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Stielike seeks to close gap

South Korea
 By John Duerden

Assessment: South Korea listless

South Korea have bowed out of the World Cup in the group stages, and ESPN FC's John Duerden gives his verdict on the brighter points of the campaign as well as what went wrong.

One sentence: World Cup recap

As feared, a porous defence and predictable attack led to an early exit.

All team assessments

Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
Finalists: Argentina
Winners: Germany

Star Man

There were not many to choose from and while Ki Seung-yeung had a solid tournament, the one real standout was Son Heung-min. The Bayer Leverkusen man had struggled to show fans of the national team the kind of form that had those in the Bundesliga on their feet on a regular basis.

In Brazil, he was the only Korean attacker to give Russia, Algeria and Belgium something to think about. His dribbling created opportunities for himself and space for others. He took his goal very well against Algeria, and, while the comeback was always unlikely, if it had come to pass, it would have been sparked by the 21-year-old.

South Korea's Son Hueng-min was the player of the tournament even though his team's early departure was a major disappointment to the squad and their fans.

If he was guilty of anything in a disappointing World Cup campaign, it was perhaps of trying a little too hard. The club version of Son would surely have been more accurate with his shooting than the blonde version against Russia. But overall, while Son cried at the end of the Belgium game, he can hold his head very high.


Again, there is not exactly a wide selection, but it would have to be Lee Keun-ho's goal against Russia. Sure, it was a lucky strike, as his shot looked destined for the hands of Igor Akinfeev, only to somehow end up in the back of the net. But at that moment, anything seemed possible.

There had been major worries about the defence, but here it was holding firm against a well-respected Russian team coached by Fabio Capello, and here were the Taeguk Warriors with a great chance of victory. At that moment, the round of 16 looked within reach.

It was only after the opposition had managed an equaliser that it started to become clear that this was no vintage Russian team and this was not the work of a coach who should be the highest paid in the tournament. It turned out that the men from Moscow offered Korea the best chance of three points, but for a while, the dream was on.

Low Points

The first half against Algeria was the kind of horror show that Korean movie directors have become famed for around the world, though a great deal less subtle. The aggressive Africans simply swept the Koreans aside, and, while the Asians came back well in the second half, the damage had been done. The worst was the second goal. Goalkeeper Jung sung-ryeong came and got nowhere near a corner, and it was suddenly 2-0. Coming so soon after the opener, it brought the realization that this was the game in which Korea's defensive issues were going to be revealed to the watching world.

Lessons Learned

It should not be forgotten that this was a young and inexperienced coach leading a team that was also one of the most youthful in the tournament. Only one player over the age of 30 made the squad, and Kwak Tae-hwi never made the pitch.

What was obvious in Brazil was a lack of leadership in the team. There was nobody to rally the troops and calm them down when things started to go wrong, and if there had been a little composure after taking the lead against Russia, then the Europeans may not have equalised just six minutes later.

Picking players who were not playing for their club teams didn't really work. It was understandable that coach Hong wanted to take Park Chu-young, as the striker is, when on form, the best available. The problem was that he was not on form at all. Korea needs to play its own game. This is one of the fastest teams around, but fans in Brazil would never have known, given the tempo that the Taeguk Warriors usually managed.