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Five things we learned from South Korea's wins over Singapore & China

South Korea picked up two wins from two to get their 2026 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualification campaign underway, beating Singapore 5-0 and China 3-0. This meant five wins in a row with six consecutive cleansheets. But what did we learn from this November international break from South Korea's perspective?
(Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

Lee Kang-in is going to be central to Korea moving forward

Lee Kang-in in action against China (Photo by AFP)

It was a very productive November international window for attacking midfielder Lee Kang-in. The PSG star registered a goal and an assist in the 5-0 demolition of Singapore and then, away to China, he got another assist with Son Heung-min heading home one of his teasing corners. Lee was deployed from the right of a midfield four but with the license to cut in onto his left foot. It was a particularly excellent performance from him against China, showing poise and balance to beat players and position himself to find defence-splitting passes. 

It was his pass that led to Korea's third goal against China with a sumptuous ball into Son Heung-min whose shot was then parried out for a corner. Lee then took the corner and it was headed in by Son. He created five chances - the most by anyone in the match - and was 75% successful in the dribbles he attempted while also landed three of his six crosses. Klinsmann has talked up Lee Kang-in's progress and ability and it's clear to see that the 22-year-old is going to be central to this Korea team moving forward.  

Cho Gue-sung is first choice to start up front

Cho Gue-sung celebrates scoring against Singapore (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

Whereas Paulo Bento didn't appear to be so sure about Lee Kang-in, one thing that Klinsmann shares with his predecessor is that Cho Gue-sung looks to be first choice to start as Korea's number nine. Klinsmann has used 11 different front pairings or combinations, including lone strikers, and the Son Heung-min and Cho Gue-sung partnership is the one that's been used the most (six times), whether that be as a two in a 4-4-2 or with Son playing behind Cho in a 4-4-1-1. Cho has appeared in four different combinations but perhaps his main rival for that number nine spot Hwang Ui-jo has appeared in more (five). Cho opened the scoring against Singapore and also provided an assist for Hwang Hee-chan to make it 2-0. He didn't have the same degree of success against China but he put a shift in and was a nuisance for the Chinese back line.

Son Heung-min (L) scored a brace against China (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

It would be amiss not to mention the captain. With Korea having so many talented wide forwards Son Heung-min is afforded a more central role in this Korea side, similar to how he plays for Tottenham Hotspur following the departure of Harry Kane. Son was able to help boost his cap-to-goal ratio with three scored in the two games putting him on 41 goals in 117 caps and with an assist against China, he now has 60 goal contributions. It was a typically professional performance from Son who seemed to be playing with a bit more freedom. There's often the impression that Son is playing with the weight of his country on his back but he looked bright and will be delighted to have bagged a brace, something he has only done three times before in a competitive match for Korea.

Right back spot up for grabs

Seol Young-woo (L) got an assist in the 5-0 win over Singapore (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)
Klinsmann clearly likes full backs who can cross but isn't decided on who he prefers at right back. In the game against Singapore the style of play was very clear: put crosses into the box for Cho Gue-sung as Korea had the height advantage. Korea put 37 crosses in and 17 of them were successful. This was much more than in any other game under Klinsmann; against Vietnam, it was 20 (7 successful), Tunisia 15 (3), Saudi Arabia nine (4), and Wales 12 (1) when looking at the last five matches. Seol Young-woo attempted seven against Singapore and five found the target. He got an assist and although it didn't come from a cross, his performance will have given Klinsmann something to think about when it comes to right back. 

Kim Tae-hwan was given the nod for the trip to China but wasn't all that effective. A lot of Korea's play went down the left and so if either of the full backs were going to get on the ball, it was Lee Ki-je but Kim Tae-hwan didn't land either of the two crosses he attempted, and only two of his four long balls. He also only won one of his ground duels. Left back seems a little more secure with Lee Ki-je being the preferred choice of late

Kim Young-gwon's time up at centre back? 

Kim Young-gwon (R) shakes hands with Brazil's Richarlison at 202 World Cup (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

Jung Seung-hyun seems to be Jurgen Klinsmann's preferred centre back to partner Kim Min-jae. Kim Young-gwon, who ticked over the 100-cap mark at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, has played in six major tournaments for Korea with three AFC Asian Cups and three FIFA World Cups but it appears as though he's being phased out. He started the first two games under Klinsmann, playing 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw with Colombia and the 2-1 loss to Uruguay but, after missing the friendlies with Peru and El-Salvador through injury, has been on the bench for each of Korea's last six games. They've also kept six cleansheets in that time with Jung Seung-hyun being a mainstay alongside Kim Min-jae. Jung hasn't put a foot wrong and even scored his first international goal in the win over China. At the moment, it's Jung's place to lose.

Park Yong-woo is not the answer in midfield

 Park Yong-woo (L) returned to the lineup vs. China (Photo by AFP) 

Whatever the question may be, Park Yong-woo is not the answer. The logic to pick someone strong and with a physical presence to play against China is understandable but he's too slow, clumsy, and cumbersome to really have much of an impact on the game from an attacking point of view. With the two holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1, it's important that they can spray passes quickly and accurately. Hwang In-beom, although he didn't have a particularly great game against China, at least has the ability to do that. Who plays alongside him is perhaps up for debate. Park Jin-seob came on and showed some good touches, even in a very short cameo. Cho Yu-min could play there and has the composure and range of passing to do so. Park Yong-woo's inclusion perhaps says more about a lack of players in that area of the pitch that Klinsmann rates. 

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