The FIFA U20 World Cup kicks off in 3 weeks in Poland and head coach Chung Jung-yong named his 21-man squad this morning. For this preview, we’re going to look at how the squad compares to the 2017 squad, the preparations for the first group stage, and how you can watch the matches in Poland.
This squad is markedly different from Shin Tae-yong’s 2017 squad for one major reason. In 2017, the squad was overwhelmingly made up of university players. Of the 21 players in 2017, 11 of them were from university teams and this was one of the main critiques of Shin Tae-yong’s selections. This time around, only two of the players are currently in college; the rest are full-time professionals at clubs in Korea or Europe. It’s hard to say whether or not this will make a huge difference in results. However, this at least brings the young Taegeuk Warriors to a similar playing field as their opponents, as most squads will be made up of professionals either at the first-team level or working through the reserves at their clubs.
For the Taegeuk Warriors, there are some names that will jump out across positions. At the goalkeeper position, it will be interesting to see if Choi Min-soo is played as the no.1 keeper. A half-Korean, Choi Min-soo is known as Kevin Harr in his native Germany and is currently a youth prospect of Hamburg SV. This actually makes him the first KNT goalkeeper to play outside of Korea! At the AFC U19 championship last fall, he was mostly a backup to Lee Gwang-yeon but his inclusion in the final World Cup squad is garnering interest in Korea for his background. It’s certainly refreshing to see a multi-ethnic Korean playing for the national team so I’m rooting for him to do well.
In defense, Kim Hyun-woo is going to be the main focus at centerback as he has already worked his way up into Dinamo Zagreb’s B team at his age. I’m not sure exactly how a back 3/4 would shape up but I can say that I can recognize 3 of those defenders from K League matchday squads in the past year (so that’s something?). Hwang Tae-hyun (RWB/RB), Lee Jae-ik (CB), and Lee Ji-sol (CB) make appearances here and there for their clubs in the K League 1 and 2. I haven’t nailed down a LB in those selections so that’s something we’ll have to wait for match squads (the LB used at the AFC U19 championship didn’t make this squad).
I know the midfield and forwards much better because this is where there are a few recognized starters. For the central midfielders, Kim Jung-min and Lee Kang-in will be locks in the squad judging by the hype surrounding them. We all know about Lee Kang-in but Kim Jung-min has recently nailed down a starting midfield role with FC Liefering and will join the squad at their Poland camp in a few weeks. Ko Jae-hyun makes sub/starting appearances for Daegu FC so he may be asked to partner Kim Jung-min in a CM pairing with Lee Kang-in as a CAM.
All five forwards make pretty regular appearances for their clubs at this point so I would imagine it will come down to form. If I had to pick three, I would play Jeong Woo-young as a central forward with Jeon Se-jin and Cho young-wook in support. The good thing about this forward crew is that Um Won-sang and Oh Se-hun are also regularly playing for their clubs so even if they won’t make the starting XI they could be very useful subs. The only lingering question mark is when Jeong Woo-young will be made available since he’s such a huge fixture in Bayern Munich’s U23 team at the moment. At the moment it seems like the KFA are still negotiating his release so keep updated with us on Twitter for more news on that.
For now, the squad is training in Paju and has already had two closed-door friendlies against K League reserve sides, both victories (don’t put a huge amount of stock in those victories considering the March friendlies that Korea played in Spain were both losses). On Sunday, they’ll leave for Poland and they’ll play two warmup matches before their first group match on May 25th. On May 11 they’ll take on New Zealand, who are in Group C, and then Ecuador, from Group B, on May 17. I’ll keep a look out for the starting XIs, formations, and results for a more in depth preview in a few weeks.
How to Watch
Depending on where you live, there hopefully will be an official broadcaster where you are! In Korea, the major networks will likely rotate the matches as well as streaming on Naver TV. In the US, Fox Sports is the official English language broadcaster and should either put games on FS1/2 or their streaming FSGo platform. Here are the times and opponents for all group matches:
Korea Republic vs. Portugal, May 25, 9:30 AM EST, 10:30 PM KST
Korea Republic vs. South Africa, May 28, 2:30 PM EST, 3:30 AM KST (May 29)
Korea Republic vs. Argentina, May 31, 2:30 PM EST, 3:30 AM KST (June 1)
I’ll be back after the warm-up friendlies to give you a more tactical preview! Until then, hit up the comments with any insights you may have on this squad.