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South Korea's K League players at World Cups 1986-2018



Paulo Bento's South Korea squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar contains 14 K League-based players, more or less the average since 1986. But which South Korea squad had the most K League-based players, and contributed the most? 
Image credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

Qatar 2022 will be South Korea's 10th consecutive World Cup and 11th in total. In the nine previous campaigns there has been an average of 14.66 K League players involved in the 22 or 23-man squads. 

The fewest was six in 2014 when South Korea finished bottom of their group having picked up just one point. The most was at Italia '90 with 20 while in 2002, when Korea made it all the way to the semifinals, there were 15. 

In terms of the players who actually make it onto the pitch, on average, 60% of starters have been K League players and 60% of the substitutions made have been K League players coming on. The 1990 and 1994 World Cups had the most K League starters with 80% while the lowest was 2014 with just 15%.

In terms of substitutes, meanwhile, the 1990 World Cup saw the most at 83% while the lowest was 2006 with 33%.

In terms of goals, the average number scored by K League players is 1.44 per World Cup while the overall percentage is, on average, 46.22%. The last K League player to score in a World Cup for South Korea was Lee Keun-ho (pictured above) in 2014 who, at the time, was with Sangju Sangmu for military service.


1986 Mexico

Photo by AFP via Getty Images
The K League as we know it now was founded in 1983 and so the first World Cup to have any K League players was Mexico '86. That year, Korea were in drawn into Group A with eventual winners Argentina, as well as Bulgaria, and Italy. 

Only one player of the 22 named in the squad was playing overseas, that being Cha Bum-kun who was at Bayer Leverkusen. At that time, Cha was 33 years old and had already earned 125 caps for his country. Two others were at university teams at the time of the World Cup, namely Kim Joo-sung and Kim Jong-boo.

There were some familiar names in that squad, some who went on to manage at K League level or for the national team later in their careers such as Park Kyung-hoon, Cho Kwang-rae, the aforementioned Kim Jong-boo, Choi Soon-ho, Cho Min-gook, and Huh Jung-mu (pictured above). 

The most represented club was Daewoo Royals (now Busan IPark) with five players, Yukong Elephants (now Jeju United) with four, Hyundai Horangi (now Ulsan Hyundai) had three, as did Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso (now FC Seoul), and Posco Atoms (Pohang Steelers) two with one from Hallelujah FC.

South Korea finished bottom of their group after picking up just one point, a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria in Mexico City. Kim Jong-boo scored in the 70th minute, cancelling out Getov's 11th-minute opener after coming off the bench to replace Noh Soo-jin at halftime.

Three of South Korea's goal scorers at Mexico 86 were K League players: Park Chang-sun (Daewoo Royals), Choi Soon-ho (POSCO Atoms), and Huh Jung-mu (Hyundai Horangi).

K League: 18
Overseas: 1
Other: 3
Total: 22
% of starts by K League players: 82%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 66%
% of goals by K League players: 75% (3)

1990 Italy

Olympic Stadium in Rome prior to the 1990 World Cup Image: GERARD MALIE/AFP via Getty Images
At Italia '90, South Korea was in Group E with Belgium, Spain, and Uruguay. All 22 players named in the squad were with teams in South Korea, 20 being K League and two being university teams. The most represented K League teams were Daewoo Royals (Busan IPark) and Hyundai Horangi (Ulsan Hyundai) both with five players while Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso (FC Seoul) had four players and POSCO Atoms three.

Some familiar names from that squad include Choi Kang-hee (Hyundai Horangi), Hwang Sun-hong (Konkuk University), Hong Myung-bo (Korea University), Choi Soon-ho (Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso), as well as Park Kyung-hoon and Lee Heung-sil (POSCO Atoms). 

But the 1990 World Cup was even less successful for South Korea. The Taeguk Warriors, led by Lee Hoe-taik, finished bottom of the group without picking up a single point. In fact, South Korea only scored one goal - Hwangbo Kwan of Yukong Elephants in a 3-1 loss to Spain in Udine. Hwangbo had actually levelled in the 43rd minute after Michel had made it 1-0 on 23 but the then Real Madrid midfielder scored two more to complete his hat-trick.

K League: 20
Overseas: 0
Other: 2
Total: 22
% of starts by K League players: 88%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 83%
% of goals by K League players: 100% (1)


1994 USA

Image: Simon Bruty/ALLSPORT
For the 1994 World Cup in the United States, South Korea were in Group C with Bolivia, Germany, and Spain. Only one player wasn't on the books of a K League club ate the time, that being striker Kim Joo-sung who was with Vfl Bochum in Germany. 

At the time, the army team Sangmu FC didn't compete in K League and so Seo Jung-won was the first K League-era player to represent South Korea at a World Cup while on military service - not counting the ROK Army Quartermaster Corps FC, ROK Army Quartermaster Corps FC and ROK Navy FC players in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

LG Cheetahs (FC Seoul) and POSCO Atoms were the most represented K League teams with four players each, Hyundai Horangi with four, Ilhwa Chunma three and Daewoo Royals three

South Korea did a bit better in 1994, finishing third in the group and picking up two draws including against Spain in Dallas. Hong Myung-bo (POSCO Atoms) and Seo Jung-won (Sangmu FC) got themselves on the score sheet in the last five minutes to help Korea fight back from being 2-0 down. The other point came from a 0-0 draw with Bolivia in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

In total, Korea scored four goals at USA '94 and three were scored by K League players - Hwang Sun-hong, and Hong Myung-bo (2) who were both on the books of POSCO Atoms at the time.

K League: 18
Overseas: 2
Other: 2
Total: 22
% of starts by K League players: 88%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 72%
% of goals scored by K League players: 75% (3)

1998 France

Photo by PEDRO UGARTE/AFP via Getty Images

In 1998, South Korea were in Group E with Belgium, Mexico, and the Netherlands. A total of 14 of the 22 players were on the books of teams in K League at the time, while three were with Sangmu FC playing outside of K League.

That France '98 squad was filled with names K League fans will be familiar with today including Kim Byung-ji (Ulsan Hyundai Horangi), Lee Lim-saeng (Bucheon SK), Lee Min-sung (Busan Daewoo Royals), Yoo Sang-chul (Ulsan Hyundai Horangi), Kim Do-hoon (Vissel Kobe), Choi Yong-soo (Sangmu FC), Seo Jung-won (Strasbourg), Ko Jong-soo (Suwon Bluewings), Ha Seok-ju (Cerezo Osaka), Hong Myong-bo (Bellmare Hiratsuka), and Lee Dong-gook (Pohang Steelers).

South Korea finished bottom of their group and managed to score just two goals. The first came from Ha Seok-ju in Korea's group opener, a 3-1 loss to Mexico in Lyon. Ha had actually given Korea the lead when he found the back of the net in the 27th minute but Mexico scored three in the second half to seal the win. 

The other goal and point came in a 1-1 draw with Belgium in Paris where Yoo Sang-chul equalised in the 72nd minute, cancelling out Luc Nilis' seventh-minute opener. Yoo was the only K League-based player to score for Korea at France '98 (pictured above).

K League: 14
Overseas: 5
Other: 3
Total: 22
% of starts by K League players: 54%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 78%
% of goals by K League players: 50% (1)


FNR

2002 South Korea & Japan

Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Imag
One of the host nations, South Korea was drawn into Group D in 2002 with Poland, Portugal, and the United States. The vast majority of the 22-man squad were playing in K League with seven with teams overseas.

The most-capped K League player was captain Hong Myung-bo with 128 heading into the tournament. Hong was one of two Pohang Steelers players. Other teams to send two players were Ulsan Hyundai Horangi, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Jeonnam Dragons, LG Anyang Cheetahs, and Busan I'Cons.

Famously, South Korea made it to the semifinals. In the group stage, Korea finished top with seven points but managed to score just four goals in the process. They would score eight in total including the match for third place but only two goals were scored by K League players - Lee Eul-yong (Bucheon SK) and Song Chong-gug (Busan I''Cons).

Relive the run to the last four with K League United's 2002 World Cup Rewind Podcast and YouTube series.

Opening Ceremony: Podcast & YouTube
South Korea 2-0 Poland: Podcast & YouTube 
South Korea 1-1 USA: Podcast & YouTube
South Korea 1-0 Portugal: Podcast & YouTube
South Korea 2-1 Italy: Podcast & YouTube
South Korea 0-0 (3-5 pens) Spain: Podcast & YouTube
South Korea 0-1 Germany: Podcast & YouTube
2002 World Cup Legacy: Podcast & YouTube

K League: 15
Overseas: 7
Other: 1
Total: 23
% of starts by K League players: 64%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 47%
% of goals by K League players: 25% (2)

2006 Germany

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images
In 2006, South Korea were in Group G with France, Switzerland and Togo. Of the 23-man squad, 16 were K League players with Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma sending the most with four each.

The 2006 tournament was another in which South Korea failed to make it out of the group but they did come closer than they had done before. Led by Dick Advocaat, Korea picked up four points thanks to one win and a draw to come in third place and just one point behind France. Korea got their campaign up and running with a 2-1 win over Togo in Frankfurt with goals from Lee Chun-soo (Ulsan Hyundai Horangi) and Ahn Jung-hwan (MSV Duisburg). 

The second group stage match ended in a 1-1 draw with France in Leipzig with Park Ji-sung scoring in the 81st minute to restore parity after Thiery Henry had opened the scoring in the ninth minute. However, the last game ended in a 2-0 loss to Switzerland and South Korea were out of the tournament.

In terms of goals, Korea scored just three during the 2006 World Cup and only one was from a K League player - Lee Chun-soo who was on the books of Ulsan Hyundai Horangi at the time.

K League: 16
Overseas: 7
Other: 0
Total: 23
% of starts by K League players: 61%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 33%
% of goals scored by K League players: 33% (1)

2010 South Africa

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images
In 2010, South Korea were drawn into Group B with Argentina, Greece, and Nigeria. The squad consisted of 13 K League players and 10 overseas. Ulsan were the most one of the most represented team with three players, namely Oh Beom-seok, Kim Dong-jin, and Kim Young-kwang. Suwon Bluewings, too, sent three players - Kang Min-soo, Yeom Ki-hun, and a 37-year-old Lee Woon-jae who was about to go to his fourth and final World Cup.

In South Africa, South Korea had their best World Cup since 2002 by reaching the Round of 16 but lost 2-1 to Uruguay thanks to a Luis Suarez brace. Throughout the competition, they managed to score six goals, five in the group stage, but none were scored by K League players.

K League: 13
Overseas: 10
Other: 0
Total: 23
% of starts by K League players: 38%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 70%
% of goals by K League players: 0%

2014 Brazil

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images
Eight years ago for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, South Korea were in Group H along with Algeria, Belgium, and Russia. Only six players from that squad were playing in K League a the time, namely Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Lee Yong, Kim Seung-gyu and Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Hyundai), as well as Lee Bum-young (Busan IPark). Most of the team, 17 players to be exact, were based overseas. 

Despite Korea having the likes of Ki Sung-yueng, Lee Chung-yong and Ji Dong-woon who had spent the season with Sunderland, Bolton Wanderers, and Augsburg respectively, the team crashed out at the group stage. The only point Korea picked up was thanks to Lee Keun-ho's 68th-minute equaliser against Russia in their group opener, as Korea went on to suffer defeats to Algeria and Belgium after that. 

Lee Yong and Lee Keun-ho played in all three matches while Jung Sung-ryong and Kim Shin-wook made two appearances. But the 2014 campaign yielded just three goals and only one was scored by a K League player.

K League: 6
Overseas: 17
Other: 0
Total: 23
% of starts by K League players: 15%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 50%
% of goals scored by K League players: 33% (1)

2018 Russia

LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images
In the last World Cup, South Korea were in Group F along with Germany, Mexico, and Sweden. Just under half of the squad were on the books of K League teams with 11 while 12 were plying their trade overseas. It proved to be another World Cup of heartbreak and more Son Heung-min tears as Korea crashed out at the group stage, despite beating Germany in the last match. 

Jeonbuk were the most represented club with three players, Lee Yong, Kim Shin-wook, and Lee Jae-sung all played some part in the three matches. Then Daegu FC goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo also played in all three matches while Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United), and Hong Chul (Sangju Sangmu) played in two. But in terms of goals, none were scored by K League players.

K League: 12
Overseas: 11
Other: 0
Total: 23
% of starts by K League players: 51%
% of substitute appearances by K League players: 44%
% of goals by K League players: 0%

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