With the European club season coming to a close this weekend, there will be a FIFA international friendlies window the first weekend in June. For our Taegeuk Warriors, there will be a return friendly with Australia down in Busan and then a rivalry match with Iran in Seoul four days later. Paulo Bento named his squad Monday morning in Seoul and it had some interesting selections. Let’s go through position by position to see who’s trending up and down in the KNT.
I didn’t really expect this one to change at all. These three keepers are consistently the best goalkeepers that Korea has at club level. However, I am hoping that newcomer Gu Sungyun is given a start in one of these matches. He has said he feels really comfortable with the ball at his feet since he plays that style with his club Consadole Sapporo, so it would be nice to see how he does against one of our main AFC rivals. I also hope that Jo Hyeonwoo gets the other start and cements himself as the No. 1 keeper. If anything, I might rate Kim Seunggyu as the No.3 among these keepers, so I hope that Bento eventually comes around to that point of view as well.
On the Radar: After a bit of a shaky start to the season with Jeonbuk, Song Bumkeun is back on form and even earned a spot in the AFC Champions League Matchday 3 team of the week. If there is any keeper right now that should be turning Bento’s head and having him consider his three best keepers, it’s Song Bumkeun. Hopefully, he can push Kim Seunggyu out of the squad over the next couple years.
In a bit of a departure from the norm, Paulo Bento has picked a lot of flexible fullbacks and gone with only 4 centerbacks. Overall, we don’t need to talk to much about the centerbacks because we know who they are and what they offer. Kim Youngwon and Kim Minjae will pair together in one match and perhaps Kwon Kyungwon will pair with Minjae in the other match.
More interestingly, Bento has picked a lot of fullbacks and it will be interesting to see who plays in these two matches. Of the six chosen fullbacks, let’s try to make a depth chart on the left and right. For leftbacks, I think right now Kim Jinsu beats out Hong Chul and Ju Sejong (who is listed as a defender but might also play CDM). When fit, Kim Jinsu is the most dangerous attacker and he just scored a golazo at the weekend. I imagine Kim Jinsu starts one match and Hong Chul the other.
For rightbacks, Kim Taehwan has earned a call-up after a solid start to the season with Ulsan Hyundai. In the last edition, I thought that Kim Changsoo would be Ulsan’s rightback for the season but Kim Taehwan has made that position his and currently has 4 assists, tied for the league lead. I hope he earns a start in one of these matches. For the other, Kim Moonhwan certainly deserves a start. I hope that Lee Yong is not given any minutes. It’s really an indictment of the KFA’s scouting that he continues to get call-ups.
On the Radar: Yoon Jongyu. The FC Seoul rightback has been a constant in Choi Yongsoo’s lineups and it would be really interesting to see Bento take a shot on the former 2017 U20 squad member instead of persisting with Lee Yong. Another interesting future pick in defense would be Jeong Taewook, another member of the 2017 U20 squad, who has finally nailed down a starting place with Daegu FC.
Injuries played a bit of a role in the midfield selections as Lee Chungyong and Jung Wooyoung are out with injury. This means that Lee Jinhyun is back in the fold and Son Junho earns a first Bento call-up. Son Junho has been a really solid player this season for Jeonbuk Hyundai so he deserves a chance to make a case for future KNT call-ups. It would be really interesting to see him paired with someone like Paik Seungho or Lee Jinhyun in the CM pivot to see what an alternative/future pairing would look like when Ju Sejong and Jung Wooyoung are phased out of the side.
Hwang Inbeom is enjoying a smooth transition to life in MLS as the Vancouver Whitecaps are gaining form as the season progresses. I expect him to occupy the CAM role for one match and possibly Lee Jaesung for the other. If Lee Jaesung is only played as a right winger this international break it should confirm how Bento views his best position in his system. Kwon Changhoon will join the team late as Dijon will play the promotion/relegation playoff to stay in Ligue 1. He hasn’t exactly enjoyed the best season after coming back from his Achilles injury, but he had a crucial late winner a few weeks ago that helped Dijon to make it out of the automatic relegation spots. I imagine he’ll start at least one match in the right winger position. Hopefully Lee Seungwoo gets a start as a left winger now that Lee Chungyong is out with injury. Lee Seungwoo has had a really long and productive season with Hellas Verona. He nailed down a starting role around Christmas, kept up his solid play through the end of the season, and has been utilized as a super sub through two rounds of the promotion playoffs. This week will see Hellas contest the playoff finals for a spot in Serie A next season so we’re wishing him the best of luck.
Rounding out the midfielders/wingers, we’ve got Hwang Heechan and Na Sangho. I think these guys are ones for the future but I definitely rate Kwon Changhoon and Lee Seungwoo above them at the moment. Hwang Heechan had an opportunity to take a step up while on loan with Hamburg SV in the 2.Bundesliga this season. In the end, he managed to score just 2 goals all season and Hamburg let his loan deal expire without making a transfer offer to Red Bull Salzburg. Na Sangho is a part of the FC Tokyo team that currently leads the J1 League, but he’s only scored one goal thus far and hasn’t made himself a regular starter just yet.
On the Radar: Kim Bokyung. Kim Bokyung is back in the K League after a disappointing spell in the J League with Kashiwa Reysol. He has 4 assists to tie with Ulsan teammate Kim Taehwan and deserves a look if he continues his form. I would have taken him over Lee Jinhyun, as Lee Jinhyun hasn’t been in the best of form for Pohang Steelers.
Here’s where it gets a bit controversial. Sonny is picked for the squad and that has made some in the media a little upset, as Sonny had expressed desire to take June to focus on his mandatory one month military training (even if you earn military exemption, all able-bodied Korean men are required to do one month of basic military training). However, Bento spoke with Son about the friendlies and they agreed that Son should play with the squad as they prepare for World Cup Qualifying to start in the fall. It’s neither here nor there, to be honest, because Bento certainly relies heavily on Sonny but you also have to say that Sonny loves to play football and doesn’t want to sit these matches out. Hopefully Sonny can find time in June and early July to schedule in his military training and make it back for Spurs preseason as well. Last Sonny tidbit: I hope he wins a Champions League trophy this Saturday in Madrid (that’s hard for the Gooner in me, but hopefully I’ll get a Europa League trophy on Wednesday).
Brace yourselves for the return of Lee Jeonghyup. Back with Busan IPark (currently top of the K League 2 table), Lee has seven goals this season and Bento has decided this form merits a look. We all have nightmares from his time with Stielike and Steve Han made a good point about the favoritism that could be at play here. However, we just have to hope that the form exhibited from his seven league goals translates to this international break. I looked at the highlights and he’s scoring off near post runs, headers, as well as intelligent one-touch finishes. Hwang Ui-jo is definitely a better player, but let’s all just hope that Lee Jeonghyup makes a good appearance to justify his selection.
The other reason to pick Lee Jeonghyup is the fact that Korean strikers didn’t exactly have that great of a season. Hwang Heechan and Suk Hyunjun managed just 4 goals between them. Ji Dongwon, out injured, only scored 4 goals himself. It’s not like there’s many good Korean strikers scoring goals so if Bento picks Lee Jeonghyup, that’s also an indictment of the current crop as much as it is a statement on whether or not Lee Jeonghyup is actually a good striker.
On the Radar: Jeong Wooyeong and Kim Daewon. Jeong Wooyeong had a stellar season for Bayern Munich II, where he just was a part of the side that won promotion to the 3.Bundesliga. This season he scored 13 goals, but since he was playing in the fourth tier of German football, it’s hard to say if he’s ready for the senior national team. Fortunately, Bayern Munich is planning to loan/transfer him to another Bundesliga club in the offseason so we’ll see how he makes the step up next season.
For Daegu FC, Kim Daewon continues to excel in a partnership with Edgar and I hope to see him earn a call-up to the national team very soon. Even if he’s not called for the fall World Cup qualifiers I could certainly see him going to the EAFF Championships this winter in Busan.
Alright, that’s it for this edition of KNT Stockwatch. If I missed any player that you’re interested in hearing more about, let me know in the comments. Other than that, the matches will be June 7th and 11th so stay with us on Twitter to keep informed!