One of Asia's all-time great centre-backs is, of course, former Korea Republic captain Hong Myungbo. The Taeguk Warriors legend is, indeed, someone from whom the continent's up-and-comers can draw inspiration. Notable among these is Hong's countryman Jang Hyunsoo, who shores up the defence for both the Taeguk Warriors and Guangzhou R&F.
The 24-year-old broke into the national team under Hong himself three years ago, and he has since made significant progress by earning regular selection under current Korea Republic coach Uli Stielike. Jang has started four matches in Asia's ongoing qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, and his side are now on the verge of sealing progression into the last ten with two games left. At club level, he has proved an integral part of a Guangzhou R&F side which finished among the top three in China PR, thus sealing their maiden AFC Champions League appearance in 2015.
In fact, Jang's progress is such that the media, both within South Korea and his adopted land, have begun to liken him to Hong. But despite gaining growing attention, the on-song defender opted to downplay expectations that he is following in the immense footprints of his idol.
"I am glad that I am compared with coach Hong," Jang told FIFA.com. "For me, it is an honour to be related to such a legend. But to be honest, I am far from reaching his place.
"Under coach Hong's guidance, I learned a lot in the national team," he added. "He is not a talkative person but he gave me important instructions when necessary during training and playing. I realised I had much to improve upon, and I followed his advice and tried hard to utilise it in practice."
Dubbed as the "Korean Libero", Hong scored ten times in 136 international appearances. He is, perhaps, best remembered for converting the winning spot-kick during an iconic 5-3 penalty shoot-out quarter-final victory against Spain at Korea/Japan 2002. Like Hong, Jang has also developed a reputation as a penalty-taker, having twice scored from the spot to help his team to two qualifying victories.
His first came in an away qualifying game against Lebanon, a tough opponent who inflicted a 2-1 defeat on Korea Republic at the same stage on the road to Brazil 2014. Taking heart from that famous win and spurred by the home supporters, the hosts pressed hard from the outset. However, Jang opened the scoring by coolly converting a penalty midway through the first half to set his side on the road to a 3-0 triumph. He would maintain that spot-kick form in the next game against Myanmar, scoring their third as they prevailed 4-0.
"Self-belief is the key when you take a spot-kick," Jang said. "Of course, you need to keep up training and practise. Then your skills improve and so does your mentality. You need to be confident when you come up to the spot."
Atonement for Brazil 2014
Jang exploded onto the global stage at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia, when he captained his side to the second round only to lose out to Spain in a penalty shoot-out. "Colombia 2011 was a memorable campaign for me," he recalled. "I have gained plenty of experiences. Think of our opponents, France, the hosts and Spain, all of whom are strong teams. We learned a lot by playing against them. We improved mentally and enhanced our confidence. We are aware that we should work harder if we are to compete against the world's best."
Despite his smooth development, Jang failed to make to coach Hong's 2014 FIFA World Cup squad. However, Jang says that disappointment fuelled greater desire to work on his game. “It was a pity, a truly big pity,” he said. “But it made me aware that I was not yet qualified enough to play in the World Cup. I saw my shortcomings so I quickly returned to training to work on it."
Two years on, Jang has now secured a regular place in Stielike's squad and with Korea Republic cruising in Asian qualifying, he is confident of representing his country in the world football extravaganza at Russia 2018.
"The current national team are pretty strong,” continues Jang. “The coach is very experienced and he is enthusiastic with the team. He has plenty of footballing knowledge and he is keen in teaching us his know-how. Particularly, he has showed his faith in us.
"We are close to reaching the final qualifying round and I am quite optimistic that we can go to Russia. We will spare nothing to make it. I am really hoping to go to the World Cup."