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South Korea warn against LVG, AVB rumours

South Korea
 By John Duerden

South Korea need a striker to consolidate their Asia's best tag

Son Heung-min's move to the Premier League was a crucial one for South Korean football.

South Korean fans have plenty to be proud of, after their national team's impressive 2015 record, and products like Tottenham Hotspur winger Son Heung-min making a seamless transition from the Bundesliga to the Premier League.

But 2016 promises to be a pivotal year for the Taeguk Warriors and top Korean clubs and players.

Here are five South Korean wishes for the New Year.

1. More national team success

The best thing that can happen for the South Korean national team for the New Year is to see old form continued. In 2015, the Taeguk Warriors played 20 games and lost just once, the final of the Asian Cup in January and even that came in extra time. Incredibly, for a team who have had plenty of defensive issues, the goal was breached just four times. This new found solidity is pleasing and has been a major achievement under new coach, Uli Stielike.

The German has increased the depth of the squad and there is a sense that a player has to be in fine form to make it to the roster, never mind the starting eleven, even if there is still the occasional accusation that Stielike has his favourites. At the moment, South Korea are Asia's best team. The maintenance of that situation is the priority and should it happen, the road to Russia should be a smooth one.

Stielike has done a good job since taking charge of South Korea.

2. K-League clubs have more money

The raids of Chinese clubs coming over the Yellow Sea looking for talent in the K-League are becoming an annual event. Clubs have not really figured out how to handle this but they are learning how to invest the fees received in a positive fashion. The belt-tightening in the K-League in recent years has to stop and be reversed.

The major conglomerates that support the major clubs have been putting less money into the playing side. Increasingly, it is only Jeonbuk Motors that has been splashing any kind of cash. Suwon, Pohang and Seoul are finding that flexing their financial muscles does not quite have the same impact as before. Nobody is expecting Korean teams to start matching the financial power of their Chinese counterparts but a steady injection of funds would be welcome.

3. Find a striker

This is a perennial issue in South Korean football. There is real talent in the national team squad but there is always the issue of scoring goals. Son Heung-min has plenty of talents but is not an out and out scorer. There is an embarrassment of riches for the team just behind the frontline but when it comes to a traditional number nine, the cupboard is not exactly bursting at the seams. If the Taeguk Warriors had a man who could find the net on a regular basis then the team really could go places.

Star Wars may be back with a bang but 'Wookie' Kim Shin-wook has yet to impress the German boss. Lee Jeong-hyub made a few waves at the Asian Cup but while hard-working, lacks the quality to lead the team to greater heights and Seok Hyun-jun perhaps is not quite the answer, either.

With all the quality the team possess in approach play, the inability to finish things off on a consistent basis has become accepted as one of those things. It doesn't have to be. Perhaps 2016 can be the year that the Land of the Morning Calm produces a true goal machine.

South Korea are in desperate need of a potent striker.

4. End to corruption

As we enter 2016, the year of 2011 slips more into memory but the consequences of the massive match-fixing scandal can still be felt. It is because of what happened that the league splits into two halves in the latter stages of the season and the number of teams in the top flight has been reduced. Yet, despite all that went on and the attention the situation received, corruption can rear its ugly head at any time. Just look at the recent allegations that the CEO of Gyeongnam FC bribed two referees to help his team win games in 2013 and 2014, thus avoiding relegation.

As Lee Young-pyo said recently, it is time to really ensure that the domestic game is cleaned up and is seen to be clean. In some ways, that is what happening. The K-League has measures -- preventative, educational and punitive -- that are among the best in the world and authorities and media are more interested in investigation crimes than in most countries. This, it can be argued, creates the impression that the country has a bigger problem than those who do little to report incidents. It is vital that there is no let-up. The league can't afford any more damaging corruption episodes.

5. Kim Yong-gwon gets the big move to Europe

South Korea don't tend to send central defenders to the big leagues. There are fullbacks aplenty, but those in the middle of the backline usually get no further west than the Middle East.

Hong Jeong-ho at Augsburg is the exception that proves the rule. And Hong's sometime international partner Kim is aiming higher. He has done pretty much all there is to do at Asia's biggest club, Guangzhou Evergrande. Winning Chinese titles has become passe and two of the past three Asian Champions Leagues means that it is time to take the advice of former coach Marcello Lippi and go west. The Italian even talked of a move to Manchester United and, if Kim is to fulfil his undoubted potential, then he should be aiming as high as that

Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.


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