The World Cup is coming, here you can find out a little bit about the players making the trip to Brazil.
Name: Ki Sung-Yueng
Senior Caps: 56
Club: Sunderland (England)
Position: Deep lying playmaker/Central midfielder
Just 19 when he made his debut, Ki Sung-Yueng has been an ever-present feature for the national team ever since (barring a spell under Choi Kang-Hee). Ki spent several years in Australia as a teenager before returning to Korea and signing with FC Seoul where he linked up with future international teammates Lee Chung-Yong and Park Chu-Young. Solid showings with Seoul and the national team eventually led to his European move, to Scottish giants Celtic. After two and a half solid years in Scotland he moved to Wales and Premier League side Swansea City. Ki only spent one year in Swansea before moving on loan to Sunderland. Controversy has often followed Ki. When at Seoul he did a “kangaroo celebration”, but Suwon fans accused him of doing a “chicken dance” (Suwon fans are often referred to as ‘Chickenwings’ by rivals). After scoring against Japan, cameras caught him making a monkey face at the crowd. Ki has also had notable social media issues as he hit back at critical fans when playing for the U-23 team, and then later when he mocked national team boss Choi Kang-Hee. Ki also supposedly fell out with Swansea boss Michael Laudrup which prompted his loan move to Sunderland.
When younger, Ki was a more rampaging box-to-box type player who had a fierce long-range shot and was all over the place. Nowadays, Ki has refined his game to be more of a constant outlet for give and go passes. Composed, excellent passing ability, vision, technique, on paper he is a complete deep-lying playmaker. Yet for whatever reason it often feels like he doesn’t utilize his full talent. Which leads to what is generally considered the biggest strike against him. His mental strength. Ki is an excellent footballer, but he’s been dogged by questions about his ability to perform game-in-game-out. Inconsistent performances, and his tendency to lash out against criticism, remain the biggest blights against him.
There are few, if any, players more valuable to Korea’s national team that Ki Sung-Yueng. The only player on the roster who is able to really control the tempo of a match and has the ability to pry open teams with key passes. Ki will continue to be a vital part of the national team in the future, but he could really go to the ‘next level’ if he can get his head and attitude straight. Outbursts, while sometimes understandable, continue to hamper him at both the club and international level, and as he enters the prime years of his career it will important for him to clear the ‘extras’ out of his profile.
Name: Han Kook-Young
Senior Caps: 8
Club: Kashiwa Reysol (Japan)
Position: Defensive midfielder
A rising star for Korea, Han Kook-Young reportedly had the chance to move to Europe this past winter, but opted to stay in Japan in order to protect his World cup chances. Like Hong Jeong-Ho, Han suffered an injury shortly before the 2012 Olympic campaign causing him to miss out on Korea’s historic bronze medal accomplishment. Since his recovery, Han has been a fairly regular starter for the national team, complementing Ki Sung-Yueng’s silky smooth skills with his more robust and destructive talents. Han Kook-Young joined an increasing number of Korean players who have spent their professional careers over in Japan. Han spent the first four years of his career at Shonan Bellmare, but unfortunately for them, the club was relegated last season, and Han opted to join fellow countryman Kim Chang-Soo at Kashiwa Reysol.
A simple way to describe Han Kook-Young is as a ball-seeking missile. Han Kook-Young is a solid defensive midfielder, and he’s a pure defensive midfielder at that. His ability to contribute to attacks are limited, and his technical ability isn’t quite up to standard. Han is very good at timing his sliding challenges, and certainly isn’t afraid to mix things up a bit. His aggressive nature is a double-edged blade for the national team as it both helps and hurts the side at times. Han is excellent at shutting down talented attacking players, as he’s always harassing them, gives them little to no time on the ball, and just generally let’s them know he’s around. On the other hand, his aggressiveness pulls him out of position, concedes needless free kicks, and his man-marking (on set pieces) leaves a bit to be desired.
While reports in Korea offer a meek suggestion that Park Jong-Woo (see below) could get the holding role, due to his solid partnership with Ki at the Olympics, it would be quite a shock if Han Kook-Young didn’t start against Russia. As with a number of players, a good showing in Brazil could renew European interest in Han, as true holding players are becoming a bit of a rarity. The only problem, like with Hong Jeong-Ho, is that Han does not have military exemption since he missed the Olympics which could be something that ward off potential suitors.
Name: Park Jong-Woo
Senior Caps: 10
Club: Guangzhou R&F (China)
Position: Central midfielder/Defensive midfielder
“Dokdo is our land” read the sign, and with that, Park Jong-Woo went from unknown K-League footballer to being known across the world. Fortunately for Park, things worked out for him after that little incident. He got his military exemption, his bronze medal, and only had to serve a two match ban. Now in China, Park Jong-Woo, spent his first professional years at Busan IPark, a team in the K League. Despite his young age, Park made several appearances in his first year with the club, and eventually established himself as an invaluable member of the team. Park has similarly made himself an important member of Guangzhou R&F in his first year in China as they look to challenge their red neighbors, Guangzhou Evergrande.
Hong Myeong-Bo has said that Park Jong-Woo is in the squad as the back up defensive midfielder, a decision that is hardly surprising. Park is a competent holder, but not the best. He seems to always have one “moment of madness” where he flies into a challenge or arrives much too late and earns himself a pointless booking. But, he works hard and runs everywhere, and that’s something to value I suppose. Park also can deliver a decent set piece, and has an acceptable passing range, making him a decent squad player to have.
Park is unlikely to see any pitch time at the World Cup barring an injury or suspension to Han Kook-Young. Having watched Park Jong-Woo for several years (at international and club level), it seems that the midfielder has pretty much hit his ceiling. As such, Park’s role with the national team is likely to remain what it’s been lately. A squad player and occasional starter.
Name: Ha Dae-Sung
Senior Caps: 12
Club: Beijing Guoan (China)
Position: Central midfielder
The veteran player in midfield, Ha Dae-Sung isn’t well-known outside of Korean and Chinese football circles. Something of a K League journeyman, Ha started his career with Ulsan Hyundai, but never managed to break into the first team. He moved to Daegu FC the following season, and had more success there, helping Daegu’s high-octane attack. Those performances caught the eye of Jeonbuk Motors, but once again Ha struggled to make his mark on the bigger stage. After an average season in Jeonju (although Jeonbuk did win the league), Ha moved to FC Seoul where he really made his name. In the capital, Ha collected two more K League medals, a league cup medal (now defunct), and was named to the K League best XI three times. Ha was also named captain of the team, and was a big factor in Seoul’s run to the AFC Champions League final in 2012/13. Ha’s AFC CL performances caught the eye internationally, and during the offseason he moved to Chinese side Beijing Guoan. For the national team, Ha made his debut back in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he started appearing more regularly.
Ha Dae-Sung is a little bit of an old fashioned central midfielder. A dynamic, box-to-box type. Ha is at his best when he can run around the center of the pitch, snapping at people’s heels, and prompting attacks. While Ha is a good midfielder, he doesn’t ‘specialize’ in any particular area of play, and in the modern game, and particularly in the 4-2-3-1 formation that Hong favors, it’s difficult to put him in one of the three midfield spots. His passing is good, but he has limited range. His defending is good, but not great. His attacking is good, but not incisive, and so on.
At 29, this is probably Ha Dae-Sung’s last chance to really appear on the international stage before younger players, like Lee Myeong-Joo, push him out. Ha is unlikely to play much, if at all, at the World Cup barring an injury or suspension to Ki Sung-Yueng, but he is a leader and a someone the other players respect, so his locker room influence could be valuable. Ha seems to have settled reasonably well in China, so he’ll probably play there for a couple years, and then possibly return to Korea.