Having taken part in eight Olympic finals, including six consecutive appearances, Korea Republic are returning to London, where they made their debut on the international stage in 1948. The British capital still remains as a vivid memory for the South Koreans, who beat Mexico 5-3 to reach the quarter-finals, although a subsequent 12-0 defeat by Sweden ended their maiden journey. However, it took more than half a century for them to repeat the feat at Athens 2004. Kim Ho-Kon’s charges came from three goals down to earn a 3-3 draw with Mali that booked their passage to the last eight, where they lost 3-2 to eventual silver medalists Paraguay. The medals proved elusive for the South Koreans last time out as well, as the young Taeguk Warriors failed to progress through the group stage of Beijing 2008.
Having led Korea Republic to the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009, coach Hong Myung-Bo took charge of the U-23 side that would later go on to finish third at the Asian Games the following year. With all the players Hong has overseen through the ranks, the class of Egypt 2009 provide the backbone of the current squad: captain and centre-back Hong Jeong-Ho, inspirational playmaker Koo Ja-Cheol and versatile winger Kim Bo-Kyung, all of whom have also been involved with the senior national team. Hong’s charges saw off Jordan 4-2 on aggregate to reach the final qualifying round, where they remained unbeaten against Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to reach their seventh consecutive finals with a game to spare.
For all the talented youngsters in defence and midfield, the South Koreans relatively lack firepower up front. Hong will be pondering over a handful of options including the likes of Park Chu-Young and Ji Dong-Won, but the coach seems more interested in maximising the collective effort as a team rather than relying on individual brilliance. “I have to admit that we lack some players in certain positions but I also have to consider who will play important roles or mix well within the group,” Hong said. “You cannot make a good decision if you take only one aspect into account. The best player doesn’t always bring about the best result.”
Facts and figures
Seo Jung-Won (1992), Park Ji-Sung (2000), Lee Chun-Soo (2004), Lee Chung-Yong (2008)
Kim Bo-Kyung (midfielder), Koo Ja-Cheol (attacking midfielder)
Korea Republic topped their third-round group with three wins and three draws, scoring eight goals while conceding two.
The numbers game
14 – Korea Republic’s U-23 side are on a 14-match unbeaten streak since a 1-0 win at home against China PR on 27 March 2011.