May 23 (Reuters) - Factbox on the South Korean national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 61 (till June 7)
South Korea will be playing at their 10th World Cup finals and the tournament in Russia will mark their ninth consecutive appearance. Their best performance was in 2002 when they co-hosted with Japan, reaching the semi-finals where they lost to Germany. They have not been past the last 16 since.
Shin Tae-yong: Shin, 49, took over from Uli Stielike last June after the German was sacked during a woeful qualifying campaign that saw the Koreans beaten in Iran, China and Qatar. His appointment was not greeted with much enthusiasm by Korean fans but Shin has gradually won over the doubters and settled into the role. An attacking midfielder in his playing days, Shin, who won 23 caps, played his entire Korean club career with Seongnam Ilhwa. Forced to retire in 2005 after playing just one game for Queensland Roar in Australia, Shin then moved into a coaching role at the club. He went on to manage Seongnam before taking up youth coaching roles within the national team.
Son Heung-min: The dynamic forward has enjoyed a fine season in the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur, carving out a place for himself in one of England’s top sides. South Korea’s only true world-class player, Son can expect to be tightly marked in Russia and national team coach Shin must find a way to take some of the scoring burden off the 25-year-old, who has notched up 20 goals from 61 international appearances.
Ki Sung-yueng: The experienced defensive midfielder has finally returned to full fitness after a knee injury sustained on international duty last June, which sidelined him for several months. The 29-year-old plays a crucial role for both club Swansea City and country, sitting in front of the defence to break up opposition attacks and dictating the tempo with the ball at his feet. With 97 caps, Ki is the linchpin for a Korean side in need of leadership.
Kim Seung-gyu: Kim was thrust into the limelight at the 2014 World Cup where he took the gloves from the underperforming Jung Sung-ryong for the Koreans’ final group game against Belgium. A 1-0 defeat did nothing to tarnish his growing reputation and the 27-year-old has gone on to make the number one spot his own, earning 29 caps. After making more than 100 appearances for Ulsan Hyundai, Kim was signed by Japan’s Vissel Kobe in 2016. He was a wild-card player at the 2014 Asian Games, helping the South to a 1-0 win over North Korea in the gold-medal match and earning himself an exemption from two years of military service in the process.
South Korea lost back-to-back friendlies against Northern Ireland and Poland in March, conceding five goals as their porous backline was exposed time and time again. Shin has been experimenting with formations and players since the start of the year but has yet to find the right formula. They beat Moldova and Latvia and drew with Jamaica in friendlies earlier this year.
How they qualified:
The Koreans limped over the line with two 0-0 draws against Iran and Uzbekistan that saw them claim second place in their group in the final round of qualifying. They finished with only four wins from 10 games but it was enough to grab one of Asia’s four automatic berths.
South Korea will have to play out of their skins if they are to escape a group that also includes Germany, Mexico and Sweden. Facing the world champions last in Group F, they will need to make a fast start against Sweden in their opener. Korea have not been beaten in their first game at a World Cup since France 1998 so they will be expecting at least a point against the Swedes. Realistically, second spot is the best they can hope for, which would likely bring a second-round match against Brazil.
Compiled by Peter Rutherford Editing by Toby Davis