With just 30 days left until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Korean squad assembled for the first day of official training in Paju, Gyeonggi Province on Monday.
Korea hopes to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in a World Cup held outside of its home turf. How well can the team fare in Group H against Algeria, Belgium, and Russia? Who will be the brightest star to carry the team? The Chosun Ilbo carried out a poll on a panel of 20 experts, 12 managers of K-League clubs and eight commentators to answer some of these questions for football fans.
◆ Dominant Son Heung-min
Son Heung-min, a 22-year-old who plays for Leverkusen in Germany's Bundesliga, is the youngest player in the 23-man squad. Fans hope he proves to be the shining star of the team, and for good reason. Son had 12 goals and seven assists with Leverkusen this season, giving him the most successful season among all the Korean players in Europe.
According to the poll, Son was voted as the most promising forward for Korea in Brazil with 14 out of 20, or 70 percent, of the votes. Park Chu-young of Watford in England's Championship earned four votes, and Kim Shin-wook of Ulsan Hyundai in the K-League got two.
Most of the experts thought highly of Son's experience in a major European league. Park Kyung-hoon, manager of Jeju United FC, said, "Son played in the Bundesliga, where tens and thousands of fans fill up the stadiums for each game. This season, he had an even more special experience by playing in the Champions' League."
FC Seoul Manager Choi Yong-soo said, "Although it will be the first World Cup for Son, he has already spent four seasons in the Bundesliga, and I'm sure he will do well for Korea with the confidence he has built up over the years."
Son is a proven goalscorer, and his decisiveness in converting chances into goals is his biggest asset. He is also versatile, having scored seven goals with his left foot, four with his right and one with his head. Korea hopes he will come up trumps against strong opponents in the World Cup.
Son joined the training camp in Paju on Tuesday, and said, "I'm both nervous and excited as it will be my first trip to the World Cup. I hope I can do my best so that I leave no regrets behind in Brazil. I may be the youngest member of the team, but I want to play a big role with the skills I've developed and honed."
◆ Ki Sung-yueng Is the Key
The most trusted midfielder in the squad is Ki Sung-yueng of Sunderland, as he received 13 votes from 20 experts. This season, he proved his masterful passing skills in the English Premier League and experts were unequivocal in saying that Ki is a "proven" player. Ki connects the ball from the middle of the field to forwards, and he is regarded as the main man for the manager.
Park Moon-sung, a commentator for SBS, said, "Hong's tactics tend to focus on the midfield, and Ki is at the core of Hong's style of football."
Lee Chung-yong of Bolton in England’s Championship received five votes.
Choi Kang-hee, former national team manager and the current manager of Jeonbuk Hyundai, said, "He has already scored twice in the South African World Cup four years ago, so we can count on him. He will do well this time too."
Lee Sang-yoon, caretaker manager of Seongnam FC, said, "Lee will play a major role in Korea's attack, just as he did in the previous World Cup."
◆ Best Defensive Duo
Kim Young-gwon, who plays for Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League, and Hong Jeong-ho of Augsburg in the Bundesliga, are the main center backs for Korea. The two have played together for their country since the U-20 World Cup in Egypt in 2009. They were voted as the top defenders for the national team. Kim earned 10 votes and Hong six.
Jung Sung-ryong had the highest votes amongst goalkeepers with 14 votes, and Kim Seung-gyu received six votes.
Kim Bong-gil, manager of Incheon United, said, "Experience is very important for a goalkeeper. Great experience from the London Olympics must play in favor of Jung."