Not too long to go before Korea takes the pitch as overwhelming favorites at the Asian Games. This post will be an introduction to the 5 midfielders (as listed by the KFA) who will suit up for the Taegeuk Warriors in Jakarta-Palembang.
Name: Lee Jinhyeon (이진현)
Club: Pohang Steelers (Korea)
Lee Jinhyeon’s career has been a whirlwind in the past year or so. He surprisingly broke into Shin Tae-yong’s U-20 team at the FIFA World Cup, and even more surprisingly broke into the starting lineups as somewhat of a deep lying midfielder with an eye for a threaded deep throughball. Though he wasn’t perfect, he accounted himself well enough to earn a surprising loan to Austria Wien in the Austrian Bundesliga, where he even got a few Europa League appearances, including a start against AC Milan. However, for one reason or another, he never shone enough to be an asset worth retaining for Wien, and he just recently returned to the K League at Pohang Steelers in the past couple of months.
Lee is capable of playing on either side of the midfield, as well as playing a couple games for Pohang as a right wing-back. However, he is left-footed, and his willingness to try longer passes through the lines and to open things up against low blocks could be a big asset for the side.
Name: Jang Yunho (장윤호)
Club: Jeonbuk Hyundai (Korea)
In some respects it feels like Jang Yun-ho has been around forever, so it could be surprising to see him in a U-23 side. This is mainly because Jang has been playing senior team games for Jeonbuk Hyundai since 2015. Though never really a starter (perhaps helped in by the K League’s U-23 player policy) Jang, like Lee, brings a “bigger game” experience, and also started quite a bit for this side in last year’s AFC U-23 tournament (the one where Qatar beat Vietnam in the final? Yeah that one).
Jang’s probably best as a defensive shield and link-up player from the defense to midfield; he’s a decent defensive presence, but not overwhelmingly so, and his passing is fair, but not absolutely exceptional. Still, the side might use a composed player to sit in front of the defensive line, though like many in this generation he’s not a classic destroyer in any sense. Simply put, he’s a reliable number 6 who should be able to get the job done in this tournament, but it’s hard to see him ever break into the senior national team either.
Name: Hwang Inbeom (황인범)
Club: Asan Mugunghwa (Korea)
Hwang will don Korea’s #10 jersey at the tournament, and though he’s not a “traditional #10” either (who is these days?) he’s by far the side’s flashiest midfield player. One of my personal favorite players (and my long-time Twitter avatar), Hwang went the unconventional route for Korean footballers, signing a pro contract at 18 and skipping the university circuit altogether. For his three seasons at the Purple Arena he was by far Daejeon Citizen’s best player through hell and high water, and not even a horrific leg-break has hindered his progression. He’s also currently completing his military service at Asan Mugunghwa, turning down offers to Europe in order to get his gun-dae responsibilities out of the way. Smart, or suicidal, only time will tell, but it certainly kept him out of Korea’s U-17 and U-20 squads.
When given the right group of players and freedom to work with, Hwang can be a glory on the eyes. Quick, technical maneuvers, a whole lot of turns and tekkers, and a great ability to draw players in and then release pressure with a smart pass, short or long. He’s by far the side’s most technically advanced player (and the only one to consistently get European offers, per Steve Han), but can turn into somewhat of a luxury player as well. The hope is on a side with many other technically gifted footballers, Hwang can push farther up the field and help wreak havoc in the final third, as opposed to just being a player involved in transition.
Name: Kim Gunwoong (김건웅)
Club: Ulsan Hyundai (Korea)
If you read much into this sort of thing, Kim Gun-woong is the side’s tallest midfielder and second heaviest outfield player. A product of the Hyundai pipeline (having played for Hyundai High School), Kim seemed set to break out in 2016 for Ulsan Hyundai as a central attacking midfielder under Yoon Jong-hwan, even scoring a couple of goals along the way. However, he’s since failed to get much playing time for the Tigers.
Kim’s inclusion in the side is probably for two reasons; firstly, he’s a known quantity, featuring heavily for the U-20 side, and secondly, he’s a physical midfielder on a side of (just to generalize) lighter, sleet-footed players. He could be used to shut down games with his physical presence, and will probably only start against sides that will be willing to take on more of the ball, possibly in the latter stages of the competition. Alternatively, media reports suggest he could be a right-footed centreback in a 3-back system (and in a CB trio of Kim Min-jae, Jeong Tae-wook and Kim Gun-woong… which would be quite the brick wall).
Name: Kim Jungmin (김정민)
Club: FC Liefering (Austria)
Hailed (rightfully) as the heir apparent to Ki Sung-yueng, Kim Jung-min currently plies his trades in the Red Bull pipeline at FC Liefering – the same club where Hwang Hee-chan broke through a few years ago. At just 19, Kim is the youngest player in this side, and his ability to beat out players like a half-injured Paik Seung-ho or a former U-20 captain in Han Chan-hee is a testament to his ability.
Though it would be very impressive to see him start for this side, it wouldn’t be surprising. Kim’s passing range is excellent, and his completion rates seem quite elevated as well. He’s a silky midfielder. But beyond that, he’s markedly forward-driven, confident to trade lateral passing for a direct dribble up the centre of the pitch. The Tavern’s youth expert Jinseok Yang describes him as the “Ki Sung-yueng of old”, as Kim has retained a gutsier ability to forage up the field. He’s a promising one for the future, and this tournament may not be a bridge too far. He also featured heavily for the U-17 and U-20 teams, where he has also been fast-tracked.
Name: Lee Seungmo (이승모)
Club: Gwangju FC (Korea)
A little midfield dynamo on loan to Gwangju from Pohang, Lee Seung-mo has more or less played every spot on Korea’s spine in their youth ranks these past few years. From centre-back, to defensive midfielder, to central attacking mid, and even playing up top in high school, Lee’s versatility is a major reason why he’s made this team.
In truth, Lee is a little hard to read. He’s featured sparingly at the senior level, only making one start for Pohang in 2017, and media reports seem to be equally as confused. He’s shown a talent for scoring some great goals (a wondergoal against France U-20 among his highlights), but perhaps not the physical ability or consistency over time to make him a reliable starter. Perhaps he could be a first man off the bench for Kim Hak-bum?
A programming note: the preview for the Bahrain match will be up in the coming hours, with an interview hopefully attached on as an update later. The final post to this series, on our forwards, will also be up soon, as well as a streaming guide for the Asian Games. Simply put, there’s a lot of posts coming your way, so stay tuned and check back often for our Asian Games coverage!