World Cup - Country profile: South Korea

We profile 2014 World Cup finalists South Korea as former national skipper Hong Myung-bo looks to make his mark as coach.

Reuters
World Cup - Country profile: South Korea
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South Korea's coach Myung Bo Hong shouts instructions to his players (Reuters)

Form and Prospects

South Korea will play at their eighth consecutive World Cup finals next year, but their qualification campaign was far from routine and ended with the departure of their coach amid concerns the team were headed for embarrassment in Brazil.

A 1-0 home loss to Iran in the final qualifier meant South Korea grabbed the last automatic berth on goal difference. Coach Choi Kang-hee stepped aside and former national skipper Hong Myung-bo took over.

Tasked with shoring up a suspect defence and sharpening up a one-dimensional attack, Hong tinkered with personnel and formations and won just once in his first seven games in charge.

However, a stoic display in a 2-0 loss to Brazil in October was followed by an impressive 3-1 win over Mali and a superb 2-1 victory over Switzerland.

As impressive as the result was against the Swiss, who went through their World Cup qualifying campaign unbeaten, the manner in which South Korea controlled possession in a dominant second half and opened up their opponents at will bodes well for Brazil.

Coach: Hong Myung-bo

Local fans love to relive the glory days of 2002 when Guus Hiddink led South Korea to the semi-finals on home soil. In Hong Myung-bo, now 44, they not only have a manager who played under the Dutch master but one who cut his coaching teeth by his side.

South Korea's most capped player took over from Choi Kang-hee after the much-maligned manager stepped down following an uninspiring qualifying campaign in which the Koreans made it through by the skin of their teeth.

Hong impressed as coach of Korea's Olympic team, winning the bronze medal at the London Games, and assisted Hiddink at Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala before the Dutchman resigned.

While Hong's first few games in charge of the national team have been difficult, a recent 2-1 win over Switzerland suggests he has them moving in the right direction.

Key player: Son Heung-min

Son Heung-min has all the makings of becoming South Korea's next soccer icon, and like his predecessor Park Ji-sung, he has never played club football on home soil.

Son left Seoul's Dongbuk High School to join German side SV Hamburg's youth academy and has flourished in the Bundesliga, earning a 10 million-euros ($13.46 million) transfer to Bayer Leverkusen in the close season.

Still only 21, the striker has made an immediate impact in the Bundesliga, and scored a hat-trick against his former club in early November.

Son has yet to replicate his club form with the national team but under new coach Hong Myung-bo he is imposing himself more and delivered his best performance in a Korean shirt in their 2-1 win over Switzerland in Seoul.

How they qualified

Asian Zone: Group A runners-up

World Cup record

Previous appearances: Eight (1954, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)

Best: Semi-finalists as co-hosts: 2002

Odds

500-1

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