In what must be a welcomed distraction from the threat of a psychotic neighbour standing over the fence in his garden, letting off fireworks and mouthing “I’m going to end you” in the dead of night, 2018 looks like proving itself to be a real turning point in terms of South Korea’s recent history, with sporting conquest front and central.
Having staged a successful Winter Olympiad (where FIB favourite Elise Christie had lots of time to relax on the ice), the Korean’s sporting attention will now turn in a northwesterly direction, and this Summer’s finals in Russia. In what is their tenth overall appearance on the grand stage, and incredibly their ninth in a row, the past hosts will be hoping to bask in the glow of the Son.
Manager: Shin Tae-yong
Another manager less than a year in his role, Shin Tae-yong has been christened by some as the “Asian Mourinho”. He stepped up from his role managing the U-20 and U-23 sides back in June of last year, when South Korea’s usual canter to a World Cup Finals threatened to derail after three defeats from eight in the final qualification stage. Alas, Shin dragged them across the line – just!
The 48 year-old had a distinguished playing career, spending 22 years at Korean giants Seongnam before a brief spell in Australia. He returned to Seongnam as manager in 2009, and, in what has been his greatest achievement to date, delivered the AFC Champions League in 2010, before being persuaded into the international set up by the KFA in 2014.
Star Player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspurs)
Surely, the greatest Asian footballer to grace the Premier League, the Spurs attacker has been in tremendous form this season and is the undoubted superstar for his country. Technically superb, able to fashion chances from little and having a knack of being in the right place at the right time, Son has a ratio of roughly a goal in every three since his move from the Bundesliga, in 2015. His international stats are strikingly similar having scored 20 goals for his country in 62 appearances. In a team lacking in many household names, Son and captain Ki Sung-yueng will bear much of the creative responsibility.
S-on a side note, he will also be making a return to my Fantasy League Team this weekend – I know there’s at least a few people out there that will interested in that tit-bit. You know who you are. I see ya…
Road to Russia
South Korea began their qualifying campaign way, way back in June 2015, with a 2-0 win against Myanmar in their opening game of the AFC’s second round of qualifying. They sailed the group, winning all eight matches and in particular putting lowly Laos to the sword both home and away.
The final stage of qualifying wasn’t just as straight forward for the Taeguk Warriors. Having made a solid start to the group, if a little open at the back, the Koreans began to stumble after three successive away defeats to main rivals Iran, more worryingly China and catastrophically, cut-adrift Qatar. Uli Stielike was fired and Shin handed the task of not chicken ballsing the whole thing up, with the Uzbeks and, almost fairy tale like, the Syrians closing in. On a whirlwind final day, South Korea had to avoid defeat in Uzbekistan and hope that Syria couldn’t pull off a surprise away win against an already-qualified Iran. A stalemate in Tashkent, and the heartbreak of a draw for Syria in Tehran, in a game that they had led, and the Koreans were home in a boat.
Record v Ireland: Won (0) Drawn (0) Lost (0)
Short and sweet – nothing to report here. The Koreans fell only last week to Michael O’Neill’s band of Northern brothers at Windsor Park. Not that we can claim it.
How will they go?
Despite having the mercurial Son at their disposal, the writing is really on the wall for the South Koreans going into the Finals. Things were bad enough for our Oriental friends drawing Germany in Group F, but for a team that has fallen to Russia, Morocco and a Northern Irish team with Trevor Carson in goal over the past few months, I don’t expect them to cause Sweden much bother. Mexico should be a tighter affair.
Prediction: 4th – Seoul-ong little ones. Until next time.