and beyond. The exclusion of Jang Hyun-soo has opened the door to the likes of Jung, as well as Jeonbuk Hyundai's Kim Min-jae and Kwon Kyung-won of Chinese Super League outfit Tianjin Quanjian. The former Ulsan Hyundai defender departed for the J.League in 2017 and spent half a season with Sagan Tosu before moving to Kashima in July 2018. In the red of Korea, the 24 year-old was part of the EAFF E-1 Football Championships winning team in Japan in 2017 as well as the AFC U23 Championships squad which finished as runners up in Qatar in 2016 and will be looking to add to his eight senior caps in the UAE.

Paul Neat

(Image via Zimbio)
20. Kwon Kyung-won (Tianjin Quanjian)

Playing for Tianjin Quanjian in China, Kwon is one of the few Korean defenders in the Chinese Super League who was able to find game time this year, clocking up an impressive 2,430 minutes of domestic play. He was a key component of the Tianjian team that surprisingly made it to the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League and he is one of the main contenders to take the vacant centre-back slot that is open. A strong and committed defender, Kwon is also comfortable with the ball at his feet and he has been known to play in midfield on occasion.

Scott Whitelock

(Image via SBS)
4. Kim Min-jae (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

With Jang Hyun-soo banned from representing his country after being found guilty of forging his community service documents, the vacancy in the centre of defence will be hotly contested. Kim Min-jae, Jeonbuk's young centre-back that has become a mainstay for the champions in his two professional seasons looks the ideal candidate to step up and seize this opportunity. Given he has only recently turned 22, he is massive for such a young age yet also has the pace and the ability to read the opposition's movements to help him get the better of the league's best-attacking talents. Having also claimed military exemption through his inclusion in the Asian Games squad, last year's K League Young Player of the Year could very well look to use this competition as a means to attract more suitors from overseas.

Matt Binns

(Image via Zimbio)
2. Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

It has been an incredible year for Lee Yong. After spending his first campaign at Jeonbuk out injured for the majority of the season, Lee entered 2018 with a point to prove, and prove it he has. The 32-year-old right back found himself in amongst the four nominees for the K League 1 MVP after excelling in both attack and defence. Going forward, Lee clocked up 11 assists, in addition to the third highest number of key passes and also the most crosses in the division. In terms of keeping out opposition, however, he has also managed to clock up the most tackles in the league in addition to the fourth highest number of interceptions. He has been close to ever-present for the league champions Jeonbuk this year and will be hoping to carry on his stellar form into January's Asian Cup.

Matt Binns

(Image via Yonhap)
22. Kim Moon-hwan (Busan IPark)

Despite suffering the disappointment of another playoff final defeat with Busan IPark, 2018 was a stellar year for the versatile and dependable Kim Moon-hwan. After breaking into the Busan team in 2017, Kim gained recognition at international level as part of the Korea team that finished fourth in the AFC U-23 Championship in January. His stock rose even further when he was the regular right back for the team that won gold in the Asian Games in the summer, and a call-up to the full national team under Paulo Bento came shortly afterwards. Although he has only featured as a substitute so far under Bento, he has shown flashes of what he can do. Kim has lightning pace and will run up and down the touchline all game long. Although a little lightweight, he has good defensive awareness and his end product is improving. Kim will likely see little game time as long as Lee Yong is fit, but in a wing-back system he offers an exciting alternative.

 - Tom Marcantonio

(Image via Yonhap)
14. Hong Chul (Suwon Samsung Bluewings)

The Suwon Bluewings star goes into this tournament as Korea’s first choice left full-back and will look to continue the impressive form he has shown all season. With eight assists to his name, the defender has had the second-best season of his career. Not only was he the leading assist maker at Sangju Sangmu but despite only returning to Suwon in September, only Yeom Ki-hun finished with more assists for the Bluewings. Being named in the K League 1 team of the year (for the third time in his career) was a just reward for a player who is truly operating at the top level.

Scott Whitelock

(Image via Zimbio)
3. Kim Jin-su (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

It has been a difficult season for Kim Jin-su after the left-back suffered from a serious injury back in March on international duty against Northern Ireland that ruled him out of the majority of the season, returning to league action with just three matches remaining. It was made even more painful for the former Hoffenheim man as it meant he missed his opportunity to represent Korea at the World Cup, an opportunity he was also denied four years prior through injury. When fit though, Kim is a menacing presence on the left flank, stretching the width through the overlap and offering service to the attack. Throughout the 2017 season, he also proved to be a threat from set pieces for his club and should have that to hand as well if called upon.

Matt Binns

(Image via Getty)
19. Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande)

Kim is a national team veteran, having made his debut for his country in 2010 at only twenty years of age. Kim has been capped 62 times over that span and from that he brings a wealth of tournament experience with him, as a veteran of two World Cups. Kim featured both in Brazil, in 2014, and last summer in Russia, where his late winner knocked out the defending champions Germany. He was also a member of the 2015 Asian Cup side which came home with silver, as well as a member of the 2015EAFF E-1 Football Championships winning side, and Korean Footballer of the Year. He is a dependable piece in Korea’s defensive structure, and is also capable of playing on the left in a back four and as a defensive midfielder.

Branko Belan

Midfielders



(Image via Zimbio)
16. Ki Sung-yueng (Newcastle United)

Ki, a central midfielder by trade, is undergoing a mini-renaissance after joining Newcastle United last summer. The former Swansea City man began the season out of favour but has since worked his way into the team, and is now considered as one of the first names on Rafa Benitez’s team sheet. The midfielder will also be one of the key players in this Korea team and his distribution will be key to unlocking the packed defences that Korea are likely to encounter in the early stages of the competition. Often criticised for a lack of leadership, Ki appears to be flourishing after relinquishing the captaincy to Son Heung-min, and the 29 year old will need to be at his best if Korea are to win this competition.

- Scott Whitelock

(Image via Zimbio)
5. Jung Woo-young (Al Sadd)

The 29 year old sealed a summer move to Al Saad in the Qatari Stars League, and has mostly come on as a substitute, although four of his nine league appearances have been in the starting eleven. His standout performance came in September against Al Rayyan, where he scored once and added an assist in a 5-0 victory. It was, however, the only time since joining his new club that he played a full ninety minutes. His 33 appearances for the national team, including two EAFF East Asian Cups in 2015 and 2017, and representing Korea at the World Cup in Russia will come in useful, but he will most likely come off the bench as Korea boasts a midfield with considerable talent already.

- Branko Belan

(Image via Zimbio)
13. Koo Ja-cheol (FC Augsburg)

Koo has appeared fourteen times for Augsburg this season, ten coming as a member of the starting eleven. He enters the Asian Cup coming  off of three consecutive 90 minute performances in the Bundesliga, and he came on as a halftime substitute in Korea’s friendly against Saudi Arabia, so there should be no questions with regards to his fitness, after he picked up a knock during Korea’s match against Australia in November. He will be key as an attacking presence for Korea going forward. If Korea are to challenge for their first Asian Cup in nearly sixty years, Koo will have to be at the top of his game. Along with his 72 international caps, he was also a winner of the 2008 EAFF East Asian Cup, and he was top scorer at the Asian Cup in 2011.

- Branko Belan

(Image via Zimbio)
6. Hwang In-beom (Daejeon Citizen)

Having featured for the Korea U17s, U20s, and U20s, Hwang In-beom made the step up to the full national team set up in September of 2018. An integral part of the Gold Medal-winning Asian Games Squad which beat Japan in the Final by two-goals-to-one, Hwang then earned himself military exemption and so returned to Daejeon Citizen from Asan Mugunghwa, the police team. Asan went onto win the K League 2 title whilst Daejeon made it to the Promotion Playoff Final after finishing fourth. Hwang was named in the K League 2 Best XI in 2018 and in 2017 and is widely tipped to depart for Europe with some prominent Bundesliga clubs reported to be interested in signing the Daejeon-born creative midfielder. For the full national team, Hwang made his debut in Goyang during what was Paulo Bento’s first game in charge, coming on as a second-half substitute in the 2-0 victory over Costa Rica. His first start came three matches later, the 2-2 draw with Panama in Cheonan where the 22 year-old scored Korea’s second to put the Taeguk Warriors 2-0 up. Since then, Hwang In-beom has started the last three and looks to be an important player for Paulo Bento’s team heading into the tournament.

- Paul Neat

(Image via Zimbio)
8. Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa FC)

The 28 year old defensive midfielder earned a spot on the final 23 man roster thanks to a great season with the K League 2 champions, coupled with strong back-to-back performances with the national team during their brief stint down in Australia against the Socceroos and Uzbekistan.

Having also made a pair of appearances at the World Cup this year in Russia against Mexico and Germany, where he assisted on Son Heung-min’s clincher against the defending champions, Ju has finally found a place for himself.

Ju, a set piece specialist, may not be a favorite to start in midfield, he will get minutes from the bench, and will most likely feature in a holding role. He may not venture up in attack much, but will be key to Korea’s distribution on the pitch.

- Branko Belan

(Image via Zimbio)
10. Lee Jae-sung (Holstein Kiel)

Having forged quite the career in Asia, midfielder Lee Jae-sung finally made his long-awaited move to Europe shortly after the summer’s World Cup, switching from K League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to 2.Bundesliga side Holstein Kiel. It was a move that raised some eyebrows given the high profile he had made on the peninsular, with concern that the then reigning league MVP was selling himself short, yet his move has seen him acquire regular first-team football against different styles opposition and take what looks to a promising step into European football. At present, Lee Jae-sung boasts seven assists for the German outfit, placing him fourth in the division as a whole, in addition to three goals. On form, there were few in Korea who could rival Lee’s creativity in the central attacking midfield role, yet it is on either wing where he has been employed for both his country and his new club. His quick thinking and knack for a cutting pass was what initially set him apart from his peers and he could provide genuine competition for a starting berth in this squad, yet Bento has only started Lee once so far, partially due to injury, and it seems likely that the midfielder will be a strong backup option for any key absences within the side.

- Matt Binns 

(Image via Zimbio)
17. Lee Chung-yong (VfL Bochum)

Lee is a veteran of the national team, and has rounded into form since joining the second division German side last September. He has accounted for four assists in eleven appearances thus far, earning him a contract extension that will run through to the midway point of 2020. This Asian Cup will be seen as another opportunity for him, as he failed to make the final 23 man cut for the World Cup last year. He sustained an injury in the first match against Oman in the Asian Cup four years ago and was forced to miss the rest of the tournament. The hope is that his recent form will carry over and he will be a factor when called on from the bench.

- Branko Belan

(Image via Zimbio)
7. Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur)

Current Korean National Team captain Son Heung-min is due to arrive in the UAE in time for Korea’s final group match fixture with China PR on Wednesday 16th January. The former Bayer Leverkusen man’s stellar form for Tottenham Hotspur, which has seen him rack up eight goals and five assists from sixteen Premier League appearances this season and 11 goals and 11 assists from 25 appearances in all competitions. In the red of the Taeguk Warriors, Son has 74 caps and 23 goals to his name - needing five more to break into the top 11 Korean National Team all-time goalscorers. Son’s first for his country game in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, against India in Qatar. Four years later and Son was on the scoresheet against Uzbekistan and Australia for the 2015 tournament and has scored in two World Cups as well as leading the U23 team to the gold in the 2018 Asian Games.

- Paul Neat

(Image via Zimbio)
11. Hwang Hee-chan (Hamburger SV)

The 22 year old center forward currently on loan to Hamburger SV in the 2. Bundesliga from Red Bull Salzburg has appeared fourteen times, scoring twice and assisting once for the German club so far this season since joining at the end of the summer.  He was a member of Korea’s Asian Games gold medal winning squad, and has also notched a pair of goals for his country in 21 caps thus far.  With his ability to play on either wing, he can be a threat on the flanks in attack for the men up top.  Despite his young age, he has already amassed quite a resume in the Austrian league, winning three league titles and two domestic cups.  He played in all three matches for Korea at the World Cup in Russia, starting in the first two against Sweden and Mexico.  His fitness going into the Asian Cup is not a concern; he should be strongly considered as a candidate for the starting eleven.

- Branko Belan

(Image via Zimbio)

12. Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona)


Drafted into the squad due to fellow attacking midfielder Na Sang-ho’s knee injury, Lee Seung-woo will hope to take full advantage of his unexpected call-up. Forcing his way back into the Hellas Verona staring 11 of late, the 21-year-old has endured a staccato start to national team life. After performing so well in a hype-inducing Asian Games campaign, the former Barcelona prodigy will no doubt be disappointed to be afforded just seven minutes game time for Korea since Bento’s arrival. Not forming part of the squad for November friendlies against Australia and Uzbekistan, Lee Seung-woo sneaks into contention thanks to AFC rules declaring that injured players can be replaced up to six hours before a team’s inaugural tournament match. There has been a notable up-turn of form for the youngster in Serie B, bagging his first goal of the season away at Foggia in late December. While Bento has acknowledged Korea possess a wealth of experienced talent in his position, Lee Seung-woo did notch on four occasions at the Asian Games and boasts an unpredictability that could help unlock stubborn defences intent on sitting back.

- Peter Hampshire

Forwards


(Image via Zimbio)
18. Hwang Ui-jo (Gamba Osaka)

Top scorer at the Asian Games, third top scorer in the J. League this season, KFA footballer of the year, and in the J. League best XI; Hwang Ui-jo had the year of his career in 2018. After bursting onto the scene at Seongnam, he went through a barren spell, but a move to Gamba Osaka revitalized his career.  Korean fans, possibly remembering that barren spell at Seongnam, were critical of his inclusion in the Asian Games squad, but he proved those critics wrong, and has been rewarded by a return to the national team under Paulo Bento. If he can match his Asian Games form, he could be a good shout for top scorer at the 2019 Asian Cup.

- Steve Price

(Image via Zimbio)
9. Ji Dong-won (FC Augsburg)

The striker has appeared 48 times for his country, scoring eleven goals.  After a strong performance at the Asian Cup in 2011, where he scored four goals while adding two assists, helping  bring Korea a bronze medal, he was dropped from the squad four years ago.  It is questionable at best what his role will be, but, Bento has brought a new approach, and a new brand of attacking football, so there is a chance he can either play on the wing or up top from the bench.  His playing time in the Bundesliga has been limited to five appearances thanks in large part to an MCL injury which kept him sidelined for almost two months.  He did not play in Augsburg’s final match against Wolfsburg before joining the national team, but did play a full ninety against Hertha Berlin the previous week.  The hope is that he will be fit enough to play some minutes and have an impact if Korea are to climb the final step and come home with gold.

- Branko Belan

The K League United Podcast

Ahead of Korea's Asian Cup campaign, the latest K League United Podcast saw site columnists Matthew Binns, Steve Price and Peter Hampshire sit down to preview the entire Korea squad plus the manager himself. They also assessed the side's strengths and weaknesses in addition to how they think the team will fare in the competition. You can listen in the player below, or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Google Podcasts or Stitcher.



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