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South Korea warn against LVG, AVB rumours

South Korea
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 By John Duerden

Son Heung-Min must produce Spurs' form as Korea plot for 2018 World Cup

Tottenham's Son Heung-Min speaks to ESPN Brasil to talk about his recent form, Spurs' upcoming match versus Man City and much more.

Son Heung-Min helped Tottenham Hotspur break down a stubborn AFC Wimbledon to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday.

Coming on a second-half substitute, Son livened up the Spurs' attack as they scored three times in eight minutes to win 3-0 at Wembley.

And Son looms as a key figure at June's World Cup, as John Duerden gives his five South Korean football wishes for 2018.

1. Son to replicate club form for country

Past national team coaches have struggled to get the best out of Son. While he has been in great form for Tottenham Hotspur for the past season and a half and there have been flashes for Korea, the 25-year-old has not been as influential as hoped. The poor all-round performance of the team during qualification did not help.

There is some optimism that this may be about to change. In November, coach Shin went with a 4-4-2 formation with Son having a partner in attack. He responded with both goals in a 2-1 win over Colombia and then impressed against Serbia. Shin realises that if he can play in a fashion that gets the best out of Asia's No. 1 player then the World Cup may well be one to remember.

Son Heung-Min celebrates with Harry Kane after scoring Tottenham's winner.
Son Heung-Min has become a genuine world star at Spurs, but has yet to make a big impact at international level.

2. Return to form in AFC Champions League

South Korean clubs have been champions of the Asian club scene on no fewer than 11 occasions. It is a total equal to the combined haul of the next most successful countries, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

In 2017, title-holders Jeonbuk Motors were barred from defending the trophy as a former club scout was found guilty of bribing referees in the K-League. Without the strongest team, the Korean challenge faltered. Only one of the original quartet survived to the knockout stage and Jeju United hardly covered themselves in glory against eventual winners Urawa Reds. They lost a 2-0 lead from the first leg and any sense of self-discipline.

Free from continental obligations, Jeonbuk won the K-League with plenty to spare and have ambitions to become the first team to win the AFC Champions League three times.

K-League teams may not have the financial power of Chinese clubs, and to a lesser extent, Japan. But they have often had the upper hand in Asia. That wasn't the case last season, and there is a desire that 2018 will be different.

Jeonbuk Motors won the 2016 AFC Champions League but were barred from defending the trophy due to corruption.

3. A better World Cup than 2014

Brazil was a huge disappointment for all Korean fans, with just one point from a group that had been perceived as a fairly straightforward one. The performances were worse than the results.

The group that is waiting for the Taeguk Warriors in Russia looks much trickier with Germany, Sweden and Mexico, but whatever happens, there has to be an improvement. While nobody is demanding a top-two finish, they do want Korea to be competitive.

World Cup qualification did nothing to suggest that would be the case. The Koreans won just four of 10 games in the final round, and picked up just one point from five games on the road.

In June, coach Uli Stielike was fired and replaced by Shin Tae-Yong who managed to get the team over the line to Russia. Results and performances have improved as the end of the year approached. There was a fine win over Colombia and then a triumph in the East Asian Cup in December that culminated in a 4-1 thrashing of rivals Japan in Tokyo. A poor year ended well, but there is still much work to do.

Despite high expectations, South Korea failed to win a game at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

4. A revitalised K-League

Asia's oldest professional league has been stale for a few years now. Crowds have fallen to around 7,000 and the whole competition does not command the same place in the national conversation as it once did.

Broadcasters have not exactly been knocking at the door of the league's headquarters in downtown Seoul. Officials have been racking their brains for some time as to how to bring the fans back to the stadiums around the country.

As they search for a solution, it is to be hoped that there is an emergence of a new star or two and more coaches become more attack-minded. There is a lot of reactive and counter-attacking football in the league, so more variety would help to make a sometimes-bland league as spicy as the country's cuisine.

5. A scandal-free year

It has been six years since the major match-fixing scandal of 2011 when over 60 players and coaches, past and present, were charged with corruption. Major efforts have been made by authorities to reduce this practice and, more than most countries, Korea is aggressive in trying to root out the practice in all kinds of ways.

Yet, there have been the occasional instances of negative headlines. The biggest came in early 2017 when Jeonbuk Motors were not allowed to defend their AFC Champions League title after past corruption charges. 2018 needs to be clean and seen to be so.

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

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