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South Korea's 2018 Asian Games squad: Where are they now?


The Asian Games are an opportunity to earn gold and be the pride of a nation. It's also a chance for Korea's male footballers to earn military exemption. Korea have done just that in the last two Asian Games, beating North Korea in the 2014 gold medal match and Japan in 2018. The 2014 victory was Korea's first since 1986 while the most recent win perhaps had the most media attention and level of interest as it meant Son Heung-min was able to earn military exemption and continue his career in Europe. Son is, of course, still with Tottenham Hotspur, but where are the rest of that 2018 Asian Games-winning squad?
Photo credit: ARIEF BAGUS/AFP via Getty Images

The class of 2023 have begun the Asian Games in emphatic fashion, putting nine past Kuwait. The challenge now is to win the group and guide Korea to a third-straight gold medal in men's football at the Asiad. 

Harking back to the 2018 squad, Hwang Ui-jo and Kim Jin-ya were the only two players to feature in all seven matches. They actually became teammates at club level in 2023 when Hwang moved on loan to FC Seoul. 

In terms of K League representation, 15 players were on the books of domestic clubs at the time of the 2018 Asian Games and 11 remain in K League to this day, albeit most having moved to different clubs. That includes Na Sang-ho who left K League in 2018 and returned again having spent a year with FC Tokyo.

Only two players are at the same club they were at the time of the Asian Games, Hwang Hyun-soo of FC Seoul is one and Tottenham Hotspur skipper Son Heung-min is the other.

But, Korea's 2018 Asian Games squad; where are they now?

Goalkeepers

1 Song Bum-keun, 3 apps, 1 cleansheet

A tearful Song following the defeat to Mexico at the Tokyo Olympics (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Then just 20 at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, now 25 with Shonan Bellmare in J1 League. Song won multiple league titles and FA Cups while with the Green Warriors and sought pastures new at the end of 2022. Prior to that, Song was part of Korea's Olympic Games squad in Tokyo that exited in the quarterfinals. He has been largely ever-present for his new team but has been limited to just one cleansheet in 21 appearances and 39 conceded. Shonan are embroiled in a relegation battle and sit bottom of J1 League. 

18 Jo Hyeon-woo, 5 apps, 3 cleansheets

Jo Hyeon-woo is a K League title-winner with Ulsan

Then 26 with Daegu FC, now 31 with Ulsan Hyundai. Jo was one of the Wild Cards having been over the age of 23. A move to Germany was mooted in the winter after the Games but it never materialised. He has gone on to win silverware, though, having lifted the K League 1 title with Ulsan last year and won the FA Cup with Daegu the same year as the Asian Games.

Defenders

2 Hwang Hyun-soo, 6 apps

Hwang Hyun-soo in action for FC Seoul in 2018

Then 23 FC Seoul, now 27, Hwang Hyun-soo is still at FC Seoul although playing time has dwindled somewhat due to fitness and form issues.

3 Kim Min-jae, 6 apps

Kim Min-jae with new Bayern teammate Harry Kane ((Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Then 21 at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, now 26 at Bayern Munich. via Beijing Guoan, Fenerbahce, and Napoli). Kim Min-jae's rise to stardom is something that many K League watchers will have predicted but few will have seen him winning the Serie A title in his first season in Italy. He left Jeonbuk for the Chinese Super League in 2019 to sign for Beijing Guoan, spent two years there before sealing a move to Turkish giants Fenerbahce. An 18 million euros move to Napoli was sealed in the summer of 2022 where he won the Serie A title. Kim has since moved to perennial German champions Bayern Munich.

4 Kim Jin-ya, 7 apps, 1 goal

Kim Jin-ya in Super Match action for FC Seoul this April

Then 20 at Incheon United, now 25 at FC Seoul. In fact, he’s one of the vice captains at FC Seoul. Kim played all seven matches in the 2018 Asian Games and managed to get himself on the scoresheet too, scoring the second in the 2-0 win over Bahrain.

5 Jeong Tae-wook, 2 apps

Jeong Tae-wook in action for Jeonbuk this March against former employers Daegu
Then 21 at Jeju United, now 26 at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Jeong won gold in 2018 but is yet to win any silverware at club level having only just joined the Green Warriors this season. Dan Petrescu will be hoping that will change this year at Jeonbuk with the FA Cup and AFC Champions League on the horizon.

6 Kim Moon-hwan, 6 apps

Kim Moon-hwan at the World Cup in Qatar against Brazil (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)
Then 23 of Busan IPark, now 27 of Al-Duhail in the Qatari Stars League. Kim moved to the Middle East from Jeonbuk having returned to Korea from MLS where he was on the books of LAFC for 18 months. While in Jeonju, Kim was able to add an FA Cup winners medal to his Asian Games gold.

12 Lee Si-young, 3 apps

Lee Si-young in pre-season for FC Seoul this January

Then 21 of Seongnam, now 26 of FC Seoul. Lee Si-young had spells at Gwangju and Seoul E-Land before eventually joining FC Seoul from Seongnam in 2023 but game time has come at a premium. He registered his first assist for Seoul in a 2-0 win away to Gwangju, crossing in for Park Dong-jin to head home. 

FNR

Midfielders

8 Lee Jin-hyun, 4 apps, 1 assist

Lee Jin-hyun in action for Daejeon this season
Then 20 of Pohang Steelers, now 26 of Daejeon Hana Citizen. His loan with Austria Vienna had just ended around the time of the Asian Games and had returned to the Steel Yard. He stayed at Pohang until 2019 but then joined Daegu FC in 2020 and then Daejeon in 2021. Was instrumental in Daejeon winning promotion. As can be heard in the first commentary clip in the KLU Pod intro.

10 Hwang In-beom, 6 apps, 2 assists

Hwang In-beom on his UCL debut for Crvena zvezda vs. holders Manchester City
Then 21 of Asan Mugunghwa as part of his military service, on loan from Daejeon. Now 26 and with another new club, Crvena zvezda in Serbia having moved from Olympiacos for around €5.5m in the final days of the transfer league. Hwang In-beom has had something of a nomadic career since the Asian Games. He returned to Daejeon early because he earned military exemption, and helped the Purples reach the playoffs that year but then in 2019 was sold to Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS. He then went to Rubin Kazan but due to Russia’s war in Ukraine was granted permission by FIFA to leave the country and returned to K League with FC Seoul on loan before sealing a move to Greek giants Olympiacos. 

13 Cho Yu-min, 6 apps

Cho in action for Daejeon at home to FC Seoul in April this year
Then 21 and a midfielder at Suwon FC, now 26 and a centre back at Daejeon Hana Citizen. Cho helped guide Daejeon to promotion as captain last year in what was his first season with the club. He was part of the 2022 World Cup squad in Qatar after slowly breaking into the full national team under previous manager Paulo Bento. Cho has won promotion from K League 2 twice having also done so with Suwon FC in 2020.

14 Jang Yun-ho (vice captain), 5 apps

Jang celebrates scoring for Gimpo away to Cheonan City in August
Then 21 of Jeonbuk, now 26 of Gimpo FC Jang Yun-ho had had loan spells away from Jeonbuk before eventually leaving permanently this year; Incheon in 2019 and Seoul E-Land from 2020 to 2021. He also turned out for Jeonbuk’s B team but joined Gimpo in 2023. Jang has four K League 1 winners medals and one AFC Champions League and is currently looking to add promotion from K League 2 to his list of achievements.

15 Lee Seung-mo, 5 apps

Lee Seung-mo in his home debut for FC Seoul in July

Then 20 of Gwangju on loan from Pohang, now 25 of FC Seoul having been part of a swap deal that saw Han Chan-hee go the other way. Lee is yet to win another medal as a player but did appear in the 2021 ACL Final for Pohang and even had a run of games at centre forward due to injury problems but has since reverted back to midfield.

19 Kim Geon-ung, 2 apps

Kim in action for Jeju against one of his former teams Ulsan Hyundai in July

Then 20 of Ulsan Hyundai, now 25 of Jeju United. Kim Geon-ung left Ulsan after four years with the club and making just 23 appearances. He went on loan to Jeonnam Dragons in 2019, played regularly and then moved to Suwon FC where he helped them win promotion via the playoffs in 2020. Earned a move to Jeonbuk this year but has since been swapped with Ahn Hyun-beom of Jeju United.

20 Kim Jung-min, 6 apps

Kim Jung-min on media duty with FC Anyang in February
Then 18 of FC Liefering in Austria, now 23 with FC Anyang in K League 2. Kim Jung-min has done a bit of traveling throughout his short career already having played in Austria and Portugal before returning to Korea. He had been on loan from Red Bull Salzburg during the time of the Asian Games and then went to Amira Wacker in 2020 before moving to Vitória de Guimarães. He returned to Korea with Gangwon FC but the move didn't go to plan and he was loaned to Busan IPark before moving permanently to Anyang this year.


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Forwards

7 Son Heung-min (captain), 6 apps, 1 goal, 5 assists

Son captaining Spurs in the Premier League this season (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

Then 26, now 31, Son Heung-min is still with Tottenham Hotspur but a fair bit has changed since then. He became the first Asian player to win the Premier League golden boot, has overtaken Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo for goals, and set records for goal combinations with Harry Kane. He's also the new Spurs skipper. At the Asian Games in 2018, Son scored just once but assisted five, including both goals in the final against Japan.

9 Hwang Hee-chan, 6 apps, 3 goals

Hwang Hee-chan celebrates scoring for Wolves vs Liverpool in September (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Then 22 of Red Bull Salzburg, now 27 of Wolverhampton Wanderers Hwang Hee-chan is plying his trade in the Premier League. Hwang had a trophy-laden spell in Austria with Salzburg, winning four Bundesliga titles and three Austrian Cups. He then moved to sister club RB Leipzig before getting snapped up on loan by Wolves. Hwang is a regular for the full national team now and famously scored the winner against Portugal in Qatar to send Korea through to the Round of 16. At the Asian Games, Hwang scored three in six matches including what proved to be the winner in the final against Japan.

11 Na Sang-ho, 5 apps, 1 goal

Na Sang-ho is enjoying his best goal return at K League 1 level this season

Then 21 of Gwangju FC, now 27 of FC Seoul. Na Sang-ho has played for three different clubs since the Asian Games, those being FC Tokyo in Japan where he spent a season, before moving to Seongnam FC on loan in 2020. His form for the Magpies, which saw him score seven goals in 17 starts, earned him a move to FC Seoul. This season he's in the hunt for the golden boot and is FC Seoul's leading scorer. Na scored just once in the Asian Games, getting on the score sheet in the 6-0 group stage opener against Bahrain.

16 Hwang Ui-jo, 7 apps, 9 goals, 1 assist

Hwang dispatches a shot against Japan in the 2018 Asian Games final (CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Then 25 of Gamba Osaka, now 31 of Norwich City. Hwang Ui-jo has been to France, Greece, England, back to Korea, and then back to England again since the 2018 Asian Games. Hwang moved to Bordeaux in Ligue 1 and spent three seasons in the south of France where he had a goal record of around one in three matches. But relegation to the second tier led to Hwang's exit, signing for Nottingham Forest for a reported £3m. He was sent on loan to Olympiacos immediately but his time in Greece didn't go to plan and his loan was cut short. But, having played in the French Cup for Bordeaux and then in the Greek top flight in the 2022/2023 campaign, Hwang was unable to play for another European team until the following season. This meant a move to FC Seoul on loan before returning to Forest in the summer. Despite a decent pre-season, Hwang has been sent on loan to Championship side Norwich City. Hwang was prolific at the Asian Games and finished the tournament as the top scorer.

17 Lee Seung-woo, 5 apps, 4 goals

Lee scores the winner for Suwon FC away to Daejeon in September

Then 20 of Hellas Verona, now 25 of Suwon FC. Lee Seung-woo moved to Sint-Truiden in Belgium after spending around two years in Italy, making 37 appearances for Hellas Verona. The year 2021 brought Lee a loan move to Portugal with Portimonense where he made just four appearances before returning to Korea with hometown club Suwon FC. In the 2018 Asian Games, Lee scored some crucial goals to help Korea earn gold, including a brace in the 3-1 semi-final win against Vietnam and one in the final against Japan.

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