SOUTH Korea will face a tough group.
Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana won’t be easy adversaries, and in spite of the talent of their star Heung-Min Son – if match fit after suffering a facial injury in the Champions League against Marseille – Uruguay and Portugal are more likely to qualify for the Round of 16.
Time will tell, however, if they will be lucky enough to defy the odds and try to face some of the teams from Group G, which could be Brazil if they finish second in Group H.
Predicted starting XI
Recently, South Korea have played with a 4-4-2 formation as well, but we believe they might go for a 4-2-3-1 considering the personnel available.
And because of the World Cup, Bento should be more reserved to get one more player in midfield, having more flexibility to switch between the two.
But we do not completely rule out the chance they come with a back five if they feel Portugal and Uruguay are much stronger opponents — they could do that with a winger dropping deep to help the defenders.
From the defence to the attack, South Korea have good players from top European leagues. Centrally in the last line, Min-jae Kim is highly-rated thanks to his performances at Napoli, where he has shown great ball-playing and defensive techniques.
His performance will be crucial to the defence.
In midfield, they have Olympiacos’ In-beom Hwang available, but we should not overlook Woo-young Jung, playing for Al Saad and who’s experienced the coaching of Xavi and Juanma Lillo as a holding midfielder.
Jung Woo-Young should also have the experience to drive the team in different phases of play.
South Korea have many good attacking players, including the Premier League duo Heung-min Son (Tottenham) and Hee-chan Hwang (Wolves), Mallorca attacker Kang-in Lee and Freiburg striker Ui-jo Hwang could also help the team when needed.
If Son cannot start the tournament, expect Wolves’ Hwang to get the nod.
We have formed a good picture of South Korea’s playing style.
They try to play on the front foot with a strong mindset to breach the opposition lines.
They are fairly direct and try to hit spaces behind the opponent if possible with a high long pass.
With the ball, South Korea always construct with four deep players.
They are consistently pushing the full-backs high and wide to occupy the outside zones.
As shown in this image, on the left of Min-jae Kang and Young-gwon Kim, South Korea used the midfielder, Woo-yeong Jeong dropping out to receive, so they had a temporary back three with In-beom Hwang behind the opposition’s first line.
South Korea are a very aggressive side, they always have players preparing for runs behind the last line to catch the defenders out.
Apart from structurally driving the team forward, Bento also allowed Heung-min Son some freedom as a wild card.
The Tottenham star could pick up the ball in the deeper area similar to Lionel Messi’s role, to work on his stuff and also combine with teammates in close proximity to go into advanced areas.
In this image, you could see the winger released the left-back, and now Jin-su Kim is ready for a cross.
South Korea would love to have three to four players attacking the penalty zone — at least.
By getting lots of bodies in the box, they have a better chance to make first contact to score, and be first to the rebounds.
South Korea are an aggressive side without the ball, with promising numbers in terms of recovering area.
Moreover, they are such a high-pressing side who like to play with intensity without possession.
Without possession, South Korea are consistently in a 4-1-3-2 when pressing high, although we believe they will drop off to a 4-4-2 more in a midblock against stronger opponents.
But when they pushed, they gave good energy and did it with two strikers to pressure the ball, to guide the ball to the outside and close the opponents there.
In the first image, we saw Heung-min Son chasing the centre-backs, so he invited the pass to the outside and keep pushing there, where Hee-chan Hwang also prepared himself to confront the defender as it happened.
Also, the far-side winger should come infield to maintain compactness, balancing the shape.
In this image, Chang-hoon Kwon moved in as the team was pressing on the other side, so he would not be isolated and kept the three-man second line as a unit.
In the next image, we saw South Korea defending in the midfield areas, pressing out wide with the same concepts.
However, South Korea also had their weaknesses in their four-man last line.
In offensive transitions, South Korea always look to hit behind the last line as soon as possible to use the quality of their attackers, with most of them playing in top leagues in Europe.
For example, it would be very favourable if Heung-min Son is played into open spaces, charging towards the opponents as he does in the Premier League. So, Bento’s side possesses counter-attacking threats.
Heung-Min Son is always the protagonist and the player that all teammates try to give the ball to when they have a chance as we can see above.
In terms of rest defence, South Korea almost had a 3-1, based on how we explained their offensive organisation earlier.
But that would be a problem when the full-backs push too high to attack the flanks, as they are going to concede spaces behind in that scenario.
For example, UAE were able to develop a counter-attack from that weakness. Once the ball was regained, they moved it outside and supported it with runners forward.
In that instance, Jae-sung Lee struggled in a 1v3 situation, confronting runners when dropping back.
Their opponents in the World Cup would also be looking for similar conditions to attack South Korea in the transitions.
We all know Heung-min Son will be the most important player in the South Korean squad; the Tottenham Hotspur star has experienced some ups and downs in this campaign.
South Korea also have other attackers such as Hee-chan Hwang from Wolves, but the Wolves player has not started any Premier League game since August, and his form is in doubt.
They also have Ui-jo Hwang from Olympiacos but the 30-year-old is yet to score any goal this season too, so similar to Heung-min Son, whether or not these players can pick up their game rhythm soon will be crucial.
In midfield, South Korea rely on the partnership of In-beom Hwang and Woo-yung Jung.
Both have been important players in their respective teams – Olympiacos and Al Saad.
Juanma Lillo also trusted Woo-yung Jung in his midfield; he has decent ability to recover possession.
South Korea’s defence is mainly formed by players in K-League 1 such as Hong Chul and Moon-hwan Kim, but this season Min-jae Kim impressed the whole of Europe with his sharp performances at Napoli.
It was without a doubt that we had to pick Heung-min Son as the one to watch in the South Korean team, regardless of who else makes the squad.
The 30-year-old attacking player was the pride of Asia, when he won the Premier League Golden Boot last season alongside Mohamed Salah.
Individually, he is a very good player and plays an important role in Bento’s side.
We expect Heung-min to be the main source of threat, given what he showed us in the Premier League.
Defensively, he will not be jogging and relaxing. Instead, as the team’s captain, Heung-min Son will set himself as a good example to the rest by leading the press or executing defensive responsibilities.
If he shines in key moments, South Korea will definitely have a better chance to qualify for the group stage, which would be the dream of their supporters.
If he cannot play a full part, you can write off South Korea’s chances of getting out of the group.
Although Uruguay and Portugal should be the favourites to qualify from the group stage, we should not overlook South Korea’s chances either because they have a motivated and committed squad with good quality.
They also have plenty of players in their prime with good experience in European football.
The last time they made it into the last 16 was in 2010, and in their last six World Cup matches, South Korea has only achieved one win.
Nevertheless, we believe they should at least add another one to the tally in Qatar and if they managed to resist the favourites, there could be surprises.
However, most pundits predict that Uruguay and Portugal are the most likely sides to qualify to the Round of 16, but if their main man Son plays and performs well, he could make the difference for South Korea.
For even more detailed analysis of all 32 teams in the FIFA World Cup 2022, download your copy of the November Total Football Analysis magazine here
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