Monday, May 24, 2010

World Cup - South Korea

Of all the teams from outside the Europe-South America axis, South Korea may be the one with the best chance to advance deep into the tournament.

First of all, they have done it before, reaching the semi-finals as hosts in 2002.

Second, they have a relatively easy road through the first couple rounds. Argentina should walk this group, but neither Greece nor Nigeria are particularly scary opponents. If they do qualify in the second position, they will face the winner of Group A, which will probably be Mexico or France. As I mentioned in earlier posts, both of those squads are talented, yet vulnerable. Beyond that, The Three Lions of England, who tend to become lambs somewhere around the third week of major tournaments.

Third, South Korea has some talent. Everyone knows about Park Ji-sung, but they have several other players who have been successful in Europe. Lee Young-pyo, Cha Du-ri, Ki Sung-yong, Kim Nam-il, and Park Chu-young have all played in European leagues. But the best of the bunch is Lee Chung-yong, the young winger who just completed his first season with Bolton Wanderers.

Lee is still only 21, and it was expected that he would need at least a season to acclimatize to life in England. This seemed to be confirmed during his first appearance on the subs bench, when jet lag caught up with him and he fell asleep. But he scored a game winner early in the season against Birmingham City, and looked really impressive in his first significant playing time. By October he was starting every match, and by January he was Bolton's best player.
He is comfortable on either wing, has pace as well as technical ability on the ball, and can cross the ball from the touchline or cut inside and shoot. At times he even played through the middle of the park, and was a threat to run behind the defense with his pace. There are already rumors that big clubs such as Liverpool are interested in buying Lee, and if he has a good tournament, that list could grow much longer.

Given his experience and ability, Park Ji-sung is still South Korea's bets player, but Lee Chung-yong is not far behind. If both perform well, the Red Devils just might surprise some people.

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