As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.
For this interview, focusing on South Korea, we spoke to Chris Atkins. Author of ScoutsNotebook on ESPN, writer at BleacherReport, beINSports co-editor of Wild East Football. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisAtkins_
This will be South Korea’s 8th consecutive appearance in the World Cup. 2002 undoubtedly represented the crest, but with the trouble in qualifying, will 2014 represent the trough?
As much as qualifying wasn’t as straightforward as many would have liked, this current Korea side is arguably as talented as the Taeguk Warriors have ever possessed. They now boast more European experience than they have had in previous years and, in Son Heung-Min, have a player of real quality in attack. Hong Myung-Bo has come in since qualification was secured and is calling upon many of the group that helped him achieve a third-place finish at the Olympic Games. Results have been up and down, but there is enough talent to achieve some positive results this summer if they recapture some belief.
At the risk of stereotyping, Asian teams are not generally lauded for their physicality. This coupled with the weather conditions can make it very difficult for the Koreans. How do you think Coach Hong should try and combat this?
They are not the strongest side, that is fair. However, they combat that with plentiful technical ability and they will be far better suited to the humidity in Brazil than any of their European rivals. South Korea gets very hot and muggy in the summer months and that should mean they are in for few shocks this World Cup. Key to combating any size deficiencies will be to move the ball quickly and seek to outplay opponents in midfield.
Hong Myung-bo is popular among Korean supporters, but his inexperience at managerial level is rather evident. For someone who has only played in the East Asian country nearly all his life, and managed at lower levels, will this inexperience effect the side’s chances? What can be the positive, if any, of such an individual at the helm?
Hong was captain of the 2002 side that finished fourth at the World Cup and also obtained Bronze medals as coach of Korea’s Under-23 side in the 2011 Asian Games and 2012 Olympics. He may lack experience compared to many rivals, but he knows his players inside out and will be an inspirational figure given his own success at World Cups. His relationship with Guus Hiddink is strong and he worked with the Dutchman at Anzhi Makhachkala. He is well prepared for the task ahead and the key will now be to create a strong team bond that will see the side to results against the odds.
This is the youngest side (based on average squad age) that the Korean Republic national team have named for a World Cup. Most of these players have never held that important a role for a World Cup. How do you see this effecting the side, positive or negative?
It will be difficult, that goes without saying. However, this is a group who have largely grown up together and that can have many benefits in terms of familiarity and belief in each others ability. Despite their age, there is a wider range of experience in this squad than ever before and that is perhaps a more important factor than a simple number.
This Korean side also has more foreign based players than any World Cup side before it. The experience and quality gained will certainly help the team as a whole. But which of the Asian based players (14 in total, of which only 3 goalkeepers and 3 outfield players are based in Korea) has the most important role in your view, and why?
My personal belief is that this is a hugely important World Cup for defender Kim Young-Gwon of Guangzhou Evergrande. Over the course of the past 18 months, he has shown himself to be the best central defender in Asia, demonstrating excellent reading of the game and distribution skills. A very modern defender, with a grounding in futsal, Kim has come on leaps and bounds under the coaching of Marcello Lippi and will now hope that he can attract the attention of European clubs as Korea’s dominant centre-back this summer.
We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Our focus is of course on Heung Min Son. Will he play a key role in Brazil? How does he fit in and what impact can he have?
If the East Asian giants are to stand any chance of getting to the knockout rounds this summer, it is likely that Son Heung-Min will need to perform. While Park Chu-Young and Lee Chung-Yong are reasonable players in the forward line, Son is the one player with real star quality that can unlock a defence. He has had two terrific seasons in the Bundesliga and will play the same role from the left for Korea. One or two moments of brilliance from the youngster could be the difference between success or failure for Hong’s side.
Korea Republic’s group seems rather easy comparatively. Surely they can go through; where do you see them finishing and what would be considered a success?
Belgium, Russia and Algeria are by no means straightforward opponents, but they are also far from the toughest sides in the draw. Getting through the Group Stage, therefore, is a more than realistic expectation of Korea, although they would then play one of Germany, Portugal, USA or Ghana in the second round. Just reaching the knockout rounds, then, should be the minimum aim. Beyond that, anything else would be a real bonus.