Kim Hak-bum has announced his 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games roster. Cho Hyun-woo, Son Heung-min, and Hwang Ui-jo are among the overage call-ups, but there are some notable exclusions in midfield and defense, and swift allegations of favoritism re: one particular inclusion, that has stirred controversy among the Korean media and fans.
Index (Asian Games coverage)
The Roster (overage players in bold)
GK: Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC), Song Bum-keun (Jeonbuk Hyundai)
DF: Hwang Hyun-soo (FC Seoul), Jeong Tae-wook (Jeju United), Kim Min-jae (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Kim Jin-ya (Incheon United), Cho Yoo-min (Suwon FC), Kim Moon-hwan (Busan I’Park), Lee Si-yeong (Seongnam FC)
MF: Lee Seung-mo (Gwangju FC), Jang Yun-ho (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Kim Gun-woong (Ulsan Hyundai), Hwang In-beom (Asan Mugunghwa), Kim Jung-min (FC Liefering), Lee Jin-hyeon (Pohang Steelers)
FW: Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Hwang Ui-jo (Gamba Osaka), Na Sang-ho (Gwangju FC), Hwang Hee-chan (RB Salzburg), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona)
Position by Position:
Tim: Cho Hyun-woo thrust himself into the Asian Games discussion after an exceptional performance at the World Cup. The question was, however, if he’d already improve a side which won’t likely face a barrage of shots given their more prominent forces up front. However, in recent days, it seemed more likely that the coaching staff was leaning towards Cho, who himself had spoken in interviews about wanting to go to the tournament. He also brings added star power and exposure to the tournament, as well as giving himself a clear chance to avoid military service and try his hand in Europe. I think it’s a good call that he goes. Song Bum-keun over Kang Hyun-mu seemed more or less like a toss-up, so it’s hard for me to judge either way.
Jinseok: I think Cho Hyun-woo was a good call. His exemption will almost certainly solidify a move to Europe, and both Kang Hyun-mu and Song Bum-keun are fairly error prone (SBK more so). Having a good GK in this tournament is so important with its incredible unpredictability, and letting Cho ride his World Cup form is a great idea. What does bother me a little (and many Korean netizens) is the inclusion of Song over Kang. This squad’s #1 was very clearly Kang, who’s 4 years senior to Song and has clearly outperformed him in the K League. I don’t avidly watch the K League myself but I do know that Kang Hyun-mu was considered the top GK in the K League along with Yang Han-bin and Cho Hyun-woo. KHM was one of the best performers during the AFC U23 as well. I am also aware from Jeonbuk highlights and the recent friendlies against Indonesia U23 teams that Song makes a lot of mistakes (not to mention he has the strongest back line in the K League playing in front of him). I like Song Bum-keun, don’t get me wrong, but to see a very deserving 23-year-old get ousted by someone who has a chance at the next Asian Games/Olympics is questionable. But this is a very minor grievance compared to the bigger controversies down below…
Tim: To be honest, my knowledge of the defensive line remains limited, so some things should be taken with a grain of salt. However, I think it’s safe to say that the fullback position is yet again an achilles’ heel for this national team. Kim Jin-ya is energetic and likes to push high up on the right flank, but has been playing as more of a winger for Incheon this season. Just as concerns remain on that side as a result, the left-flank is even more precarious. Suffice it to say that teams playing Korea would do well to target the flanks and expose the fullbacks’ lessened quality.
I am, however, very excited with the central defense. Though Kim Min-jae is still returning from injury (which probably means Hwang Hyun-soo will get some starts earlier in the competition) a centre back pairing of Kim Min-jae and Jeong Tae-wook is an exciting prospect for me. The former can be a “stopper”, aggressively blocking and intercepting the ball, while the latter is more of a traditional “no-nonsense” cover defender, strong both in the air but able to cover for fullbacks or Kim Min-jae as the last man. For all the perennial concerns about Korea’s defense, it would be a shock to me if they let this team down.
There were also talks of the team being more comfortable in a three-back system (according to many players) which is an interesting by-product of the K League’s disproportionate flirtation with 3/5-back defenses over the years.
Jinseok: Defense is probably the least controversial here. We knew we had a strong CB line but a weak FB line, and that’s exactly what we see here. There are two big questions when it comes to this defense: 1) will we use a 3 back and 2) who will start in FB. Media reports say Kim Hak-bum is very likely to go 3-back, and the obvious 3 are Kim Min-jae, Hwang Hyun-soo, and Jung Tae-wook. Cho Yoo-min is the other CB but I do not see him starting this tournament (unless Hak-bum wants to rotate against Kyrgyzstan or some other minnow). But do we really need to play 3 back in a tournament where we’re the heavy, heavy favorites? As for fullbacks we have Kim Jin-ya and Lee Si-young as the likely starters (those two started all the games in the recent friendlies in Indonesia but didn’t look very good). Lee Jin-hyeon has deputized as FB before, but probably won’t do so here. I am not too angry over the exclusion of Seo Yeong-jae. He’s a bit of an unproven talent and I don’t know how much of an improvement he would be, even in our weakest position.
Tim: A notable thing here is that all 6 players in this category are central midfielders – it would make no sense at all to play any of them on the wing.
As the resident Daejeon Citizen fan (though I share that title with our social media contributor extraordinaire Namu), Hwang In-beom’s inclusion caught my eye and made me very happy. He has been a very important piece of Asan’s beautiful goals that have been catching the eyes of K League fans in the past few weeks. He’s previously garnered European interest, and based off of this 2016 profile of him, it’s not hard to see why.
The controversy around his selection arises because he’s currently already doing his military service, presumably to get it out-of-the-way and hope to move to Europe later on in his career unhindered by that dark cloud. It poses the age-old question – what is this side about? Getting the players with the most senior team potential a reprieve from service (which Hwang doesn’t need) or choosing the most in-form team for the job?
Keep a close eye also on Kim Jung-min, the youngest player in the squad at 18 years old. He’s been hailed as the next Ki Sung-yueng, and if he plays any major part in this tournament, it will mark the coming of another youth prodigy who has gotten less exposure than others of his age group.
Last note: it appears Kim Hak-bum hasn’t worried too much about calling up a rigid defensive midfield option. Jang Yun-ho has plenty of senior experience at Jeonbuk as more of a mobile defensively-oriented midfielder, but the best option in this position appears to be Hwang Ki-wook, who hasn’t been picked. Hwang had been excellent against Qatar in the 2016 U23 championship as a very young player, but just missed out on the Olympics team to Rio. We can only assume fitness levels and form can explain his exclusion. The same goes for Paik Seung-ho, left off due to injury (despite his father’s adamant statements that he’s fit last week) and Han Chan-hee, who has gone from future KNT midfield dynamo to… absent at 2017 U20 World Cup despite being the captain.
Jinseok: I have many issues with this midfield line. For those of you freaking out like I initially did, Paik Seung-ho was injured / had fitness questions while Valencia did not release Lee Kang-in. So we will not talk about those guys. Rather, one major controversy here is the exclusion of Han Chan-hee, who is clearly one of the K League’s finest midfielders and is a likely candidate to replace Ki (along with KJM and PSH). He trailed off a little this K League season but his last two games have been very impressive.
About our DMs… here, I question the exclusion of Hwang Ki-wook. Hwang, along with Kim Gun-woong and Jang Yun-ho, are the major young DMs in the K League right now, and in the opinion of a few of my friends, is better than both of his rivals. Lee Seung-mo, while a very promising youngster, barely features for Gwangju (while Hwang Ki-wook is a fairly regular starter at Seoul and has performed admirably for the U23 team 2 years ago).
About our central attacking midfielders… Kim Jung-min was a lock, and Hwang In-beom was supposed to be a lock (but then he decided to do military service early, raising questions as to why he’s in this team in the first place), but Lee Jin-hyeon is a real head scratcher. Again, I have not watched Pohang this season but I cannot fathom how a guy like Lee Jin-hyeon (who’s played wingback all 3 of his games for Pohang) offers anything more to the team than Han Chan-hee. I am very disappointed in this squad if you can’t tell already. The callups should have been Hwang Ki-wook, Jang Yun-ho, Kim Gun-woong, Kim Jung-min, Han Chan-hee, Hwang In-beom.
Tim: Easy stuff out-of-the-way – Son Heung-min great, Hwang Hee-chan great, Lee Seung-woo great. That’s three players with valuable World Cup experience and budding or well-established European careers who need to win exemption. Despite their nomenclature as forwards, it’s likely that they’ll take the wide midfield or attacking midfield slots, creating a deadly and highly energetic attacking trident.
But… Hwang Ui-jo? Perhaps, in hindsight, we should have seen it coming, and though I’m not too devastated, this is the one “political” decision that could raise the first big questions of Kim Hak-bum’s aptness as a manager of a national team. It’s a case of a manager’s “favorite”. Shin Tae-yong had Jang Hyun-soo, Lee Gwang-jong had Lee Yong-jae, Stielike had Lee Jeong-hyeop. Though it would be harsh to pull out the jury on Hwang Ui-jo before he’s even kicked a ball, this is a speculative use of a wild card pick. The outcry at home has been fast and furious, with accusations of favoritism rampant.
Given defensive frailties and the significant number of “fluid, mobile, quick” forwards like Son, Hwang Hee-chan and Lee Seung-woo, using a wild card on another very similar but markedly inferior player is a big risk. His poor finishing and wastefulness is a trait that could tie our stomachs in knots when trying to just score a goal against the AFC’s generic 6-3-1 low block.
But a thought must be spared to the legend journeyman forward Suk Hyun-jun, who has been forgotten yet again by another national team. I’m starting to think there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Suk’s repeated exclusion since the 2016 Olympics.
Jinseok: SHM, HHC, and LSW were going to make the team. Obviously the biggest “wtf” moment of this side is Hwang Ui-jo. Kim Hak-bum’s justification of putting in Hwang is a little strange. Yes, there’s the question of when will European clubs release the players for the AG, but in my opinion Na Sang-ho alone is more than enough to get through the group stages of the Asian Games (FYI there’s going to be a redraw of the groups because the AFC forgot to include UAE and Palestine in the draw what a farce…) Surely, Suk Hyunjun is an upgrade? Still think we’ll win this tournament regardless (assuming SHM, HHC, CHW, etc. perform) but why are we giving Hwang of all players exemption? Speaking of whom, Na Sang-ho is on fire right now in K2, and I am very happy with his inclusion. Surprised that Lee Keun-ho, the clear first choice FW on this team, was excluded, but I’m ok with a form call like this. RIP Suk Hyun-jun – we apologize on the behalf of incompetent managers…
Tim and Jinseok’s starting line-ups:
However, we both agree that Hwang Ui-jo will likely start, given Kim Hak-bum’s favoritism for him. Another asterisk – we don’t know when all of the European clubs will release their players (as it’s a non-FIFA period) therefore the starting line-ups above may only become implementable later in the tournament.
What do you think about Korea’s chances at the 2018 Asian Games? What do you think about the inclusions and exclusions? Let us know in the comments below.