Asian Cup 2015: South Korea seeking World Cup redemption
South Korea will arrive Down Under for the Asian Cup 2015 hoping to banish memories of a dismal World Cup in Brazil, where they were tipped to impress in an open group containing Algeria, Belgium and Russia.
Instead, the Taeguek Warriors were pelted with toffees by home fans, a strong insult in South Korea, upon their return to the peninsula, after picking up just one point.
With new manager Ulrich Stielike in place, however, the future looks bright for one of Asia’s big-guns, as the Taegeuk Warriors’ top stars await a chance to redeem themselves.
Much of the East Asian outfit’s chances will depend on how they cope with the pressure of being competition favourites rather than dark horses.
The Reds’ new German boss has overseen two friendly victories and defeats during his short stint in charge of South Korea, and has already hinted he may tweak the Taegeuk Warrirors call-up policy.
Stielike is reported to be holding a training camp to allow those Asia-based players plying their trade closer to home the chance to impress before naming his 23-man squad for the finals.
South Korea have already given recent call-ups to a smattering of K-League stars, including veteran Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and former Middlesbrough striker Lee Dong-Gook.
The 35-year-old, who has bagged 35 goals in 103 caps, appears to be enjoying a late renaissance and could be one to look out for in Australia after netting in a friendly against Costa Rica when given the chance to lead the line.
It is Bundesliga-based players who appear to dominate the squad at present, however, with Bayer Leverkusen star Son Heung-Min chief tormentor of opposition defences.
A versatile and electric attacker, Son has gone up a gear this season and is in fine form for his club, having netted 11 in 19 across all competitions, and now needs to do the same for his country.
Augsburg centre half Hong Jeong-Ho and Mainz midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol have both been reliable performers for their nation, as part of a strong spine, but suffered a torrid time in Brazil, with the latter losing his captaincy.
Koo will certainly be one to watch in this continental competition, however, after grabbing five goals and three assists in the last edition of the Asian Cup in 2011.
Former skipper Park Ji-Sung and his ‘three lungs’ are still much-missed by the Reds, so current captain and Swansea City star Ki Sung-Yueng must earn his stripes.
Much more graceful and composed in possession than Park, the deep-lying midfielder needs to illustrate the bite, drive and determination to drag his team forward in difficult moments.
Fellow British-based squad members such as Bolton Wanderers wideman Lee Chung-Yong and QPR left back Yun Suk-Young, will also be called upon to bring their European experience to Stielike’s squad.
With such undeniable quality in their ranks, two-time Asian Cup victors South Korea should be aiming to challenge hosts Australia and East Asian nemesis Japan to lift the trophy for the first time since 1960.
After reshuffling their star-studded squad and placing a new coach at the helm, the Taeguek Warriors will have only complacency to blame if they face the embarrassment of an early plane home, and a sticky toffee ‘welcome’, once again.