South Korea was not initially much of a footballing nation. The Korea Football Association (KFA) was not reinstated until 1948, after it had been forced to dissolve eight years earlier. The national team also made their Olympic debut in London that year. South Korea then went on to win two inaugural Asian Cup titles, although they have yet to triumph since their 1960 victory. Following years of steady progress, the Korean professional football division was launched in an attempt to raise the standard of football in the country.
South Korea qualified for the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, their first ever finals, losing heavily to Hungary (9-0) and Turkey (7-0). They would not qualify again until the 1986 tournament, in Mexico. However they crashed out of their group after defeats to Argentina and Italy, and a draw with Bulgaria. They reached the 1990 finals but lost all their group games to Spain, Uruguay and Belgium. Although they managed a 2-2 draw with Spain at the 1994 World Cup, a defeat to Germany sealed their exit at the group stage once again. They were then brushed aside at France 1998, including a heavy 5-0 loss to the Netherlands, which saw the dismissal of their coach, Cha Bum-Kun.
A major landmark for the country was co-hosting the 2002 World Cup with Japan. South Korea did superbly well, managing to reach the semi-finals, and becoming the first Asian side to do so. This run included a hard-fought 2-1 win over Italy and a penalty shoot-out triumph over Spain. Although Germany defeated them in the semi-finals, South Korea received praise for their outstanding run, with the popularity of football in the country given a major boost.
South Korea reached the finals in 2006 and 2010, but crashed out of their group in 2006 and reached the first knockout round in South Africa, where they were overcome by Uruguay.
Road to Brazil
South Korea came through two qualification groups in their region to reach the finals in Brazil. Their first stage group, with Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, proved easy pickings, with 13 points out of 18 and top spot in the group for the Koreans – they were only defeated once, 2-1 by Lebanon. In the next round of qualifying, they were grouped with Iran, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Lebanon. South Korea finished second in the group, behind Iran, with 14 points. However, qualification went down to the wire, with Uzbekistan just one goal behind South Korea on goal difference in the play-off spot. The Koreans lost both games to Iran which cost them top spot.
Despite the recent retirement of Park Ji-Sung, South Korea still possess some talented individuals. Striker Park Chu-Young, although an outcast at Arsenal, is one of the Koreans most experienced front men. Elsewhere, Swansea maestro Ki Sung-Yueng is a vital part of how the side functions. His range of passing and box-to-box style of play is the nucleus of the side. Kim Byo-Kyung and Lee Chung-Yong both contribute to Korea’s creativity, and both play in England, for Cardiff and Bolton respectively in the Championship.
Striker Lee Keun-Ho has 63 goals for his country, and his partnership with Park Chu-Young will have to be at its most effective for the Koreans to conquer any opposition.
South Korea’s Group
South Korea face some stiff opposition in their group. Although qualification for the last 16 is certainly a realistic target, their side could be overpowered if their defence creaks under pressure.
Belgium are the dark horses of the finals and have an intimidating mix of youthful attackers and experienced defenders. The odds are stacked against South Korea against the ‘Red Devils’ – a point would be a superb result.
Russia have tactical nous and have enough technical ability to do damage against South Korea, but are not as superior to them as some might think. This could be the crucial game for South Korea.
Algeria must not be underestimated and will be a tough nut to crack. Whilst the Koreans must not be naive to think a win is guaranteed, they should be able to pick up three points.
South Korea are experienced having been at the last few World Cups. However, the bottom line is, that their lack of quality could be ruthlessly exposed. They will certainly scrap with Russia for second place in Group H, but even if they do progress, it is hard to see them having any chance against a classier opponent. Even in the Group itself, Russia would be most punters’ pick for second place – and the Koreans might just fall short of it in Brazil.