Korea Republic coach Hong Myungbo has set about preparing a strong squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ since taking over the national team last June. While the competition for places is proving tough among even established stars, young defender Kim Younggwon looks set to secure his berth with the Taeguk Warriors thanks to his efforts for both club and country over recent years.
The 24-year-old centre-half caused quite a stir last year with his outstanding performances during Guangzhou Evergrande's triumphant AFC Champions League campaign. This wasn't, however, the first time he had shone in front of an international audience. Back in 2009, he opened the scoring as Korea Republic defeated USA by 3-0 to progress into the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt, and he went on to figure prominently at London 2012, when his side won Olympic bronze.
These convincing showings have established him among Korea Republic's most promising stars, with fans and pundits across the continent him as one of the continent's most reliable defenders. Kim, though, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground, as he told FIFA.com.
"Of course, it is encouraging to see some people in the media rate me among Asia's best defenders," said the softly-spoken player. "But I do think there are many areas where I should improve. I am aware who I am and where I am, but these compliments provide me with motivation for further progress and boost my aspirations for perfection."
A favourite of Lippi's
Kim certainly possesses all the attributes necessary for a top defender. The left-footed player is physically stronger than many of his continental peers and boasts superb pace. Armed with his sharp vision, positional play and accurate passing, he is an impressive performer. Above all, he is particularly known for his responsible conduct both on the off the pitch, making himself an ideal role model for Asian youngsters.
Even before his swift rise to fame, Kim's talents did not go unnoticed by Guangzhou Evergrande manager Marcello Lippi, with the Italian securing the former Omiya Ardija man's service shortly after he took over the Chinese champions in May of 2012. In fact, watching video footage of Kim in action was obviously enough to convince Lippi. The World Cup winning-coach's enthusiasm for the player was such that he wasted no time in signing Kim before London 2012 had even begun.
I mentioned him in a chat with [Sir Alex] Ferguson and he is capable of playing for clubs like Manchester United.
His faith has been amply rewarded, with the defender emerging as an integral part of a Guangzhou side that has twice defended the domestic title and clinched its maiden Asian silverware. He made 48 appearances for the club in all competitions last season and scored two goals.
"He (Kim) has been very good for us," said Lippi. "He has made few mistakes and he is still young. I mentioned him in a chat with [Sir Alex] Ferguson and he is capable of playing for clubs like Manchester United."
"Lippi is a great coach - world class", Kim said of his manager. "This can be justified by the achievements he has made during his career. I treat every match with the equal enthusiasm and responsibility so perhaps he likes my playing style and attitude. [Under him] I have made some progress, especially in technique and skill. I have gained plenty of experiences with Guangzhou."
Inspiration in the dugout
Kim’s performances with Korea Republic have proved no less eye-catching, with the defender playing in all six matches during the Taeguk Warrios’ third-place campaign at London 2012, before starting their final two Brazil 2014 qualifiers. All of this was achieved under coach Hong Myungbo, who marshaled Korea Republic's rearguard in no fewer than four FIFA World Cups between 1990 and 2002.
"When he (Hong) coached the national Olympic side we won bronze in London," Kim said, "Now he is managing the national senior team and I am hoping to continue to make progress under his guidance. He is a legend in our country and we can all draw inspiration from him."
Looking forward to this June's global extravaganza in Brazil, Kim voiced his confidence of progressing from a group which also features Belgium, Algeria and Russia. He said: "All of them are strong rivals. They all enjoy higher places than us in the FIFA World Ranking. The competition should be ferocious but it will largely come down to how we prepare and how we perform.
“It is indeed a big year for me, with league and Asian titles to defend for my club and especially with strong opponents to play against in the World Cup. I pray and hope I can continue my good form and won't pick up any injuries. I don't fix my sights on results, but I am serious in making progress game after game. I am always hoping to be better tomorrow than today.”