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With the COVID19 Pandemic continuing to mean that there are few live sports options for all the football fans of the world, it seems that everyone is finding their own ways to make up for the sports they are missing. Some people have been drawn into the new basketball documentary The Last Dance, which takes a look at Michael Jordan’s career and his legendary Chicago Bulls teams. Here at the Tavern, one thing that’s been keeping our group chats interesting is speculating on what the KNT might look like come the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Our Tavern Contributor Allen suggested that we could all showcase the squads we made using Lineup11 and see what you think of them.
When I shared this squad in the Tavern group chat, the reaction was not necessarily what I would call positive. Some of the crew deemed it as too young and small. However, I still think that this 23-man squad has a lot to offer and could be very dangerous if on form.
I’m going to talk about each position and explain my choices. At goalkeeper, I went with Song Bumkeun over Jo Hyeonwoo because the potential for Song to move to Europe and continue to hone his skills is still there. It seems like Jo Hyeonwoo has made his final career move to Ulsan Hyundai FC but Song still harbors dreams of a move to Europe. Also, Jo continues to struggle with distribution from the back, which is the style of play national team manager Paulo Bento eventually wants to get to. It’s only a matter of time before Paulo Bento gives Song another senior team call-up and I hope Song Bumkeun can cement himself in the No. 1 GK role soon. He has already won a gold medal at the Asian Games as well as the AFC U23 Championship. His decorated career could include an Olympic medal in 2021. Why not make him the No. 1 GK at the World Cup?
For a back 4, this starting lineup will still be incredibly young. Choi Jun was one of the standout players for me during the 2019 U20 World Cup run for Korea. He always pushed forward, made accurate crosses, and showed finishing ability as well to score a goal against Ecuador. I don’t remember defensive issues with his play and if he can gain playing time quickly at Ulsan Hyundai in his rookie season, who is to say he couldn’t be a young World Cup starter? If he doesn’t develop as quick as I expect, having Kim Jinsu and Kim Jinya in the squad will be great backup. Kim Minjae is a clear CB rock for the foreseeable future and I elected to pair him with the aerially proficient Jeong Taewook, who recently played in the AFC U23 Championship and is a regular starter at Daegu FC. For backup, the veteran presence of Kwon Kyungwon and Jung Seunghyun will provide plenty of competition. At right back, Kim Moonhwan has been the starting pick for Bento and this season he’s finally a K League 1 player after Busan IPark’s promotion. Hopefully his play will continue to improve and he’ll adapt to the physicality of the international game more.
The midfield is where the Tavern Crew worried the most. Hwang Inbeom is not a natural CDM and plays much more as a ball-handling CM. However, Bento raves about his technique and if he bulks up he could fill the role well. He wants to move to Europe very soon so his potential is really high. However, Won Dujae could be a capable backup after he won MVP of the AFC U23 Championship. I went for a 4-1-2-3 formation that allows for 2 CAMs because I couldn’t think of a better way to get Lee Kangin and Paik Seungho into the lineup. These two players are so creative and dangerous with their passing vision, technique, and ability to dribble in tight spaces. I do not think this midfield could dominate possession against the world’s best nations. However, my counter-point is very simple. When has Korea ever really been a team that could dominate possession against the world’s best? At the World Cup, I think it’s best for us to put out a dangerous midfield that can cut open a back four on the counter and make the most of possession. This midfield three is equipped to do that.
In attack, I think I have made a bold and controversial choice. By going with a front 3 with two wingers, I have made the choice to deploy captain Son Heungmin as a striker. I know he plays more often as a winger at Spurs, but he also has watched a traditional No. 9 in Harry Kane for years now. I think he would be suited for this role with the national team if Bento tried it. Pairing him with Freiburg’s Kwon Changhoon and Ulsan’s Lee Donggyeong would give him wingers adept at dribbling, cutting infield, and setting up creative interplay near the box. I think substitutions later in the match like bringing in Hwang Uijo or Hwang Heechan, and also having the options of Kim Daewon, Lee Dongjun, and Jeong Wooyeong would make this attack fresh at all times. It’s hard to say if everyone would agree with me, but this is the starting XI and 23-man squad I want to see in form and firing to take us on a run in Qatar.
The World Cup is not only taxing physically, but also mentally. In 2018, the KNT honestly seemed to be in a state of “멘붕” (state of mental shock) in the stages building up on the World Cup. Shin Tae-yong seemed to be losing weight by the day, Ki Sung Yeung was battling through injuries, and we all know what happened to “Vice-Captain” Jang Hyun-soo. While it is true that Kim Younggwon and Jo Hyeonwoo shined, too many players such as Kim Minwoo, Hwang Heechan, Moon Seonmin, and Lee Jaesung seemed to be in need of a leader to get them mentally focused. I believe it was the stability of Park Jisung, Lee Youngpyo, and Lee Woonjae (even as he was only sitting on the bench) which allowed youngsters such as Lee Chungyong and Ki Sungyeung to shine in the 2010 World Cup.
For this reason, I strove to pick a squad that could feature a balance between stable, experienced players and exciting youngsters. The selection of players such as Hong Chul, Kim Seunggyu, Lee Jaesung, and Jung Wooyoung over younger options such as Choi Jun or Lee Dongjun is based on the hope that they will be able to support prospects like Lee Kangin or Kim Minjae, who have never experienced the pressures of the World Cup.
While this squad is a 4-4-2, the only component of this formation that I think is set in stone is the 4 back. The 6 players on the front line will probably be shuffling quite a bit on the attack, even if it sticks with the classic 4-4-2 formation on defense. One focus of this lineup is Son Heungmin playing at left-striker and Lee Kangin as left-midfielder. One tactic I envision is Son making runs to the outside as Lee Kangin pushes inside the box, putting both players in positions where they play best.
The final aspect of this lineup I want to discuss is the use of Jo in goal. In Russia 2018, it seemed that Kim Seunggyu would be the No. 1 goalkeeper, and Jo admitted himself that he didn’t know he would be the starter against Sweden until the day of the match. I think that in the end, Bento will have no choice to put Jo in goal to combat the strikers of World-class teams. Therefore, he must start using Jo as the No. 1 keeper now. Even if it results in some losses today, it will help Jo develop his foot skills and mold to Bento’s demands of pass play. This will optimize the likelihood of Bento being able showcase his football philosophy at the World Cup level while also having a goalkeeper who doesn’t crack under pressure and is confident even when playing against top superstars.
Projecting development with proven and unproven talent is an arduous task but also inherent when trying to build a squad for the 2022 World Cup. Finding the right mix of talent and experience will be crucial for the KNT’s success or lack thereof in 2022. Equally crucial will be how Bento continues to experiment with more possession based (although sometimes pondering) play will be riveting considering the level of play the KNT will inevitably face. My 4-3-3 accounts for the want to play in more possession based play, while conceding this lineup will have to be adaptable off the ball when facing higher quality opposition.
Starting with goalkeeper, Jo Hyeonwoo gets the nod for me despite some questions over his distribution skills. Jo was undoubtedly one of the stand out performers of WC 2018, putting in some excellent shot stopping displays. However, Jo will be on the other side of 30 by 2022, and with a recent move to Ulsan Hyundai to stay in the K-League, it’s fair to question if we’ve already seen the apex of his talents, which could potentially open the door for a replacement.
Anchoring defense I have the center back pairing of Kim Minjae and Kim Younggwon. The former is the clear cornerstone of KNT center backs for the foreseeable future. Despite his lack of WC experience, a move to Europe could help facilitate his development against stronger competition. His ball skills and physical stature would make him more than capable of such a move. Next to him, I want the experience of Kim Younggwon who by all accounts is the heart and soul of the current KNT. Younggwon against the world’s elite in 2022 at age 32 does raise some concerns but Jeong Taewook could step in if needed. Despite only having three center backs in my squad, I think on paper any variation of this trio will be stronger then the Kim-Jang combination of WC 2018. Bento’s favorite, Kim Moonhwan, picks himself at RB. Let’s just hope he can continue to play top flight football. Continuing the theme of mixing youth with experience, I’m going with Hong Chul at LB. Hoping that at age 31 Hong still has enough pace to take care of the crossing workload that Bento tends to rely on out of his fullbacks.
In midfield, I went for a three man trio of Jung Wooyoung, Hwang Inbeom, & Paik Seungho. Despite the hype of Won Dujae after the AFC U23 Championship, I went with Jung at the base, mostly for his experience considering the importance of his role of shielding the front of defense. In front of him, I think Hwang Inbeom could really excel in this role. At his best, he can be the metronome in the middle of the park that can swiftly receive and distribute. Also, evidenced by his spell in MLS so far, Hwang has a knack for interceptions & reading the game off of the ball. Adding this to Jung at the base could help combat higher competition who may see more of the ball. Finally, Paik Seungho is my furthest advanced midfielder. He remains immensely talented, and his inclusion projects that his talent will continue to develop as he seems to be on pace back to first division football in Europe. The big variable for him in this role is if he will have enough deep progressions to get the ball successfully to the front three. A deeper lying Lee Kangin (victim of the death of the #10) or Lee Jaesung (KNT’s most malleable player?) could be alternatives here to fulfill that role.
Somewhat controversially due to Bento’s aversion to this trio together, I went for a front three of Son Heungmin, Hwang Heechan and Hwang Uijo. All three have experience across each of these attacking positions but making them fit together really is crucial to this entire lineup’s success. The hope is for a more selfish, route one, Son on the wing. Previous iterations of Son in this role with KNT has resulted in some largely ineffective creative work. While still currently settling at Bordeaux, and often times played out of position at winger, Hwang Uijo has the ability to be the leading man for KNT based on technical ability. Developing better decisiveness in front of goal (6 goals on 3.93 xG is an optimistic sign for his first season in Europe) could help facilitate the best version of Uijo by the time he’s 29 in 2022. Finally, getting the most out of Hwang Heechan could make this whole thing tick. Previous struggles at winger with KNT cannot be ignored, but neither can Heechan’s talent; it remains one of Bento’s important puzzles to solve I think. Giving him the license to play off the shoulder or cut in from wide and occupy areas behind Son and Uijo could allow him to operate in areas better suited to his skill set and reduce some strain on his defensive responsibilities. This front three does raise obvious issues of width and defense. A barrage of wingers on my bench gives you options and because this is Bento, we know the fullbacks will be involved in providing service from out wide. Ideally the midfield three could help cover some of the space vacated by marauding fullbacks. I’m favoring talent over natural fit in this instance. One can only hope between now and 2022, there is a successful iteration of what is a legitimately deep attacking list.
The Korean national team is going to enter Qatar 2022 with one of its most exciting squads in recent memory. With an innovative, forward-thinking manager in Paulo Bento in charge, Korea could make some real noise as the underdogs of the tournament.
When building a squad for the World Cup, balance is one of the most important elements to consider. A team must have a good mix of youth and experience, pace and physicality, and of course, overall depth.
In addition to good squad balance, a team must use a formation that fits their team colour. In Korea’s case, that formation is the 4-4-2.
Starting with the two strikers leading the charge, Son Heungmin and Hwang Heechan make the perfect duo. Both players have the pace, physicality, and drive to wreak havoc in the opposition’s backline. Despite a scintillating 2019 season, Hwang Uijo looks to be the odd man out. However, both him and Oh Sehun, one of the stars of the U20 World Cup and AFC-U23 Championship, could come off the bench as a joker if Korea need a goal late in the game.
On the wings of the 4-4-2 are Lee Jaesung and Kwon Changhoon. The two players’ creativity and work rate are a real key to the success of this formation. And, similar to Hwang Uijo and Oh Sehun mentioned above, Lee Kangin or Lee Dongjun could come off the bench as a late-game joker. The former would add an abundance of creativity and playmaking ability to the game while the latter could use his acceleration and pace to break down tired defenses.
The middle of the pitch is where Korea has the most uncertainty. For now, Jung Wooyoung and Paik Seungho look to be the best pairing. Jung provides the physicality and experience that’s needed at a World Cup while Paik Seungho has the ability to venture forward at times to add creativity to the attack. However, if AFC U23 Championship MVP Won Dujae continues to develop and Hwang Inbeom makes the leap to Europe, this midfield could look very different come 2022.
In the center of the defense are Kim Minjae and Kim Younggwon, two players at very different stages of their careers. For Kim Minjae, the 2022 World Cup is the perfect platform to show the world just how good of a defender he is. However, Qatar 2022 will be Kim Minjae’s first World Cup so he’ll need a veteran presence to lead the way – Kim Younggwon. As for the fullbacks, Kim Jinya and Kim Moonhwan get the nod. Both players impressed during the 2018 Asian Games and are Korea’s top prospects for the fullback position.
Finally, Jo Hyeonwoo wins the job at the goalkeeper position. While Kim Seunggyu seems to be Paulo Bento’s number 1, Jo’s performance at the 2018 World Cup is hard to ignore. If Jo can figure out how to distribute the ball better, Korea will have one of the premier shot stoppers at the World Cup.
What do you think of these 4 squads from our crew? Check out our Twitter handle and Facebook group for a poll where you can vote on your favorite squad. Also, get active in the comments with your squads and use Lineup11 if you can. We could definitely put together a Tavern readers post and have the rest of the Tavern crew share their squads over the coming months.