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South Korea's 2019 Asian Cup quarterfinalists: Where are they now?


Just like in 2019, it was heartbreak again for South Korea in the AFC Asian Cup, only this time the Taeguk Warriors crashed out at the semifinal stage after losing to Jordan. In 2019, Korea were knocked out by Qatar but only six players from the current squad started that 1-0 loss; where are they all now? Or, more to the point, where were they then?

(Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Like any AFC Asian Cup, South Korea were one of the favourites to win the 2019 tournament. The Taeguk Warriors settled in well to the Paulo Bento regime and headed into the competition unbeaten under his stewardship. However, a shock 1-0 loss to Qatar meant an early flight home. 

The loss will have been tough to take. Korea had chance after chance but just couldn't find a breakthrough. A powerful, low, driven strike from Abdulaziz Hatem on 78 minutes broke the deadlock. Korea thought they were level just a minute later with Hwang Ui-jo guiding in a Lee Yong cross but, with VAR being put into use for the first time, replays showed that Hwang was a fraction offside and the goal was chalked off. Qatar held on to win the game and indeed the whole tournament, beating Japan in the final.

Let's take a look at where the Korean players who featured that night are now and where they were then.

1. Kim Seung-gyu 

Kim Seung-gyu (L) in the Saudi Pro League (Photo by Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images)
Goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu has done a fair bit of travelling since the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. At the time of the tournament, Kim was on the books of Vissel Kobe in Japan but then returned to Korea with hometown club Ulsan mid-way through the season with the Horangi looking to win the title. But for one reason or another, and after a title challenge collapse, Kim only stayed at the Munsu for six months before returning to Japan with Kashiwa Reysol. He is now in Saudi Arabia with Al-Shabab and is teammates with former Atletico Madrid star Yannick Carrasco. Kim is still the first-choice goalkeeper for South Korea but an ACL injury meant his 2023 Asian Cup was cut short after the first group game.

Age Then/Now: 28/33
Caps Then/Now: 42/81

2. Lee Yong


Lee Yong's days as a Korean international appear to be over with the now 37-year-old having not featured for the national team since June 2022. Lee was a Jeonbuk player at the time of the 2019 Asian Cup and stayed at Jeonju Castle right up until the summer of 2022 when he joined Suwon FC, initially on loan. Lee helped the Castle Park club to a respectable seventh-place finish in 2022, and avoid relegation via the playoffs in 2023 after making the switch from Jeonbuk a permanent one. He has since been appointed as Suwon FC skipper under new manager Kim Eun-jung.

Age Then/Now: 32/37
Caps Then/Now: 45/57

3. Kim Jin-su


Kim Jin-su was a Jeonbuk player at the time of the 2019 Asian Cup and is a Jeonbuk player now, too, but that doesn't tell the full story. Kim joined Al-Nassr of the Saudi Pro League in 2020 but endured terrible luck with injuries, rupturing his ACL. After working his way back to fitness, he then moved back to Jeonbuk on loan halfway through the 2021 season to help regain his match sharpness. The return to Jeonbuk was made a permanent one in July 2023. Kim appeared in a World Cup for the first time in 2022 and was named in Jurgen Klinsmann's squad for the latest AFC Asian Cup. Kim was seen crying when the final whistle was blown following the 2-0 loss to Jordan, to which he explained to the media that he was frustrated that he wasn't able to help the team, declaring that there was never an issue with his fitness despite hardly featuring throughout the tournament. 

Age Then/Now: 26/31
Caps Then/Now: 42 (1)/69 (2)

4. Kim Min-jae

(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

What a journey it's been for Kim Min-jae. The 'Korean Monster' was a Jeonbuk player in January 2019 but left for Beijing Guoan at the very end of the month, despite reported interest from Watford who were a Premier League club at the time. Kim Min-jae had two years in the Chinese Super League before moving to Turkish giants Fenerbahçe. His impressive displays in Türkiye secured a move to Italian side Napoli where he went on to win the Scudetto in 2023 and earn a spot in the Serie A team of the year. Kim is now at perrenial Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. Turning down Watford proved to be a smart move.

Age Then/Now: 22/27
Caps Then/Now: 17 (2)/61 (4)

5. Jung Woo-young

 Jung (L) in action for his new club Al Khaleej (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
Defensive midfielder Jung Woo-young, now 34, appears to have played his last game for the South Korean national team. His last appearance came in March 2023 during the 2-1 loss to Uruguay in what was Klinsmann's second match in charge. At club level, Jung was in Qatar with Al-Sadd in 2019 and had remained there until last year before joining Al-Khaleej in the Saudi Pro League.

Age Then/Now: 29/34
Caps Then/Now: 37 (2)/70 (3)

6. Hwang In-beom

Hwang celebrates a goal vs Manchester City in the UCL (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
Hwang In-beom was a Daejeon Citizen player at the time of the 2019 Asian Cup, having returned from military service early on account of winning Asian Games gold the year before. Hwang became the first Daejeon player to appear at an AFC Asian Cup, but almost as soon as Korea were knocked out, the 'Son of Daejeon' moved to MLS with Vancouver Whitecaps, despite interest from Benfica and clubs in Germany. Hwang's career has been somewhat nomadic since, however. He moved to Rubin Kazan in Russia in 2020 but Moscow's invasion of Ukraine led to an early departure, initially on loan to FC Seoul. In the summer of 2022, after six months in the Korean capital, Hwang moved to Olympiacos in Greece where he spent just one season. He's now in Serbia with Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade).

Age Then/Now: 22/27
Caps Then/Now: 12 (1)/56 (6)

7. Son Heung-min

Son in action for Spurs in the Premier League (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Son Heung-min was and still is a Tottenham Hotspur player. He's played under a few different managers since the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and he's now the captain for club and country. Son won the Premier League Golden Boot in 2021-2022 with 23 goals. Into double figures in the current campaign, Son has now hit 10 goals or more in the last eight seasons. At international level, Son surpassed 100 caps in June 2022 and marked the occasion with a goal, scoring a free kick to make it 2-0 against Chile at Daejeon World Cup Stadium.

Age Then/Now: 26/31
Caps Then/Now: 77 (25)/122 (44)

8. Ju Se-jong


Ju Se-jong was still completing his military service in 2019 but returned to FC Seoul from Asan Mugunghwa in September that year. He stayed with FC Seoul until the end of the following season before joining Gambo Osaka in Japan in 2021. In the summer of 2022, Ju returned to K League with Daejeon Hana Citizen, initially on loan to help with the club's promotion push. He signed a permanent deal with the Purples before the 2023 season and captained the club in its first season back in the top flight. His move back to K League was aimed at earning a place in the national team again for the 2022 World Cup but Ju wasn't selected by Paulo Bento. His last appearance for Korea was in September 2021, a 1-0 World Cup qualification win over Lebanon.

Age Then/Now: 28/33
Caps Then/Now: 20 (1)/31 (1)

17. Lee Chung-yong


Lee Chung-yong was still in Europe at the time of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, on the books of VfL Bochum in 2. Bundesliga. Lee stayed in Germany until the end of 2019 but then returned to K League with Ulsan in 2020 where he has been ever since. He helped guide the Horangi to the AFC Champions League title that year and was named K League 1 MVP in 2022. Now 35, Lee's international career is over with his last appearance for Korea dating back to March 2019.

Age Then/Now: 30/35
Caps Then/Now: 87 (8)/89 (9)


18. Hwang Ui-jo


Hwang Ui-jo's career has taken an odd turn of late. In January 2019, Hwang was on the books of Gamba Osaka in Japan before earning a move to Ligue 1 and Girondins de Bordeaux. Hwang enjoyed a fruitful spell in France, scoring 29 goals in 98 appearances but the club's relegation to the second tier meant Hwang had to be sold. Nottingham Forest paid 3 million euros for the former Seongnam striker but sent him out on loan to Olympiacos immediately. 

Hwang's time in Greece didn't go to plan and returned to Nottingham Forest halfway through. However, because he had already featured for Bordeaux in the French Cup and Olympiacos in the league in the same season (2022-2023), Hwang was unable to move to a third team in Europe. He then joined FC Seoul on loan until the end of June 2023 before returning to parent club Nottingham Forest. A loan move to Norwich City in the English Championship followed but Hwang has since returned to the City Ground and gone out on loan again, this time to Süper Lig club Alanyaspor. Now 31, Hwang would have been in Jurgen Klinsmann's squad for the Asian Cup but off-the-field issues have left him unavailable for selection for the time being. 

Age Then/Now: 26
Caps Then/Now: 23 (6)/60 (18)

19. Kim Young-gwon


Kim Young-gwon was on the books of Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande in January 2019 but not for long, signing for Gamba Osaka before the new J.League season. Kim spent three seasons in Osaka before signing for Ulsan where he won back-to-back league titles and was named 2023 K League 1 MVP. For the national team, Kim joined the so-called 'century club' in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with the Round of 16 loss to Brazil being his 100th for Korea. 

Age Then/Now: 26/31
Caps Then/Now: 67 (3) 109/7

Substitutes

9. Ji Dong-won


Ji Dong-won was an Augsburg player at this point in his career, having signed for the Bavarian club on a permanent basis from Borussia Dortmund in 2015. However, before the start of the 2019-2020 season, Ji joined 1. FSV Mainz and had a loan spell with Eintracht Braunschweig in 2021 but that summer made a return to K League with FC Seoul. Injuries have blighted Ji's time back in his homeland and limited him to 26 appearances in two and a half years. His last appearance for Korea dates back to March 2019, playing at centre forward in a 1-0 friendly win over Bolivia. Since leaving FC Seoul following the expiration of his contract, Ji has joined K League 1 side Suwon FC.

Age Then/Now: 27/32
Caps Then/Now: 55 (11)/56 (11)

12. Lee Seung-woo


Lee Seung-woo was with Hellas Verona in 2019 having left Barcelona B in August 2017. In August 2019, Lee joined Belgian side Sint-Truiden before leaving in 2022. Lee had a loan move to Portugal in 2021, joining Portimonense before returning to Sint-Truiden. After his contract expired with the Belgian outfit, Lee signed for Suwon FC where he remains. His last appearance for the Korean national team dates back to June 2019, a 1-1 draw with Iran.

Age Then/Now: 20/26
Caps Then/Now: 7/11

13. Koo Ja-cheol


Koo Jae-cheol was an Augsburg teammate of Ji Dong-won in January 2019 but left the club - and Europe altogether - in the summer. Koo joined Qatari side Al-Gharafa before moving to Al-Khor in 2021. Koo has since returned to K League, signing for the club he began his career with nearly 20 years ago, Jeju United.

Age Then/Now: 29/34
Caps Then/Now: 76 (19)/76 (19)

Formation: 4-2-3-1
Manager: Paulo Bento

Others

Lee Jae-sung, Hwang Hee-chan, Jung Seung-hyun, and Jo Hyeon-woo were all part of that 2019 AFC Asian Cup squad and remain involved in the national team setup to this day. Hong Chul, then of Suwon Bluewings, was there too but hasn't appeared for the Taeguk Warriors since Jurgen Klinsmann took over. Hong played 45 minutes of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 loss to Brazil.

Kim Moon-hwan featured heavily under Bento but hasn't made a squad since March 2023 and remained on the bench during Klinsmann's first two matches in charge. Kwon Kyung-won went to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and filled in for the injured Kim Min-jae, while goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon, now 36, was last called up in June 2021 but hasn't actually played for Korea since the EAFF in 2017. Ki Sung-yueng picked up a hamstring injury during the 2019 Asian Cup, curtailing his contributions. The 58 minutes he played against the Philippines in the group stage opener proved to be his last in a Korea shirt.

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