Recognised as ‘Korea Republic’ by FIFA, South Korea have emerged as a strong footballing nation over the last 10 years, and are often considered Asia’s most successful nation. With a population of 48.4m, Korea Republic have a huge fan base and around 1.1m South Koreans participate in leagues throughout the country – a number which has risen with their success in the 2002 and 2006
The K-League is also one of the strongest and most competitive in Asia, and to prove this South Korean teams have won the most trophies in the Asian Champions League and Asian Club Championships combined (8). The Asian Champions League – much like the European equivalent – takes the best from the home nations and the Pohang Steelers (South Korean) are the current champions.
South Korea have a perfect mix of players in their squad who play domestically and ply their trade abroad. Of the provisional squad, just over 50 percent play in their home nation – this even balance should help the squad grow as they enter the summer and it also impresses a huge amount of flexibility in the team. The Warriors are currently ranked 47th in the world – their highest ever ranking came in December 1998 when they hit 17th. The lowest the country has ever dropped is 56th (February 1996). The Tigers of Asia however only lost one game in 2009 and were unbeaten in qualification for the 2010 World Cup having won seven and also drawn seven. They are the first and currently only Asian team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup when they co-hosted the 2002 edition with Japan. The passion remains strong amongst the country and the Taegeuk Warriors remain the only Asian team to have qualified for seven consecutive finals. Huh Jung-Moo’s side hope to achieve at least progression into the next round of the 2010 World Cup , coming up against Nigeria, Argentina and Greece in Group B. The Korean tactician will hope to win at least two matches to progress. Their current history against these sides is excellent having never lost to either Greece or Nigeria.
Korea Republic’s strength in South Africa may well lie in their athleticism and energy – Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung epitomises this and his willingness to run and positive attitude have earned him the captain’s armband. The skilful winger scored five of Korea’s 22 in qualifying and has played a key role in his country’s previous two World Cups . The 29-year-old will be looking to link up with clinical striker Park Chu-Young who is by far the best attacking option the Tigers of Asia have. Huh Jung-Moo is currently in his third spell coaching the national squad, and the 55-year-old also played 85 times for his country. He has only managed clubs in Asia so has no European experience, however he played in Holland and has almost 10 years behind him, cumulatively, managing Korea Republic.
Korea Republic play their home games at the Seoul World Cup stadium, which cost $200m to build and holds a capacity of 68 476. The pitch is in pristine condition and will be in stark contrast to the hard dry pitches that will be on offer in South Africa this summer. The maximum capacities are very similar to their home stadium and with a good following the Korean Republic can certainly count on the 12th man. The altitude is 390 metres above sea level in Seoul and, considering Johannesburg’s altitude of 2000 metres, they will need to adapt to such a change. In contrast to this Durban, which sits at sea-level will play host to the Nigeria fixture. Players’ fitness and breathing will not be the only effect from the changes in altitude – according to an Adidas study, a free -ick from 20 yards at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg will reach the goal 5 percent percent faster than it would in Durban.
As with many Asian national teams, scoring goals seems to be the main disadvantage in Korea Republic’s set-up. Their natural creativity will always lead to chances, however these have been spurned on too many occasions in the past, especially in big competitions. If the Coach cannot solve this vital problem their vulnerability at the back – particularly to set pieces – could cost them dear. Coach Huh has never strayed away from the 4-4-2 formation since taking control of the national side in 2007, this inflexibility could see the Koreans come unstuck especially in such a fast-paced tournament. In order to succeed in South Africa, the Taeguk Warriors will need to learn to successfully play in formations other than 4-4-2.