Meet Korea’s 2018 World Cup Squad: Defenders

Welcome to the Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors’ official 2018 FIFA World Cup “Meet The Squad” series. You can refer back to this series to understand the backgrounds, weaknesses and strengths of every player of the 23-man roster. Today, part two – the squad’s ten defenders. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Part 1: Goalkeepers

Shin Tae-yong wasn’t shy about calling up defenders to this World Cup squad – he’s gone out and called up a surprising 10, in fact, all of whom are from Asian leagues. With Shin considering different defensive systems, it’s at times hard to tell who will get the start in this World Cup side. Chi Soo Park and I joined forces to have a closer look.

The Centrebacks

Name: Kim Young-gwon (김영권)
Club: Guangzhou Evergrande (China)
Age: 28
Height: 184cm/6’0″
Weight: 74kg/163lb
Senior Caps: 51

The most capped defender in the side, Kim Young-gwon is not lacking in experience, with Russia being his second World Cup. Though he may no longer be the player Marcello Lippi once reportedly suggested to Sir Alex Ferguson, Kim has remained a fairly consistent inclusion in the starting line-up – if it wasn’t for a poor 2017 season and his tendency to be injury-prone. Shin Tae-yong notably expressed disappointment at Kim’s fitness levels, leaving him out of the squad in March of this year, which put his World Cup into doubt.

However, Kim still has a very important role to play in the side. As a more aggressive, proactive defender who is also comfortable on the ball, Kim can intercept and help the team buildup from the back, which is vital in Shin Tae-yong’s systems. Most statistics reveal that he will take 60-65% of the passing duties compared to the other CB. He seems to have ironed out the days where he was infamously known for making “one bad error per match”, and remains the most composed centreback in the squad.

Though he has only played 9 matches for Guangzhou in the past two seasons, partly due to a fracture, partly due to the changed CSL foreign-player quota rules, Kim Young-gwon is widely tipped to be a starter in Russia, in either the 3-back or 4-back systems. He will also be expected to take a leadership role in organizing the defense, though that responsibility will be shared with Jang Hyun-soo.

**

Name: Jang Hyun-soo (장현수)
Club: FC Tokyo (Japan)
Age: 26
Height: 187cm/6’2″
Weight: 77kg/170lb
Senior Caps: 49

Jang Hyun-soo is loved by coaches. There’s just no other way to put it – every manager he has worked under, at every level, has seen Jang as an indispensable player, even in spite of a lower technical skill than some others. A versatile player, Jang deputizes well but does not excel at fullback, as well as having at times played at defensive midfielder, though he’s not expected to do any of that in Russia.

His starting position is of course centreback, and that is where he played for Shin Tae-yong’s 2016 Rio Olympics side and Lee Gwang-jong’s 2014 Asian Games side (which won the gold medal & military exemption). On both instances, he wore the captain’s armband, and Jang also captained the 2017 East Asian Cup team to a trophy and an MVP of the tournament award, following in the footsteps of Kim Young-gwon’s plaudits two years prior.

Jang is equally comfortable in the build-up play like Kim Young-gwon, though he has somewhat developed a habit of bad decision-making or over-aggressiveness in the penalty box. His concession of a penalty early in the East Asian Cup decider against Japan only went unnoticed because of Korea’s subsequent 4-goal explosion. With both Kim and Jang expected to start in Russia, and both likely to struggle under a high press, Shin will be banking on both defenders’ instances of leadership to compensate for their many combined flaws.

**

Name: Oh Ban-seok (오반석)
Club: Jeju United (Korea)
Age: 31
Height: 189cm/6’2″
Weight: 79kg/174lb
Senior Caps: 2

Oh Ban-seok was a surprise call-up to the national team, making his national team debut just recently against Honduras as a substitute as a 31 year-old. Indeed, this was authentically his national team debut – he had never played or been called-up to any youth team before. In fact, Oh has only ever known one club in his life since 2011 – Jeju United, where he has become somewhat of a club legend thanks to his over 186 appearances, mostly at left centreback.

A physical defender by nature, Oh is the heaviest and tallest player in this squad’s backline, but has only been sent off once in his 7 seasons in the Korean league. Called up mostly due to Kim Min-jae (Jeonbuk)’s ill-timed injury, Oh hasn’t had a perfect integration into the side, being exposed for his lack of pace and slow reaction time on two occasions against Bosnia.

Those two friendlies may well have been Oh’s only appearances for the national team. He seems very unlikely to start in either defensive system (Kim YG can be the left-sided centreback in a 3-back), and is probably content just to make up the numbers. Nonetheless, Shin may find it useful to have a physical bully in the team as an option.

**

Name: Yun Young-sun (윤영선)
Club: Seongnam FC (Korea 2nd div.)
Age: 29
Height: 185cm/6’1″
Weight: 78kg/172lb
Senior Caps: 5

Yun is a familiar name on the call-up list, having been summoned on 8 occasions, but he has only recently gotten opportunities to play. With just 5 senior caps, he, like Oh, remains largely unknown in a KNT shirt. On the domestic scene, however, he is a Seongnam FC stalwart, with over 160 appearances for the club since 2010. Shin rates him highly, having coached Yun back in 2010 when Seongnam were crowned champions of Asia.

In truth, Yun seems to fit the bill of a typical Korean defender. He works hard, is not bad in the tackle, has adequate speed and tries to use his physical strength. However, he really has yet to be fully blooded at the international level, which leaves a lot of uncertainty.

If ever this defense had a “wild card”, Yun is that player. Media is reporting that if Shin elects to play a 3-back system at any time in this World Cup, the former Seongnam manager could entrust his former pupil to play in the right centreback position.

**

Name: Jung Seung-hyun (정승현)
Club: Sagan Tosu
Age: 24
Height: 188cm/6’2″
Weight: 78kg/172lb
Senior Caps: 6

Jung Seung-hyeon is also one of Shin Tae-yong’s favorites (a recurring theme among his centreback selections). A key cog in the 2016 Rio Olympics defense, Jung’s standout performances earned him a transfer from Ulsan Hyundai to the J.League, where he has become a starting centreback at just 24.

Jung’s aerial prowess is very well documented, and arguably has the most confidence in the air among any of the defenders. As such, he can be a legitimate threat on set-pieces. He is also developing somewhat of an intriguing passing ability, as exhibited in the friendly against Honduras, but may not be trusted by Shin to regularly entertain that responsibility.

If Shin elects to play a 3-back system, he is likely to compete with Yun for an opportunity to start as the right-sided centreback. Otherwise, it could just be an important learning experience for the youngest defender in an older bunch, though substitute minutes are not out of the question. He has a lot of unfulfilled potential, and may well be looked to lead the line in years to come.

The Leftbacks

Name: Park Joo-ho (박주호)
Club: Ulsan Hyundai (Korea)
Age: 31
Height: 174cm/5’9″
Weight: 71kg/157lb
Senior Caps: 35

At 31 years old, this may be Park Joo-ho’s last involvement with the Korean national team. Park has had an interesting career trajectory. The 2007 U-20 World Cup captain used his strong performances in the J.League at Mito, Kashima and Iwata to earn himself a move to Swiss club Basel, where he played in their famous win over Manchester United. In 2013, he moved to Bundesliga’s Mainz and quickly earned recognition as one of the most in-form left-backs. An audacious move two years later to Borussia Dortmund, however, proved one move too far, as he languished on the bench and in the reserves. A move to the K League in 2017 was welcome for a player who needed to get the feel of the pitch again, having the 2nd worst minutes played since July 1st, 2017 on the squad (source: Steve Han).

Park is perhaps the most balanced left-back in this team. He isn’t a rampaging wing-back or hyper-attacking full-back, but instead a two-way player who has an able attacking side. Despite this, his best performances in a national team shirt were at the 2015 Asian Cup, where he played as a defensive midfielder behind Ki Sung-yueng, though Shin doesn’t seem keen to use him in that role. A big question will be if Park can perform solidly as a left-back, as he plays mostly as a defensive mid for Ulsan.

Called up in every year since 2010, Park’s European experience, prudence and ability to hit good crosses makes him a safe and responsible choice in a back-four. He seems unlikely to play as a wing-back in a 3-back system however.

**

Name: Kim Min-woo (김민우)
Club: Sangju Sangmu (Korea)
Age: 28
Height: 172cm/5’6″
Weight: 69kg/152lb
Senior Caps: 19

The KNT’s new #12 goes to Sagan Tosu’s own legend, Kim Min-woo. Kim made his professional debut in Japan. His seven-year tenure for Sagan Tosu was a huge success in which the team temporarily retired his number 10 shirt in hopes of Kim returning to the Japanese side. He captained the team in his final season and he still remains as one of the fan favorites. He joined Suwon Samsung on an one-year contract and established himself as one of Korea’s finest players in his first season in the K-League. His senior debut was against China in the East Asian Cup in 2013. On Uli Stielike’s debut game with Korea against Paraguay, Kim knocked in his first senior goal. He is currently serving his military service in Sangju Sangmu.

Kim is an attack-minded left-footed defender who’s driven to move forward in attack. Also able to play as a wide midfielder, Uli Stielike trusted him with a winger role at times during the Asian Cup. One of his best traits in the game is his ability to use open space. He stays wide in left and constantly looks for ways to penetrate into the final third. This is a facet that Shin Tae-yong will love to utilize when he needs to go with three-back defensive tactics. However, his crossing can be underwhelming and he can disappear from games.

Kim fits more as a wing-back in a three-back formation than a full back in a standard 4-4-2. His ability to dribble in tight space while controlling the tempo sets him apart from other Korean fullbacks, too. As one of the best wide defenders in Korea, it is not out of the question that Shin will trust him for a start, despite a poor showing against Bosnia. Chi Soo Park

**

Name: Hong Chul (홍철)
Club: Sangju Sangmu (Korea)
Age: 27
Height: 176cm/5’8″
Weight: 67kg/148lb
Senior Caps: 14

Hong Chul has already put his name in the domestic league, getting into the K-League’s Team of the Year in 2014 and 2015. Currently fulfilling his mandatory military service with Sangju Sangmu, he is ready to be discharged later this summer and return to his old club, Suwon Samsung. Hong has a golden left-foot, and in the domestic league his crosses into opposition’s box are crisp and sharp, with solid pace. He could be utilized for corner kicks.

Hong Chul has already worked with Shin before, making his debut in 2009 for Seongnam Ilhwa (now Seongnam FC). Under Shin’s leadership, he developed into a top fullback in the league, finishing as the runners’ up in Hong’s debut season, winning the Asian Champions League the following year, and adding another FA Cup trophy in 2011. His successful start to his professional career deservedly led him to the national squad in 2011, debuting against Turkey. However, competition in the left full back position after Lee Young-pyo’s retirement came tougher for him to realize. He was called up again 3 years later by Uli Stielike, but again he couldn’t stamp his name in the squad. Following Stielike, Shin stepped into the KNT and so did Hong Chul.

Kim Jin-su dropping out of the squad due to knee injury means there are still questions to who’s actually going to start in the LB/LWB position in the World Cup. Given that Korea will likely to defend more, the KNT needs a player who can deliver the final cross when opportunity rises, and it is possible that Shin will turn to Hong Chul for this. A poor game vs Honduras didn’t help his cause, however. Chi Soo Park

The Rightbacks

Name: Lee Yong (이용)
Club: Jeonbuk Hyundai (Korea)
Age: 31
Height: 180cm/5’11″
Weight: 74kg/163lb
Senior Caps: 26

Lee Yong is kind of unique in that he’s only ever played 2 World Cup qualifiers – and yet he gets called up for friendlies right before both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. His record in the domestic league is a respectable one: an Asian Champions League trophy in 2012, a K League Best XI spot in 2013, a 2nd division win with the army in 2015 and a 1st division win last season with Jeonbuk. With the exception of last season, Lee has done well to avoid injury and get consistent minutes (1500+) in every season he’s played (except 2017).

Though we often bemoan the quality of crosses among Korean players, Lee Yong has demonstrated a willingness to get forward and hit narrow but treacherous balls into the box. He has also better positioning than some of his counterparts, as well as being less prone to being skinned on a physical battle than other Korean left-backs. However, all this is in the domestic league, and in truth in a KNT shirt he has at times been plain and unremarkable.

That said, Lee Yong played every minute of Korea’s World Cup campaign in Brazil, and unless Shin uses a 3-back system, in which case Go Yo-han comes into play, he should expect to get equal responsibilities in Russia.

**

Name: Go Yo-han (고요한)
Club: FC Seoul (Korea)
Age: 30
Height: 170cm/5’7″
Weight: 65kg/143lb
Senior Caps: 19

Another K League stalwart, Go Yo-han has repped FC Seoul since 2004. He bleeds black and red, with over 250 appearances across various positions (LWB, RWB, RB, CM, DM, LW, RW) for that club. Go is clearly another Shin Tae-yong favorite, featuring heavily in the 2017 East Asian Cup and 2018 January friendlies.

The joint-lightest player in this side, Go Yo-han is quick and agile. His defensive capabilities rely more on getting stuck in and being combative to compensate for his small size – to varying degrees of success. However, he can pose a serious threat as an attacking wide defender when fit and allowed to run at players. He can tuck inside and uncork dangerous shots from long distance, and like Kim Min-woo has a background as a winger.

Go Yo-han failed a math class in 2004 and dropped out of middle school to join FC Seoul. It may have been the best class he’s ever taken, as Go has a decent shout to be the starting wing-back in a 3-back formation for the World Cup team. But watch out – he could also be employed as a secret weapon in defensive midfield. His quickness, exceptional workrate and combativeness kept a lid on James Rodriguez last November as a frustrating man-marker.

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About Tim Lee 317 Articles
The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?

7 Comments

  1. Was hoping Kim Younggwon could erase the memories of his shitty 2014 World Cup. Own goal to Senegal today is not the best way to start..
    But I guess that could happen for any reason- and since it was such a “secretive” game, we’ll never know!

    • Scratch that, STY just said it was the Wookie who scored the own goal. Classic! The dude is better at scoring against the KNT than for the KNT..

  2. I just read your tweets Tim. Wish I could have seen STY’s press conference. My opinion is thus far he has really brought himself a lot of undo stress. Every time he speaks, he talks about secret strategies and tricks… just my opinion, but that’s only going to heighten both anticipation and scrutiny, from media/fans and maybe even opposing coaching staff. The hidden Senegal game didn’t help- of course he had to add that “since Sweden is gonna get the tape, I had to change the formation!” Give me a break.
    Having secrets is fine- damn, every team must have some secret tactics- it’s part of the preparation. It just seems like he keeps bringing it up as if it’s his secret weapon. Who knows… I’m only reading the English translations. Maybe it’s not as bad in Korean as it is in English.

    Another thing- if the players are getting upset from looking at their phones and reading stuff on social media, be a coach and take their phones away. Or at least strongly advise them not to look since it’s not gonna do them any good (I for one have no problem with the taking phones away tactic- I think it brings them together and erases outside noise). Every athlete deals with this, but we know Korean netizens are the worst (I guess I am now a Korean netizen. haha,.. hey, it’s out of love). It isn’t a crazy/foreign idea to do away with phones… the coach of the Korean women’s curling team did that a few months ago at Pyeongchang. I heard Lebron James goes on social media silence every NBA playoffs. Be a coach!! Only the winners look good on social media, and we know Korea isn’t gonna win this World Cup.

    We gotta support STY at this time, but he hasn’t done himself any favors in the past month starting from the call-ups (though I give him props for having the balls to call up Lee Seung Woo). If Korea does badly, I really think it’s gonna reflect worse on him than the players.

    • I don’t know why he wouldn’t take away player’s phones. Of course there was a certain narrative on picking and choosing twitter tweets (you can refer to comment below re: that.) He does bring onto himself undue stress and struggles with teh mind games. Instead of wasting energy with his strange shenanigans i would prefer he play the full strength side in a match and give it a shot…
      I was going to stand behind him regardless of WC performance before all this drama about tricks and mental tactics. now I doubt it.

  3. I basically agree on STY, but I also think his quotes are taken a bit out of context. I don’t speak Korean, but he gives a lot more information in press conferences than Twitter highlights would suggest. It’s a major downside in the age of tweets with select quotes.
    No use in over examining losses in friendly matches, especially ones we couldn’t watch ourselves- they’re trying things out. We all know the KNT’s shortcomings, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for now. While he hasn’t been perfect, the KNT is up against tough competition and they all know it. We’ll see how they do

    • I will be the first to admit that I chose those quotes in the “Shin Tae-yong is flustered” narrative. Which is true – it’s not untruthful, he said things that made him sound and look flustered.

      Of course, he didn’t say only that. There’s much more. He’s not a poor dog on the side of the road. He’s just admitting that he’s a little overwhelmed.

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