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Where EAST meets the Northwest

TAEGUK WARRIORS. Son Heung-min, left, and Moon Seon-min, right, members of the South Korean national team, attend a practice in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Korea Republic opens the tournament in Nizhny Novgorod against Sweden on June 18, followed by Mexico on June 23. South Korea will rely on getting points from those games before closing out Group F against Germany on June 27. (Photo by Mike Kireev/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #12 (June 18, 2018), pages 1 & 7.

Son Heung-min key to South Korea avoiding second candy attack

By Kim Tong-Hyung and Stephen Wade

The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Progress for South Korea’s players will be avoiding being pelted with candy again on their return from the World Cup.

After enduring three poor performances by the team in Brazil four years ago, soccer fans were waiting at Incheon International Airport to make their anger felt.

If collecting a solitary point in a group containing Russia, Algeria, and Belgium was tough, the challenge looks even more daunting this time with World Cup champion Germany, Mexico, and Sweden in Group F.

The road to Russia offered few signs of progress.

In the third round of Asian qualifying, South Korea picked up only two points from five away games to leave a place at a ninth successive World Cup looking uncertain. Coach Uli Stielike was fired and Shin Tae-yong was drafted as a replacement to get the squad over the line with two tense goalless draws.

As the players celebrated in Uzbekistan, there was criticism at home that the party was undeserved given the unconvincing performances.

To add to the concerns for Shin, his team has also been thinned by injuries to important players like wingers Yeom Ki-hoon and Lee Keun-ho, and fullback Kim Jin-su. All three missed the trip to Russia, along with several others.

That puts pressure on young and unproven players such as midfielder Lee Seung-woo.

The most important players on the team are playmaker Ki Sung-yueng and Tottenham striker Son Heung-min.

Lee Jae-sung scored South Korea’s only goal in a 1-3 loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina at Jeonju on June 1, a farewell to fans on home soil. It was a worrying result.

The country has become accustomed to World Cup qualification since the 1982 failure and there is a desire to see more appearances in the knockout stage. Only twice have the Taeguk Warriors advanced from their group, in 2002 when they made the semifinals on home soil and in 2010 when they reached the round of 16.

This is South Korea’s ninth straight World Cup.

Enthusiasm at home seems to be lacking for this team, partly due to the results, and no doubt overshadowed by the recent summit between Donald Trump and North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.

Here’s a closer look at the South Korea team:


Shin Tae-yong took the job in July 2017 and did just enough to qualify.

Shin likes to surprise tactically and he has experience in large tournaments — with the under-23 team at the 2016 Olympics and at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup. In both events, South Korea advanced through the group stage before being eliminated in the first game of the knockout round. Shin may back off on his attacking game and focus on defense in Russia.


South Korea still lacks a top-line goalkeeper. Vissel Kobe goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu is the No. 1 but could get competition from Jo Hyeon-woo and Kim Jin-hyeon.


Shin is not averse to a three-man defense but usually opts to use four.

South Korea is traditionally strong in the fullback position with Lee Yong strong on the right. Kim Min-woo should be on the left with the injury to the other competitor for the spot, Kim Jin-su. Both can get forward and attack.

Jang Hyun-soo is one likely starter in central defense with the other spot up for grabs.


Ki Sung-yueng is the captain and the center of the attack. The other central midfield spot could go to fullback Park Joo-ho, who has been effective there at times.

Another midfielder to watch is Barcelona youth academy player Lee Seung-woo.


The challenge will be to get the best out of Son Heung-min. At times, the Tottenham forward has been featured on the left, as a second striker, and as a lone striker.

It looks as if Son will start as part of a two-pronged attack with the other forwards vying to partner him.

Group games

South Korea opens in Nizhny Novgorod against Sweden on June 18, followed by Mexico on June 23. South Korea will rely on getting points from those games before closing out Group F against Germany on June 27. None of South Korea’s group games are in St. Petersburg, where the team is based.


Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Jo Hyeon-woo (Daegu FC)

Defenders: Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu), Yun Young-sun (Seongnam FC), Oh Ban-suk (Jeju United), Kim Min-woo (Sangju Sangmu), Park Joo-ho (Ulsan Hyundai), Hong Chul (Sangju Sangmu), Go Yo-han (FC Seoul), Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea), Jung Woo-young (Vissel Kobe), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa FC), Koo Ja-cheol (Augsburg), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United)

Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Hwang Hee-chan (Red Bull Salzburg)

To learn more, visit <>.

* * *

SAMURAI BLUE. Japan’s Yuto Nagatomo, left, Keisuke Honda, center, and Hiroki Sakai, right, compete during a Japanese national team training session at the 2018 World Cup, in Kazan, Russia, on June 14, 2018. Japan opens the tournament against Colombia in Saransk on June 19, travels to Yekaterinburg to play Senegal on June 24, and then faces Poland in Volgograd on June 28. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #12 (June 18, 2018), page 8.

Sudden coaching change shakes Japan preparations

By John Duerden

The Associated Press

Akira Nishino was given only two months to prepare Japan for the World Cup after the sudden dismissal of Vahid Halilhodzic.

The hastily appointed coach had the task of addressing the trust and communication issues swirling around the team.

While Halilhodzic secured qualification for Russia 2018 with a game to spare, Japan was not always convincing.

Halilhodzic, who led Algeria to the second round at the 2014 World Cup, tried to turn a Japanese team with a fluid passing tradition into a counterattacking unit. He also dropped the three leading players at times: Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki.

By the time Halilhodzic was dismissed in April, the Samurai Blue had won only three of their last 10 matches and the federation feared there would be a repeat of the 2014 World Cup when they collected only one point.

"Even if it only increases the chances of winning at the World Cup by one or two percent, we had to act," Japanese federation president Kozo Tashima said.

Here’s a closer look at the Japan team:


Considered a safe pair of hands, the 63-year-old Nishino has the Japan job until the end of the World Cup.

In the previous decade, he led Gamba Osaka to success with a first domestic title in 2005 and won the Asian Champions League three years later on the back of an attractive and fluid passing game.

Nishino had been working on the Japan Football Association technical committee when he was handed his first coaching job since 2015.

In this coaching debut, Japan lost to Ghana 0-2 in Yokohama before departing for the World Cup.


Eiji Kawashima, who played at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and is now 35, is likely to start in goal in Russia. He has spent recent years playing for clubs in Belgium, France, and Scotland.

Masaaki Higashiguchi and Kosuke Nakamura are the other goalkeepers named to the squad.


Marseille defender Hiroki Sakai is one of Asia’s top right backs, while Yuto Nagatomo, who has been playing at Galatasaray, is set to start on the left.

Expect to see Maya Yoshida of Southampton in central defense, but the place alongside him is up for grabs.


Makoto Hasebe is the midfield general who offers authority and coolness after a decade in the Bundesliga at Wolfsburg, Nuremberg, and Eintracht Frankfurt.

The captain likes to sit in front of the back four, often alongside Hotaru Yamaguchi, to dictate play and build passing moves.


Honda hasn’t scored for Japan in two years, but is still likely to lead the attack.

Kagawa has struggled for national form, but has a greater chance of playing under the new coach, while Okazaki, who won the Premier League title with Leicester, may get the nod to make the starting lineup.

Group games

Japan won’t play any Group H games in Kazan, where it has its training base. After opening against Colombia in Saransk on June 19, the team travels to Yekaterinburg to play Senegal on June 24, and then faces Poland in Volgograd on June 28.


Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol)

Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers)

Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale)

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz)

To learn more, visit <>.


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