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 one of the 23-man roster. This will be done in four parts, beginning with the 3 goalkeepers. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
For this World Cup in Russia, the Korean National Team will be bringing three goalkeepers as is customary. Each goalkeeper is experienced and brings a distinct set of skills to their play between the sticks. There is a definite established depth chart at this time so they will be presented in that order.
Name: Kim Seung-gyu (김승규)
Club: Vissel Kobe (Japan)
Senior Caps: 32
Kim Seung-gyu has been one of the KNT goalkeepers since 2013, where he notably burst onto the scene at the 2014 World Cup with a solid performance against Belgium in the final match. He then went on to lead the U-23 Korean squad to Asian Games Gold in Incheon that fall. After a youth and K League career spent with Ulsan Hyundai until 2015, Kim transferred at the start of the 2016 season to the J League side Vissel Kobe. He has been a consistent starter there and has cemented himself as a strong No. 1 for the KNT since Kim Jin-hyeon’s struggles early in the World Cup qualifying cycle.
Where Kim excels is in his ability to have solid positioning throughout the match and also to come up with good reflex saves from close range. He also has decent athleticism, which allows him to make more athletic, “for the camera” saves on shots from distance. His shotstopping ability is by far the best of the three goalkeepers.
He has flaws, however, especially in that he sometimes lacks the confidence and quick decision-making needed to excel on setpieces. He is prone to missing a punch, or electing to punch sometimes when he really should be able to catch. An example of his indecision was clear against Bosnia last week in Korea, when Kim initially came out for a deep cross thinking he could catch or punch away, but halfway through, realized that he would get nowhere near the ball. As a result, he just stopped. By failing to commit to anything further after having misjudged the ball, Kim was caught in two minds. Visca rocketed the shot past him for lack of a closed-down angle. If he is put into these difficult positions where he has to make a strong decision, Kim Seung-gyu’s Achilles heel could be exposed on the international stage.
Barring a late change of heart from Shin Tae-yong, Kim Seung-gyu is highly likely to be the number 1 for Korea.
Name: Cho Hyun-woo (조현우)
Club: Daegu FC (Korea)
Senior Caps: 5
After a less storied youth KNT career, Cho Hyun-woo has burst onto the KNT scene off the back of consistent strong play for Daegu FC. He won K League Challenge (now K League 2) Goalkeeper of the Year 2 seasons in a row, and in the second season helped Daegu earn promotion to the Classic (now K League 1). Last season, Daegu FC were the surprise package of the K League and Cho earned the GK spot in the season’s best XI for the third year running. This continued stellar play earned him his first senior call-ups and Cho even won the best GK award at the 2017 EAFF E-1 Championship last December.
Cho, nicknamed Dae Gea (a play on his city Daegu and David de Gea), is a Daegu FC stalwart and has earned his ticket to Russia through pure grit in the domestic league, even if he plays on a lower-table club. The comparisons to De Gea lie in that he exhibits very calm, collected play, and is always encouraging his defenders in front of him. He has a confident presence on setpieces and corners, directing his teammates and making strong punches. Against Honduras, he showed that decision-making in a moment when he started to come out for a long ball, thought better of it, and smartly retreated to a safer position.
However, back in the domestic league, the simple truth is that he just doesn’t have the same shotstopping abilities as Kim Seung-gyu. He tends to let in soft goals that he gets upset at himself for, or is unable to hold a shot that leaves a wide open rebound. These individual mistakes are of course very worrisome at a World Cup.
Though many (including the writer of this post!) believe he should be a starter in Russia, Kim’s experience will likely win the day over Cho’s leadership-style goalkeeping. Expect Cho to be Korea’s #2 in Russia.
Kim Jin-hyeon has been around the KNT scene for a very long time but has unfortunately never been able to really take hold of the No. 1 role. He had a stellar 2015 Asian Cup where he kept 4 consecutive clean sheets leading up to the final and won the best goalkeeper award at the tournament. At the start of this World Cup Qualifying cycle, he was former boss Uli Stielike’s No. 1. However, some costly mistakes meant he was dropped for Kim Seung-gyu in the middle of the campaign (his most notable mistake was a horror clearance that led to an easy goal for Uzbekistan).
He has been a consistent starter for the J League side Cerezo Osaka since his debut in 2009 and has bounced from J1 to J2 League a few times with the club. Where he excelled in that Asian Cup was in coming up with huge saves in 1v1 situations and having incredible distribution out of the back to spring counter attacks. Unfortunately, it is this distribution that can fail him at times and is most likely the reason he was dropped.
He is a veteran keeper who has a lot to teach his younger counterparts, but with only a single half played in the three friendlies so far, he has little-to-no chance of being between the sticks in Russia.