A new tournament is approaching, which means it’s time for the Tavern tradition of a Meet the Squad series. For the Asian Games, we will be breaking down the men’s squad by position and then rounding off with a full post introducing the women’s squad. I (Michael) will be starting us off with the Goalkeepers – because as a young soccer player, this was my favorite position and still remains one that I love writing about.
Let’s get started with the 2 goalkeepers that will be making the trip to Indonesia for the 2018 Jakarta Palembang Asian Games: Song Bum-keun and Jo Hyeon-woo! Before we get into what each GK brings to the squad, I think we should mention what priorities brought about the selection of Song and Jo. Through the qualifying process, Kang Hyeon-mu from Pohang Steelers was the No. 1 GK for this U23 squad but he has been left home. Why did this happen? Quite simply, it seems the KFA have prioritized 2 GKs that will attract European interest should they win exemption from military duty. It seems that Kim Hak-bum and the KFA by extension have concluded that Song and Jo are most likely to become Korea’s first GKs to play in Europe.
Name: Jo Hyeon-woo (조현우)
Club: Daegu FC (Korea)
Senior Caps: 8
A lot has been said about Jo Hyeon-woo (also known as Cho Hyun-woo) in the past few months since the World Cup. He has become a star in Korea, was a breakout player at the World Cup, and now is one of the three overage players going to Indonesia. Jo has been incredibly charming, humble, and hilarious about his newfound fame but he also showcased his ambitions clearly to the press. His interviews saying he dreamed of playing in Europe one day, and specifically England, clearly influenced his selection to this squad. Jo will look to once again showcase his talents in the nets for the Korea U23 squad to help Korea repeat as gold medalists at the Asian Games!
What exactly will Jo bring to this squad? I’ve written about him twice in the past few months, here and here, so I think all I’ll add is that he will bring confidence and motivation to this squad. Jo knows he is in the form of his life, he believes he can make the big saves because he just shut out former World Champions Germany and kept Sweden and Mexico at bay, and will be motivated to see if he can ride a military exemption straight to Europe. If he’s in between the sticks, you can be sure that he’s ready for the pressure!
Name: Song Bum-keun (송범근)
Club: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (Korea)
Senior Caps: 0 (3 U23 caps)
Who is Song Bum-keun and how has he made this squad? Like I mentioned above, Song was also most likely chosen because he has received interest from European scouts in the past. After a stellar bunch of friendlies in the buildup to last summer’s FIFA U20 World Cup, there were reports that Song was attracting interest from German scouts. He went on to have a solid U20 World Cup campaign that included a great performance against a hungry Argentina squad looking for an equalizer. He had some talks with German clubs but chose to finish out his U League season with Korea University. He won the U League Championship in a squad including FC Seoul’s Cho Young-wook and turned pro with Cho, signing for Jeonbuk Hyundai. He has played well this season and has established himself as Jeonbuk’s No. 1 GK – quite a feat for a rookie. Simply, the hype is real. Song is very good, could certainly challenge Jo for this squad’s No. 1 GK position, and he is just as likely as Jo to attract European interest with a gold medal and exemption around his neck.
Song’s size is a major attribute of his that helps explain all of the hype. He’s tall and physical in goal, more so than Jo. His frame allows him to be able to come out and close down angles well but his height and wingspan also means he makes those acrobatic saves you need. He’s a vocal leader GK just like Jo and last summer’s World Cup squad had a lot of faith in his abilities. As for his weaknesses, the obvious one is that he’s 20 in a U-23 tournament. At the moment, he still can make some decision-making errors that put his defenders in trouble or lead to goals. I would say that getting to train alongside Jo could really help him improve his in-game decisions. I am not sure he is ready to be the number one at these Asian Games but he has huge potential for the future!