Finally, with mere hours to go until Korea learns their group at the FIFA World Cup, we preview Korea’s World Cup Draw pot – Pot 4.
Previewing Pot 4 of the World Cup Draw:
Teams ranked in the bottom 8 in the FIFA Coca-Cola Rankings of all teams qualified, excluding Russia. These teams are:
Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
Serbia is a team that’s familiar to most of us given the recent friendly, so perhaps it’s best not to re-hash previous comments. In summary, they’ve got a couple creative outlets, but a more direct approach seems to suit them. They’re a good European side, and winning a group with Ireland, Wales and Austria is commendable – but by no means was that the trickiest draw in qualification. Without a manager 7 months before the big show, Serbia looks primed for 3 and done.
Last Meeting: International Friendly (2017)
Result: Serbia 1 South Korea 1
Writer Ranking: Jae (24), Jinseok (22), Michael (24), Nicole (18), Roy (21), Tim (23)
Nigeria have the reputation of being Africa’s most respectable sides. Despite fielding the youngest side in all of the 32 qualified teams, suffice it to say – Nigeria looks ready. Gernot Rohr has taken a core group of leaders from the 2014 side, like John Obi Mikel, and combined them with the country’s youngest talents, like Alex Iwobi, and the quality of footballers and playing style Nigeria traditionally produces is among Africa’s finest, as their recent 4-2 win over Argentina demonstrated. They walked a tough qualifying group (Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia) and are the team nobody wants from Pot 4.
Last Meeting: International Friendly (2010)
Result: Nigeria 1 South Korea 2
Writer Ranking: Jae (20), Jinseok (20), Michael (25), Nicole (11), Roy (20), Tim (16)
Australia are, unfortunately, in a state of disarray. How could things go so wrong after an Asian Cup that seemed set to launch them into an era of powerhouse-status in the AFC? They stumbled through qualifying into third place, nipped by Saudi Arabia; almost blew it against Syria, requiring Tim Cahill’s heroics to make the inter-confederation playoff; took 144 minutes to pick open Honduras in the final playoff. Ange Postecoglou has left his job, and despite some good players coming into the fray (Aaron Mooy, for one), you can’t imagine Tim Cahill carrying this side on his shoulders again, certainly not without a good final ball, which was best exposed in July’s Confederations Cup.
Last Meeting: Asian Cup Final (2015)
Result: Australia 1 South Korea 1 (2-1 after AET)
Writer Ranking: Jae (29), Jinseok (29), Michael (28), Nicole (30), Roy (31), Tim (29)
The Daihyo, our hated enemies, Japan. They topped their group in qualifying, but it was never really dominant, and the press has been hard in Halilhodzic for many reasons. Peering through their player pool, a lot of the squad is aging quickly, over 30 (Makino, Hasebe, Okazaki, Nagatomo, Kawashima), and apart from Takuma Asano, there isn’t too much to be excited about on the younger side. With a weaker player pool, limited resources and exploitable flaws, I wouldn’t be too worried to draw Japan, if I were supporting a top 16 team.
Last Meeting: EAFF Cup (2015) // International Friendly (2011)
Result: Japan 1 South Korea 1 (only Domestic Players) // Japan 3 South Korea 0 (Full)
Writer Ranking: Jae (28), Jinseok (28), Michael (27), Nicole (22), Roy (27), Tim (28)
In truth, I know very little about Panama, but everything I read seems to suggest that they will take the Costa Rica approach to the World Cup – sit back, stay compact, foul a lot and defend for your lives. The veteran generation of Panama players have finally got themselves to a World Cup, capitalizing on a poor USA campaign, but they don’t, with no disrespect, look like a team who can score a goal against a superior opponent.
Last Meeting: Never met
Writer Ranking: Jae (32), Jinseok (32), Michael (32), Nicole (27), Roy (30), Tim (32)
We’ve also recently met Morocco, but suffice it to say that this is an African team also worth worrying about. Though unlike Nigeria, Senegal and Egypt, they don’t boast one or two headline names with the quality to change a match on their own, Morocco’s collectivist, counter-attack-based approach saw them beat Cote d’Ivoire in CAF qualifying. Herve Renard has done well with another international side. The major caveat is that they have yet to prove their system’s effectiveness against intercontinental opposition (except South Korea) and it will remain to be seen if the same Morocco that conceded no goals in qualifying can pull off the same feat in Russia.
Last Meeting: International Friendly (2017)
Result: Morocco 3 South Korea 1
Writer Ranking: Jae (23), Jinseok (24), Michael (30), Nicole (31), Roy (23), Tim (24)
South Korea have underwhelmed throughout qualifying, and with a freshly appointed manager will inevitably come growing pains. Much like Japan, though their line-up contains several familiar Europe-based names, there isn’t a demonstrable amount of quality throughout the side. Pair that with a K League-based defense that hasn’t inspired confidence, and things aren’t exactly rosy for the AFC stalwarts. Their new tactical approach will put emphasis on Tottenham’s Son Heung-min to shine – it will be he who will make or break Korea’s World Cup dreams.
Writer Ranking: Jae (30), Jinseok (30), Michael (29), Nicole (21), Roy (29), Tim (30)
Saudi Arabia are back at the World Cup for the first time since 2002, eras of dominance were met with an era of disappointment. But they are back, and crawled through qualifying with merit, relying on pacey goal-scoring Mohamed Al-Sahlawi (who topped AFC qualifying goalscorers, and average 0.9 goals per game on the international level). However, recent losses to Portugal and Bulgaria (3-0 and 1-0), a managerial merry-go-round (now they have settled on Juan Antonio Pizzi) and a team solely placed of Saudi-based players may prove to be their downfall.
Last Meeting: International Friendly (2015)
Result: Saudi Arabia 0 South Korea 2
Writer Ranking: Jae (31), Jinseok (31), Michael (31), Nicole (28), Roy (32), Tim (31)