South Korea World Cup 2022 Preview: Can Son lead South Korea to success?
The South Korea squad sing the national anthem ahead of their match against Cameroon (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images).

Paulo Bento's South Korea head to the Qatar World Cup looking to capitalise on their good form of late.

The Taegeuk Warriors have won five of their nine matches this season and have only lost two.

With the squad a of mix of young players looking to prove a point and experienced talents, the Red Devils have the potential to outperform expectations in Qatar.

  • Qualification path

South Korea entered the qualification for the World Cup at the Second Qualifying Round, which was the first of two group stages they were involved in order to qualify.

The first of the two rounds South Korea played in placed them in Group H of the Asian Football Confederation section of qualifying.

The Red Devils topped their first group, winning every game apart from a goalless draw against Lebanon.

This saw them move into the Third Qualifying Round, where they came second in Group A, finishing below Iran.

This was enough to secure automatic qualification to the World Cup, also facing the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in the final stage.

  • Historical performances

South Korea's most notable achievement was when they managed to defy all expectations to reach the semi-final of the World Cup, when they co-hosted the tournament with Japan in 2002.

It was a special tournament for the East Asian nation, who managed to progress through a group of the USA, Poland and Portugal, winning two and drawing against the USA.

Their magical run continued with two successive giant killings, knocking out Italy by winning 2-1 after extra time.

They then beating Spain 5-3 on penalties with the score goalless beforehand in front of a 42,114 crowd in Gwanju.

They were eventually knocked out by Germany in the semi-final, losing 0-1, and then lost to Turkey in the third placed playoff, but it was a memorable tournament for the Taegeuk Warriors.

South Korea have won the AFC Asian Cup twice, most recently when they hosted the tournament in 1960 and also were runners up in 2015.

They have won the EAFF Championship more times than they have failed to, winning it five times and missing out on the trophy on four occasions, a competition they last won in 2019.

The Red Devils have also won gold at the Asian Games five times, they were last victorious in Indonesia in 2018.

South Korea are arguably the most successful footballing nation in East Asia.

  • Player to watch

This section writes itself.

He may not have started the season in the form people have come to expect from the Spurs attacker, but Heung-Min Son is South Korea's star.

Last campaign's Premier League Golden Boot winner netted 23 times for Tottenham Hotspur and is something of a hero in his homeland.

A fast winger who has the ability to score goals from nothing, Son is a world class talent that will be sure to step up to the big occasion in Qatar. 

The 30-year-old signed for Tottenham in 2015 and has been a revelation for the North London club.

For his country, Son has scored 35 times in his national team career in 104 appearances for the Red Devils, captaining the side.

Son is also the fourth highest goal scorer in South Korea's history.

Arguably the former Bayer Leverkusen attacker provided his biggest contribution to the national team when he knocked Germany out of the World Cup, slotting the ball into an empty net in 2018 with Manuel Neuer out of his goal.

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He was also a vital member of the Asian Games winning squad, which secured a military exemption for the team.

Being able to perform under the pressure of a looming potentially two-year-long military service proves his talent and ability to make a difference.

Son will be a vital part of South Korea's attempts to progress beyond the group stage for the first time since 2010.

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  • Expected lineup

Bento's best eleven and starting lineup is expected to be:

Kim Seung-Gyu, Kim Min-Jae, Kim Moon-Hwan, Kyung-Won Kwon, Jin-Su Kim, Hwang In-Beom, Kwon Chang-Hoon, Hwang Ui-Jo, Hwang Hee-Chan, Heung-Min Son, Jeong Woo-Yeong.

  • Biggest talking point

The main point of contention for Bento's side will be whether or not they will be able to start fast enough in Qatar.

Their memorable win over Germany, known as the 'Miracle of Kazan' in South Korea, was their third and final group stage game at the time, with the Taegeuk Warriors already out of the 2018 World Cup.

They will need gain points far quicker in Group H this time around but starting their tournament against Portugal will make the task of improving on last time difficult.

The other important talking point that often surrounds the South Korea national team before a major tournament is military exemptions.

Currently in South Korea, the mandatory military conscription for men who are able to serve in the army must be started by the age of 28, and there are no exemptions granted based on the players' performances at the World Cup.

Players can only be granted a military exemption for winning an Olympic medal or the Asian Games.

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This means that regardless of how South Korea perform in Qatar, barring a change of the regulations, military exemptions would not be available to the squad irrespective of their success in the tournament.

  • VAVEL predicts

South Korea find themselves in a tough group, playing against Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana in Group H.

Bento's side have the ability to progress beyond the group stage at the top of their game, and it would be expected that their tie with Uruguay will prove crucial to their chances.

Portugal seem the strongest squad of the three they will have to face to reach the knockout rounds, and, although it is never guaranteed,  would be expected to top the group.

That leaves a Ghana side that the Red Devils would really need to pick up three points against to progress, and Uruguay, who have talents such as Rodrigo Bentancur, Federico Valverde and Darwin Nunez at their disposal.

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Of the eight times the Taegeuk Warriors have faced Uruguay, they have only been able to win once, which was their last outing against them, a 2-1 win in a friendly in October 2018.

On six occasions though La Celeste have been the victors, with the East Asian nation losing all of their ties against them between 1990 and 2014.

South Korea would need to defy expectations to progress beyond the group stage as a result, but they should never be ruled out.

The spirit of the 2002 side that made it all the way to the semi-final will be needed for the Taegeuk Warriors to give a good account of themselves in Qatar.

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