Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Intro to Korean footy

Another great perk about living in Korea is being able to watch any match played by the Korean national football team. Even meaningless friendles by underage squads are televised here. Ever since the 2002 World Cup, I've been quite the devoted follower of Korean football. In fact, if a genie could grant me three wishes, one of those wishes would be to score a goal in the World Cup as a member of the Korean national team.

Right now, Korea's in a difficult transition phase. They did quite well in the 2010 World Cup, qualifying out of their group and narrowly losing to fourth-place finisher Uruguay in the Round of 16. But a lot of the veterans retired soon afterwards, and now the U-23 team is pretty much the senior team. They're talented, but they're a bit young and a leadership core has yet to emerge definitively.

For the footy fans, here's a quick rundown of the best young Korean players.

Ki Sung Yueng (MF, Celtic)

In my opinion, KSY is the most important player for Korea. He usually plays deep in the central midfield, helping out the defense and starting attacks with pinpoint long passes. Plus, he's always good for a goal outside the box as he's got a cannon shot.

I've heard him compared to Xabi Alonso or Riccardo Montolivo. KSY plays for Celtic right now, but he's due for a move as his talents are not optimized by the rough and untechnical Scottish League.

Likely destinations are either Queens Park Rangers or Liverpool. I'd rather see him at the former than the latter as he will be more of a focal point and less of a newbie among expensive stars at a world-renowned club. Plus, he'll get to reunite with former national teammate Park Ji Sung.

Lee Chung Yong (MF, Bolton)

A skillful winger, LCY is so important to his club that when he sustained a season-long injury during last year's preseason, his team got relegated. And this was a Bolton club that had looked worthy of a Europa spot the year before.

I'm hoping that he'll get picked by a Premier League side and won't have to spend a year in the Championship. Wigan, with their young and innovative manager Roberto Martinez, would be the ideal destination, in my opinion.

What frustrates me about LCY is that he's got an incredibly weak shot. He's often able to work himself into promising situations due to his creativity and skill, but his inability to just blast the ball into the net often costs him goals.

Still, he scored 2 goals for Korea in the 2010 World Cup.

Koo Ja Cheol (MF, Augsburg)

KJC is an attacking midfielder who can pass and score a goal from anywhere around the box. After floundering for a bit at Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, he showed himself as potentially one of the best midfielders in Germany with a stellar half-season on loan at Augsburg.

If you go look up his highlights for Augsburg, you'll see some truly spectacular long-range goals.

As captain of the Olympic team (which is basically the senior team), it seems that KJC is being groomed as the next captain of Korea.

Son Heung Min (FW, Hamburg)

At only 19 years of age, SHM hasn't quite yet established himself on the national team, and he was left off the Olympic team so that he could focus on his club career at Hamburg. In Germany, he's shown flashes of his attacking potential but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from hitting full stride.

He had an awesome preseason a year or two ago where he was the team's leading scorer, outscoring even the great Ruud van Nistelrooy. SHM has been singled out by Franz Beckenbauer himself as potentially the next Cha Bum Keun, the great Korean striker who was a big star in the Bundesliga during the 80s.

Kim Bo Kyung (MF, Cerezo Osaka)

Another promising young attacking midfielder, KBK is often described as the next Park Ji Sung. To me, he seems to have more upside than PJS, and he could eclipse his esteemed senior counterpart in a few years.

Many expected him to go to the Premier League or the Bundesliga, but it seems that KBK is headed to the Championship to play for Cardiff City. It's an odd decision, but considering the high failure rate in the past of Korean players who made the direct jump into the top 4 European leagues, perhaps this move is a wise one that will allow him to acclimate himself to the European game before moving on to bigger things.

Hong Jeong Ho (DF, Jeju United)

While Korea boasts several promising midfielders and strikers that are either in or poised to move to Europe, most of their defenders play in Asia. The backline has been a problem recently for Korea, especially as the all-time great defenders from the 2002 World Cup squad have retired.

HJH is the most promising of the bunch. I haven't seen him play a lot since he plays in the K-League, but he's described as a big and strong ball-playing central defender.

I wanted to see him in the Olympics, but unfortunately, a leg injury has ruled him out. That's a pity. If Korea wants to do well in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, then HJH is going to have to live up to expectations.

Lee Seung Woo (FW, Infantil A Barcelona)

LSW is actually one of three young Koreans currently in the Barcelona youth academy, La Masia.

I've never seen this 14-year old play, but from reports, he is becoming one of the star players for their elite youth squads. I can't tell you how exciting it is to think that in about 5-10 years, there could be a Barcelona product starring for the Korean national team.

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