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World Cup 2006 profile

South Korea could become the big surprise -- again

Posted: Thursday March 30, 2006 10:32AM; Updated: Thursday May 18, 2006 11:04AM
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Park Ji-Sung is the most well known of the South Korean squad, and he's crucial to its attacking scheme.
Park Ji-Sung is the most well known of the South Korean squad, and he's crucial to its attacking scheme.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

By Gabriele Marcotti, SI.com

Through late April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with South Korea. Click here for the full archive.

FIFA world ranking: No. 29.

How they qualified for Germany: Finished first in Asian preliminary Group 7 with a 4-0-2 record, and second in Asian Group A with a 3-2-1 count.

Previous World Cups and finishes: Six appearances (1954, '86, '90, '94, '98, 2002). Fourth place in '02.

Manager: Dick Advocaat, second year with squad.

Key players

Manchester United's Park Ji-Sung provides pace and trickery from wide positions. His role is crucial both on the counterattack and in providing width in Advocaat's 4-3-3 scheme. In his last two seasons he has improved tremendously (though at Old Trafford his role has been limited), and at age 25 he is nearing the peak of his powers.

Goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae was the hero of the penalty shootout that helped the South Koreans beat Spain to reach the semifinals in 2002. He is extremely athletic and, most importantly, he provides confidence and a steady pair of hands at the back. South Korea will need both in this campaign, as Advocaat's philosophy is more attack-minded than his predecessor's. That means the Koreans are likely to be under more pressure in this World Cup than in the last one, when they had the benefit of home field advantage.

What to watch for

South Korea was awful in qualifying, drawing with -- ahem -- the Maldives and losing to Saudi Arabia home and away. It only just barely qualified and will need to sort things out quickly. Advocaat will rely on width and pace, the team's best assets. The three-man midfield hinges on the ferocious Kim Nam-Il, whose alertness, crunching tackles and ability to read the game make him one of the more underrated players in this World Cup.

After the euphoria over the Koreans' stunning (if controversial) advance to the '02 semis, everybody expects a letdown. But they were written off before '02 as well and still managed to prove people wrong. If Advocaat gets his message across and the strikers -- especially Lee Dong-Gook -- do their part, passage to the second round is an attainable goal, particularly since this is probably the weakest group in the competition.

Group: G (France, Switzerland, Togo).

Key match: June 23 vs. Switzerland. This game will probably decide who goes through, unless Korea pulls off another shock result against France, as it did against Spain and Italy in '02.

Oddsmakers' line: 300-1.

Projected Starting Lineup
Pos. Player Club team
G Lee Woon-Jae Suwon Samsung (South Korea)
D Kim Sang-Shik Songnam Ilhwa (South Korea)
D Kim Jin-Kyu Jubilo Iwata (Japan)
D Choi Jin-Cheul Chonbuk Motors (South Korea)
D Lee Young-Pyo Tottenham Hotspur (England)
M Choi Tae-Uk Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea)
M Kim Nam-Il Suwon Samsung (South Korea)
M Lee Eul-Yong Trabzonspor (Turkey)
F Lee Chun-Soo Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea)
F Lee Dong-Gook Pohang Steelers (South Korea)
F Park Ji-Sung Manchester United (England)