Korea had never made it past the group stage in World Cups on foreign soil for 56 years since its debut in Switzerland in 1954. Only in 2002, when it was co-host with Japan, did the country make it to the semifinals. Overall Korea had abysmal record of one win, five draws and 11 losses in seven attempts until 2006. But with this year's World Cup in South Africa, Korea has finally put an end to that miserable run. What has changed?
Viewers say they do not feel foreign players tower over Koreans as much as before. The average height of the 23 Korean footballers in the squad is 182.4 cm, not much shorter than Greece's 184.8 cm, and Nigeria's 184.1 cm and taller than Argentina's 181.1 cm. With help of a scientific training program to enhance players' physical strength, the Korean footballers are able to consistently and confidently put pressure on the opponents for the entire 90-minute game. In the three matches at the group stage, the Korean players ran the most with 319.43 km, over 301.27 km by Greece, 291.89 km by Argentina, and 278.52 km by Nigeria.
There was also increased flexibility in terms of who is playing in which position. Captain Park Ji-sung constantly moved back and forth between the central and left midfield, and Yeom Ki-hun played both forward and midfielder positions. Ki Sung-yueng, Kim Jung-woo, and Lee Young-pyo are all versatile enough to play multiple positions.
The Korean style where every member of the team is capable of playing both offense and defense was made possible by these versatile multi-tasking players. Defender Lee Jung-soo's scoring one goal each in matches against Greece and Nigeria is one example of this multitasking.
Experts point to a generational change to players who are not only physically fit and strong but actually enjoy playing the sport. Shin Moon-sun, a professor at Myongji University, said, "Since the 2002 World Cup, many Korean footballers began to play in overseas leagues. We are seeing the fruit of that during this year's World Cup." Ten players in the Korean squad currently play overseas. They are a new generation that brings vivacity into the team. Lee Chung-yong (22) and Ki Sung-yueng (21) are playing defiantly and competently against world class players. Korean football is moving out of the margins of world football.