World Cup “thieves” South Korea stock steadily on the rise
In 2002, South Korea became known in Italian and Spanish circles as ‘thieves of the World Cup’, amid a number of controversial decisions. Over a decade later, with a tough group it is unlikely they will steal the show. They are 250/1 to win the World Cup, though odds of 5/2 to exit at the last 16 could be a more attractive option.
Belgium, Russia and Algeria stand in their way, and progressing from their group could be a stretch. Coach Hong Myung Bo is lobbying for ex-Manchester United player Park Ji-Sung to make a fantastic return to the squad, after serving his national team well for 11 years, before retiring in 2011.
Even though he is having a great season for his club PSV Eindhoven, it looks likely to be a non-starter.
One player certain to be on the plane, barring any major hiccups will be Bayer Leverkusen striker Son Heung-Min. He is already attracting interest from clubs around Europe including Liverpool, who need to decide whether they sign him before the tournament, or risk his stock going up.
Leverkusen’s hotshot has nine goals to his name in the Bundesliga this season, and was the star for his country in their recent friendly against Greece with an elegant assist, and a cool finish.
Playing a variation of 4-2-3-1, Bo utilises Son from the left with temporary Watford striker Park Chu-Young operating as the lone forward. He is 300/1 to be the tournament top scorer, and netted on six occasions on the road to Brazil, including a hatrick in a 6-0 win against Lebanon. From wide right, Bolton Wanderers player Lee Chung-Yong is an ever-buccaneering presence, with his high-energy approach and style.
Enforcing the midfield for the Taeguk Warriors is Sunderland loanee Ki Sung-Yueng who when available, was virtually an ever-present in qualifying. He could well be the key to his country’s ability in keeping play tight in the centre of the park.
Their opening match of the World Cup kicks off against Russia on June 17th, and combatting an array of attacking threats will be Bo’s immediate priority in the opening quarter. Rising star at the back is 24-year old centre half Kim Younggwon, who is steadily establishing himself as one of the continent’s most reliable defenders. He has recently earned high praise from former Italy manager Marcello Lippi, who coaches him at club level for Guangzhou Evergrande.
The Italian reportedly told Sir Alex Ferguson that the player is more than capable of plying his trade at the highest level, saying: “ I mentioned him in a chat with Ferguson and he is capable of playing for clubs like Manchester United.”
At the start of the season, Kim was realistic about his aims, and was keen to keep his feet on the ground.
Speaking to Asian media he said: “It is indeed a big year for me, with league and Asian titles to defend for my club and especially with strong opponents to play against in the World Cup. I pray and hope I can continue my good form and won’t pick up any injuries. I don’t fix my sights on results, but I am serious in making progress game after game. I am always hoping to be better tomorrow than today.”
Surely a calling card if ever there was one to the best clubs around. Do not be surprised to see him in Europe soon.
With anticipation increasing in the country and after below-par performances since, it seems 12 years could have been a small price to pay for their ‘thieving’ skulduggery in 2002, if they reach the potential they’re capable of.