WC Hopes Hanging – South Korea vs Iran preview

Photo via KFA homepage (kfa.or.kr)

(*updated to include an interview for Iran perspective*)

Well, quite a lot has happened since the last World Cup qualifier. Stielike was fired, Shin Taeyong was hired. New members joined the KFA’s technical committee. The club season restarted in Europe (just), and the K League season rolled on. Admittedly I am not an expert on the Iran national team nor Iranian football in general, so this preview will focus purely on South Korea (which I like to say I know something about ㅎㅎ). So, let’s just jump into the good stuff! <more after the break>

The Squad

In case you forgot, here’s the squad that Shin Taeyong has named for this match against Iran as well as the final qualifier (hopefully) against Uzbekistan.

Screenshot via the KFA Instagram page

Squad News/Updates

The big concern of course is injuries. Key players Son Heungmin, Ki Sungyueng, and Hwang Heechan are all recovery from injury or are injured. Ki Sungyueng underwent knee surgery last June, and has yet to return to full action yet. Ki arrived in Korea a little ahead of his Europe-based counterparts, and told media that his recovery is progressing faster than previously expected. Son Heungmin broke his arm in the last qualifier, but he did start for Tottenham in their 1-1 draw with Burnley last weekend. Hwang Heechan suffered a knee injury with RB Salzburg.

Whether any of them will play against Iran is (officially) still up in the air. Team officials told media that Shin Taeyong is assessing Son and Hwang’s condition, and they’re inclusion in the starting XI or availability off the bench will likely be a game time decision. Both are desperate to play, but Hwang still has pain in his knee, and Son has discomfort in his arm. Of the two, Son seems the more likely to start given he did play for Spurs. A team official also told media that during training, Hwang had difficulty striking the ball well with his injured leg.

Ki seems almost definitely out of the Iran match given his lack of fitness due to his recovery from surgery. Indeed, even his inclusion in the squad caused a little annoyance with his club and fans who didn’t see why he should be included in a other-side-the-world trip when he is not ready to play in what will likely be a physical and tiring match.

Starting XI Projection (assuming 4-2-3-1/4-3-3)

Guessing Shin’s starting XI is quite tricky given: A) this is his first (official) match in charge of the senior side, B) the European club season has just started, C) many players in the K League and various other Asian leagues are in indifferent form, and D) the importance and difficulty of the match. But, I’ll do my best to read the media tea leaves and channel my inner thoughts/wishes on who starts Thursday night.

Goalkeeper: Not a close follower of the J League, so I can’t say for sure who deserves to start (from what some have said it should be the guy not included – Jung Sungryong), but safe money would seem to be on Kim Seunggyu (Vissel Kobe) getting the nod ahead of Kim Jinhyeon (Cerezo Osaka). This is based just more on the general feel that KNT officials seem to have towards the two custodians. Despite not always impressing, Kim Seunggyu always seems to be the guy they see as the one to be between the posts for the next World Cup (should we get there) and beyond. Kim Jinhyeon’s poor showing in the friendly against Spain did significant damage to his stock, so I don’t see him getting the nod here. Cho Hyunwoo (Daegu FC) should be here for the experience.

Rightback: Choi Chulsoon (Jeonbuk) and Ko Yohan (FC Seoul) are the two traditional options here, but of course Jang Hyunsoo (FC Tokyo) has been used as a rightback quite often as well. To be honest, I really can’t pick between the three as they’re all quite underwhelming. I suspect given the gravity of the match that Shin will go a little more conservative here and it will fall to either Jang Hyunsoo or Choi Chulsoon. Shin though has said that he doesn’t view Jang Hyunsoo as a fullback, which would probably mean Choi Chulsoon unless Shin is playing some mind games.

Leftback: Kim Jinsu (Jeonbuk) and Kim Minwoo (Suwon) are the two potential leftbacks. Kim Minwoo is probably more deserving based on K League form, but I think Shin will again go with the more experienced option in Kim Jinsu. Plus as Tim alluded to in his article on the Jeonbuk influence in the squad, I can see Shin trying to use some of that club adhesion with the national team.

Centerbacks: Kim Younggwon (Guangzhou Evergrande) is finally back (and named captain to boot), so is definitely one of the two central defenders. The question is who will partner him? Like many of the positions this time around it is not one that automatically picks itself. Kim Juyoung (Hebei CFFC), Kim Keehee (Shanghai Shenhua), Jang Hyunsoo, Kim Minjae (Jeonbuk), and Kwon Kyungmin (Tianjin Quanjian) are all possible picks. Kwon Kyungmin is an interesting option as he’s capable playing as a holding midfielder, but it looks like he’s been playing as a central defender with Tianjin Quanjian. Kwon’s manager is none other than Fabio Cannavaro, who one would think has a decent eye for defensive ability. I don’t think though Shin will give him his debut runout here though. Reports are that Kim Minjae, the young Jeonbuk defender, has been playing as Kim Younggwon’s partner in training with Kim Keehee and Kim Juyoung partnering together on the other side. Kim Minjae has impressed with Jeonbuk, but again lack of experience I think sees him sit this one out. The other three – Kim Keehee, Kim Juyoung, and Jang Hyunsoo are all kind of meh in my opinion. Let’s go conservative again and put in Jang Hyunsoo.

Holding midfielder: The aforementioned Jang Hyunsoo (again) and Kwon Kyungmin are options here as well, along with Jung Wooyoung (Chongqing Lifan). Jung Wooyoung is the safe choice given he’s played for the senior NT before, and as such I think he’ll get the nod ahead of Kwon Kyungmin.

Deep “playmaker”: I’ll put playmaker in quotes here. This is of course Ki Sungyueng’s spot, but since he’ll almost certainly be out that task will fall to Koo Jacheol. Kwon Changhoon (Dijon) is another possibility, but everything says that this will be Koo’s spot.

Advanced playmaker: Lee Jaesung (Jeonbuk), Kwon Changhoon, Nam Taehee (Lekhwiya), Kim Bokyung (Kashiwa Reysol) are the potential choices here. In the past this would probably fall to Kwon Changhoon, but given his and Koo Jacheol’s similar-ish skill sets, I think only one will be on the pitch at the same time. Picking between the remaining three is not a simple task given historical selections and ability. Kim Bokyung can play the role, but given he hasn’t been involved with the KNT much lately I think he’s on the outside looking in. Personally, I would rather have Lee Jaesung there, but KNT officials often seem to view him as a right midfielder so, I think that’s where he’ll end up and Nam Taehee will be given the central role.

Right midfielder: This spot would seem to be between Lee Jaesung and Lee Keunho (Gangwon FC). I can’t see any reason to go with Gangwon Lee ahead of Jeonbuk Lee.

Left midfielder: This is definitely Son Heungmin’s spot if he’s okay to play. If not, I imagine it would go to Yeom Kihun (Suwon) as it’s hard to see Hwang Heechan being fit enough/ready to start.

Center forward: Lee Donggook (Jeonbuk) or Kim Shinwook (Jeonbuk)? Yuck… but that’s likely what it comes down to unless Shin pulls a surprise and puts Son or Hwang up top, which seems highly unlikely given the aforementioned fitness issues. Kim Shinwook seems the more likely choice given Lee Donggook’s age, but some reports seem to hint that there is a chance of Lee starting. There is also the chance of <gulp> both starting.

Playing Style Expectations

Difficult to say exactly. Shin is keeping things close to this vest this time round, saying that the formation, selection, and his tactics will not be revealed. Understandable of course. Given Shin’s history and the players available, one feels it will be a little bit on the defensive side with flank play key as always. Ki Sungyueng’s (likely) absence from the side means there isn’t a player capable of spraying passes around the pitch, so expect lots of wing play to work the ball up the pitch and then crosses into Kim Shinwook’s general vicinity or pull backs for the central midfielders to get onto (or Son Heungmin cutting in and shooting). Plan B would be long balls from the back to Kim Shinwook’s head with the hope he can knock it down for the midfielders to get onto.

Of course the availability of Son Heungmin and Hwang Heechan will change (to an extent) how the team sets out to play. If both are unavailable, then Yeom Kihun would come in. Yeom is a more traditional wide player with a good left foot and really no right foot. But he can put in a decent cross and has very good set piece delivery. If he starts perhaps a more traditional 4-4-2 could be seen? Both Hwang and Son could be deployed up top as a mobile forward option, but it seems unlikely given they are both coming off injuries and playing as a lone forward would require significant energy and fitness.

Iran has little to play for given they’ve already qualified, but I’m sure there would be plenty of satisfaction to deny Korea a chance to wrap up qualification as well as to maintain their current record of no losses/goals conceded. Iran boss Carlos Queiroz is naturally a defensive-minded tactician, and I wouldn’t expect to see much change from the Iran we’ve come to know.

The Opposition – Iran

To get a view from the other side, Tim Lee spoke with Pezhman Pars (@Iranskfotboll) about the Iranian side we’ll see.

Tim Lee: Both sides approach this match with very different perspectives. Iran are home free, Korea is on the edge of elimination. What’s in it for the Iranians, really?

Pezhman Pars: For Carlos Queiroz, he wants to improve the good results he got so far. Korea have developed to become a tough opponent and Iran dont want to loose against them. They want to continue the impressive results they got against Korea (I think its 4 straight wins in a row for Iran now. One other thing that you cant underestimate the fact of a team gathering. Its not so often that the Iranian national team can with ease have training camps and such, therefore every opportunity to see the players together is really important for Queiroz. One last thing is that there aren’t many players in the squad that are 100% sure to be in the starting eleven. Therefore its a tough competition for the spots, which makes sure that the players don’t take their task easily.

TL: So will we see a full fledged Iranian side?

PP: 100%. The Iranian national team will do its best to beat South Korea. They know that Korea needs to win against Iran, so they are expecting an attacking team. The players must be on their toes full 90 minutes.

TL: Quieroz was complaining about the Korean pitches earlier today, and new Korean boss Shin Taeyong said that he was “declining to participate in Quieroz’s mind games.” Do you think Quieroz was trying to get in the Koreans’ head, like he did back in 2013?

PP: Its hard to say what he thinks. But the pictures I saw showed a not so good pitch. But i dont know the details to be honest, who have choosen the pitch and why.

TL: Can we expect the usual, stingy, defensive approach from Iran? In other words, how would you describe Iran’s likely game plan?

PP: I believe that these kind of games suit Iran well. They are a better counterattacking team than a team that wants to lead the game. With fast and creative wingers and good strikers (probably Azmoun or Ghoochannejhad on top) Iran can relay on them to do the work.

TL: Starting XI & score prediction?

Haghighi in goal.
Back 4: Rezaian – Pouraliganji – Hosseini – Mohammadi
Def 2: Ezatollahi – Karimi (or Cheshmi/HajSafi)
Mid 3: Jahanbakhsh – Taremi – Ansarifard
Attack: Azmoun /Ghoochannejhad


Always dangerous (especially because my predictions tend to be crap). I’ll go the neutral route and say will see a draw, either 0-0 or 1-1. It seems like their will be a big turnout for this one in Sangam, so hopefully the fans can really get behind the lads and give them an extra boost to break down that Iranian defense. However, I’m also realistic and know we have really struggled against Iran since Queiroz has taken over, and that the team is struggling for in-form and fit players. I expect a tough, close encounter.

대~한 민!국! 짝! 짝! 짝 짝 짝!

As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

What do you think will happen? How will Shin Taeyong line up the side?

Screenshot via KFA homepage (kfa.or.kr)


About Jae Chee 339 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


  1. FYI on my WatchESPN app, it looks like the game will be streamed on ESPN3. Good news for those of us in the US! Anyone with basic cable can download that app if you don’t already have it.

    • The game is at 5:00 am PT right? According to espn3, the game will be shown at 4:25.

      I hope Kwon Chang Hoon starts against Iran. I like what I’ve seen from some of his Dijon highlights. I’m not sure if Lee Jae Sung is capable of playing as a CAM, but I would like to see him and Kwon play together.

      I read from the other posts that this site might be near its end. I’m a big fan of Tavern and I always look forward to new posts, especially the previews. I hope you guys can continue posting previews on this site or somewhere else.

      • Lee Jaesung is definitely capable of playing as a CAM but due to his versatility he is often played as a RM.

        Yes this version of the Tavern will likely close its proverbial doors following the 2018 World Cup (assuming we qualify of course). But I’m sure the writers here will continue to be active writing about Korean footy.

  2. Stream opens up earlier but game starts at 8 AM ET / 5 AM PT.

    It’s crazy how Korea finds itself at the top of the table with Iran and Uzbekistan yet again after 2014. It was a bit closer then; Korea and Uzbekistan finished level on points, behind Iran, but Korea eked out with one extra goal in terms of differential. Let’s hope it’s not as close this time around.

    Yonhap is reporting that over 50k tickets have already been sold for the match which is one thing going for the KNT. If Korea avoids its oh so familiar lapses on the defensive end when Iran counterattacks, then the KNT has a chance to come away with the win. My prediction is a 2-1 Korea win with goals coming from Son and Koo.

  3. It’d be awesome if Korea could win, but if I’m being honest I don’t see it happening. Iran is one of the best defensive teams around. Remember in the 2014 World Cup, they parked the bus and kept Argentina (loaded with quality strikers) from scoring until Messi made a world class shot in the final minute. Getting a goal against them ain’t gonna be easy. Zero goals conceded through qualifiers.
    On top of that, they have a ton of national pride and they believe in their coach’s system.
    Last point… they seem to enjoy fucking over Korea, at least Quieroz does.
    Best of luck Korea!! You’ll need it. Hoping for some good results.

  4. Score first and then park the bus. Don’t open yourself up for the counter attack. Korea 1 Iran 0. Beat these dudes! Leave your hearts on the pitch, the crowd is behind you. Tonight we win!

  5. It is really really hard to be a fan of this team. Holy hell, that was a total waste of my time.
    The saddest part is, they got no excuses. At home, packed house, against 10 men, against a team with really nothing to play for, Hwang and Son both started, attack-minded lineup, CHINA GIFTS US WITH A WIN. No shot on goal?!? Can’t blame Stielke anymore. What the f*ck did I just watch??
    By the way, STY suddenly lost all energy and enthusiasm as a coach. At the Olympics, he looked so engaged. Tonight I swear he looked like Choi Kang Hee on the sidelines.
    The worst part is that I basically thought we wouldn’t win, so I can’t be that disappointed. But.. the way that it played out was unexpectedly painful.

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