In the Numbers: Korea’s 2018 World Cup Squad

I decided to crack some numbers and see if there’s any basic statistical conclusions we can make about the 2018 World Cup side that will fly the Taegukgi in Russia. More on the return of the K League, how tall Kim Shin-wook is, how short Lee Seung-woo is, and how this squad is sort of the oldest Korean World Cup team in history.

Quick Overview

Strong Presence from K League

This side has a very strong presence from Korea’s domestic leagues, the K League 1 and K League 2. Over half the team hails from Korea, which is a stark contrast from 2014, where there was a significant increase in Europe-based and other Asia-based players.

Shin Tae-yong has gone Korea-style – it’s back to usual with this World Cup squad.

This number can be interpreted in two different ways. For those that believe that more Koreans playing well in Europe is best for the advancement of Korean soccer and the development of the Korean national team, then it’s a slap in the face, as there are just 5 Europe-based players in this side (down from 10 in 2014). However, others believe that a strong presence of national team players from the K League is good for chemistry and the domestic league as a whole (retaining more of its talent).

*A little bonus: Remember how we were all like “Oh my god, Chinese domestic leagues are going to ruin the Korean national team?” Well, though the CSL (both for its low quality & exclusion of Korean defenders with their random modification of the foreign-players cap) is home to many of our players, some transferred to other leagues while others were just left out.

An Inexperienced Generation?

However, one major continuation from 2014 is that this side has less national team caps than prior editions. In 2014, it was around 26.4 caps, while this time around, it’s around 28 caps. In comparison, the squads in 2002, 2006 and 2010 had an average of more than 40 caps each time.

Please ignore the random blank line in the middle of each bar. I think it’s like the mode.

How to explain this decrease? The 2014 side was largely considered to be the continuation of the 2012 Olympic side, so the core of the team (not necessarily the entire squad though) was not very much capped on the senior level. This cycle perhaps saw more instability than in previous years, with the K League and the Chinese Super League both having their fingerprints all over the national team at different times.

But my most significant theory is that both squads were the result of similar contexts. In 2014 as in 2018, the squad limped through qualification. A new manager took charge with a year to go, and people were calling for changes. Naturally, they’re going to pick different players who haven’t had a chance before and include them in the squad. Indeed, 6 players going to Russia and 5 players that went to Brazil have had less than 10 senior caps. This time around, that’s Lee Seung-woo, Moon Seon-min, Cho Hyun-woo, Jung Seung-hyeon, Yoon Young-seon and Oh Ban-seok.

Another interesting thing reflected by that graph is that we only have one player above the 80 caps mark at the World Cup – Ki Sung-yueng, who hit his 100th cap last week. Comparatively, there was a significant absence of spread at the 2014 World Cup, while the squads that went to South Africa and played at home in 2002 had much more veteran stalwarts (shoutout to 2002’s Hong Myung-bo, whose 128 caps was so formidable Excel was like “that’s an outlier lol”).

Been There, Done That

There are 8 returning players that will attend the 2018 World Cup, including 1 that has played three World Cups (Ki, duh). This is largely in sync with previous years, and somewhat dispels the myth that “this side is basically 2014 + Lee Seung-woo and a bad defense”. It may be true that in terms of starters and the most important players in the side, many will have 2014 experience (Son, Ki, Kim Seung-gyu, Lee Yong, Kim Young-gwon, and maybe Koo), but there is still a significant turnover.

As we can see, the real “veterans year” was the squad that made the Round of 16 in South Africa, though it should be noted that few were starters (Ahn Jung-hwan and Lee Woon-jae were definitely bench-warmers, for example). And the real “newcomers’ year” was the inexperienced squad that we sent to Brazil. This data shows that there is a lot of balance in this year’s squad that isn’t particularly definable by any of those two labels, and is hence really boring to talk about, so let’s move on.

The Oldest (Marginally) Ever (Sort Of)

Here’s the low-key statistic that has really slipped under the radar of the Korean press, perhaps because it’s not extremely significant and very marginal. This squad is actually, on average, the oldest squad since the team that went to 1954 (which we can almost exclude since that’s an entirely different era of football).

In truth, the graphic is sort of distorting this, since they all fall between the range of 25.7 to 27.3 years old, which is probably negligible. What’s more noticeable (and hard to put in effective graphic form) is that the standard deviation of the past two squads in terms of ages have been quite low. In simpler terms, we used to call up more veterans (30+) and U-23 players. From 2002-2010, we called up 14 U-23 players and 13 players older than 30. In these past two World Cups, we’ve called up just 3 U-23 players and 3 players older than 30. Simply put, Hong and Shin have both been more hesitant to spend squad spots on random bullets (young players) or older locker room presences than Hiddink, Advocaat and Huh.

Kim Shin-wook is kind of a beast (on paper) + this side is tall

Let’s have a look at height and weight. The averages over the years don’t reveal that much (except that Korean players have slowly gotten slightly taller and heavier over the years, and that the 1954 squad was full of midgets from an impoverished nation). So, instead, let’s look at the outliers.

Kim Shin-wook is the tallest and heaviest outfield player the Korean national has ever sent. Period. No one even comes close, except for the goalkeepers. The Wookie clocks in at at 196cm (6 foot 7) and 93kg (205lbs). The weight factor is particularly impressive, as the next heaviest World Cup-bound Korean outfield player in history is a whole 10kg (23lbs) lighter. Meanwhile, interestingly, 4 of the 5 tallest Korean World Cup squad players are in this very team – was this on purpose (ie Sweden is tall so we must be tall) or a mere coincidence?

It never struck me how tall Ki Sung-yueng was. (But he apparently grew 3cm from 2014? Lol KFA…)

So, though we may dislike how Korea plays with Kim Shin-wook and theorize that he’s really got no height advantage against European centrebacks, it’s still clear that he’s a unique, perhaps once-in-a-generation player in Korean football.

Note: Lee Bum-young (2014), clocking at nearly 2 metres of man, was the most physically imposing Korean player to ever make a World Cup squad, but he was uncapped and was the 3rd goalkeeping option at that competition (before fading into oblivion). Kim Jin-hyeon (2018) clocks in at the fourth tallest, but he too seems like a 3rd keeper option at this point. The little known 1998 goalkeeper Seo Dong-myung is the third tallest.

Lee Seung-woo (and Go Yo-han) are tiny af

Conversely, Lee Seung-woo and Go Yo-han are really small.

Image result for 이승우 대표
Apart from being kind of one of those photos you don’t as a athlete want taken of you, Lee Seung-woo’s height difference in this shot with Son is jarring.

This squad is unique in that it has also the two shortest and physically lightest players to play for the Korean national team in 25 years. Both Lee Seung-woo and Go Yo-han have quickness and acceleration at the core of their game, and it’s a good thing that they do – otherwise they wouldn’t play football. They both clock in at 170cm (5 ft 7) while Lee clocks in at 60kg (132lbs), making him the second lightest player to go a World Cup for Korea. Get this – he would have been lighter than EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of the 1954 World Cup squad – the team that played after the Korean War ended in 1953 in an impoverished country with poor dieting regimens. In other words, the kid’s very lean. (He must have like no body fat.) No wonder he was struggling physically in Spain – that’s actually not an understatement.

In summary, this squad marks the resurgence of a domestic league and inexperience in spite of old age. The “height” department confirms that two very unique players will offer two very different striking possibilities, including the heaviest player in Korean history. On the whole, this side will stand taller – literally – than previous Korean World Cup squads, but questions remain if they can stand victorious and become more than just names and numbers.

About Tim Lee 321 Articles
The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?


  1. Great breakdown, numbers don’t lie.

    How about we have Lee Seung Woo live in America for a year to fatten him up? Somewhere like the Midwest? I cannot believe he weighs 132 lbs, I mean, that is junior high wrestling weight.

      • It’s not the Wookie is fat though. Like I don’t know how much of it is fat/muscle but he seems pretty lean. There’s not much to lose, is there?

  2. Love this stuff!
    You know something absolutely wild? Harry Kane weighs more than Kim Shin Wook… I would have never guessed that. He is one of the heaviest players at the WC:

    Height is obviously not the only determining factor with weight- some of these guys are solid muscle, like the heaviest player at the WC Roman Torres (Panama) who is only 6’2″ (188).

    • And also interesting, Lee Seung Woo may look like a dwarf on the field, but he isn’t even in the top 5 lightest or shortest. These athletes come in all shapes and sizes.

        • Oh for sure, it’s definitely a neat stat… and it is definitely noticeable how small he is on the pitch. I just wanted to add what I found out about other teams because I was kinda surprised. I thought he’d definitely be one of the smallest but other teams have him beat haha

  3. Lee Seung Woo probably has high metabolism and burns calories easily. That’s why he’s so pacy and quick. Also football is a sport where height doesn’t matter, especially at higher levels because skill level (technique) and athleticism (pace, acceleration, strength, agility) outweigh just pure size (Messi vs Shinwook). I’m not saying Shinwook is only size but just in comparison to Messi. Sorry if I sound a little triggered or defensive, I’m about the same size as Lee Seung Woo and I also play football so I can relate to him a lot.

    • I think most people here agree with you Aaron! That’s why we get annoyed that the KFA and KNT coaching staff continues to think that they have a great advantage with Kim Shinwook- old school Korean sports thinking at its finest. The Wookie is completely outmatched in international competition because of how clumsy he is.

      I will say that Messi has shown that the “little” guy can do massive damage. LSW on the other hand still has to prove that… he could still get pushed around by stronger (and more experienced) guys, we’ll just have to see.

    • Oh for sure this isn’t basketball or something. All players of all sizes play football, I’m not tall either lol. Didn’t mean to insinuate that, and I was just poking fun at LSW’s expense.

      I think I was just playing devil’s advocate a little re: KSW. He’s a really unique player that the national team has basically never had. Shin Tae-yong knows the K League, he’s seen KSW often. He clearly trusts him and calling him up does diversify the squad.

      As for KSW is completely outmatched in international competition…

      I don’t think it matters against strong opposition like Sweden Mexico and Germany, but a penny for your thoughts.

      • Perhaps I exaggerated. I probably shit on the Wookie too much, but only because for a long time I felt like I was the only person who didn’t understand why he kept playing. The Tavern has allowed me to find friends 🙂
        And if he goes beast mode and kicks ass this summer, I’ll be happy and apologize publicly. I just haven’t seen it yet!

  4. It is notable how the KNT is taking 6 players with single digit caps. And only one is younger than 24. Relatively inexperienced team overall in terms of avg. number of caps. Suppose this is what happens when Lee KH and Yeom get injured, and when players like Ji DW and Lee CY do not make the squad.

    In other news, looks like the KFA has published not only the squad numbers but how the names will be printed on the back of the jerseys. Trends over time below, demonstrating how the captain’s name was printed for each WC.

    2018: S Y KI
    2014: J C Koo
    2010: JISUNG
    2006: WOONJAE
    2002: M B HONG

  5. I love this kind of post. It’s like I’m browsing one of my favortie sub, lol.

    It’s always a good idea to discuss your ideas around hard factual numbers/data. Objectivity can keeps things honest.

  6. KSW sucks period. You can find any good highlight reel of a player at this level. There’s probably some amazing Jang Hyun Soo highlight reel that SK coaches have stashed somewhere they live to watch every time they make a call up.

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