World Cup 2018 team preview: South Korea has a Premier League star and not much else

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group F is South Korea.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.


Odds to win Group F: 5.9%
Odds to advance: 29.4%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.2%
Elo rank: 30
Yahoo Sports power rank: 27

Our writers say: With nine straight World Cup trips, the Red Devils own the fifth-longest active streak behind only Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain. They’ve advanced from group play just twice during that span, however, and will be hard-pressed to emerge from one of the most fearsome foursomes in Russia, even with dynamic Tottenham striker Son Heung-min as a legit scoring threat up top. Doug McIntyre

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Son Heung-min will have to have the tournament of his life if South Korea is to make noise at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
Son Heung-min will have to have the tournament of his life if South Korea is to make noise at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)


World Cup appearance: 10th
Best World Cup finish: 4th place (2002)
2014 finish: Group stage (0-1-2)
Qualifying: Finished second in Asia’s Group A, behind Iran, ahead of Syria and Uzbekistan
Schedule: Sweden (Monday, June 18, 8 a.m., FS1), Mexico (Saturday, June 23, 2 p.m., Fox), Germany (Wednesday, June 27, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group F preview]


Manager: Shin Tae-yong
Captain: Ki Sung-Yueng (M)
Top players: Son Heung-min (F), Ki
Full 23-man squad


Why they’ll win games: There is some attacking quality. Some. There is, admittedly, very little on-field evidence of it – Korea scored in only one of its five away games in a laughably weak final-round qualifying group – but Son is a star and there’s some technical ability in midfield.

Why they’ll lose games: In that aforementioned qualifying group, they scored 11 and conceded 10. They conceded five goals to Qatar over two matches. They conceded two to China at home. The defense can be woeful. It’ll get carved up by Germany and Mexico, and quite possibly overwhelmed physically by Sweden. In recent friendlies against Bosnia (3-1 loss) and Bolivia (0-0 draw), Korea looked like one of the three worst teams heading to Russia.

How they’ll play: Shin took over with two qualifiers remaining, and looks set to roll out a somewhat flexible 4-4-2, with Son as a back line-stretching striker rather than a winger. But he piloted a 3-4-3 in one of the March friendlies, with Son in a role more similar to the one in which he’s thrived at Tottenham.

Projected lineup (4-4-2): Kim Seung-gyu; Lee Yong, Kim Young-gwon, Jang Hyun-soo, Park Joo-ho; Lee Seung-woo, Jung Woo-young, Ki Sung-yeung, Lee Jae-sung; Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: Since 1957, South Korean men have been required to perform two years of military service between the ages of 18 and 35. Some successful athletes win exemptions, but the government has been pretty strict in the past. The exemptions are often reserved for gold medalists in international competitions, such as the Olympics. The 2002 Korean soccer team that took fourth place at the World Cup on home soil also got them. But a poor showing at this World Cup, then another potential failure at the Asian Games could force players like Son to put their club careers on hold.

Why to root for them: So, if you’re a Tottenham fan, you should be dreaming of a miraculous semifinal run.

Why to root against them: You’re unlikely to enjoy a win.

If you’re going to watch one game … The Mexico game seems like a good bet. Not exactly sure why, though.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

– – – – – – –

Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

More World Cup coverage from Yahoo Sports:
2018 World Cup preview hub
Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate
A tactical guide to the 2018 World Cup
How Vladimir Putin can use the World Cup to his benefit