How they qualified
Before finally securing their eighth consecutive FIFA World Cup™ qualification, Korea Republic had twice seen their campaign in significant peril. Unlike Japan, who counted on the same starting XI and Australia, who used their core of experienced players throughout qualification, a proven and reliable starting line-up was elusive for Korea Republic throughout the qualifying competition.
With the squad changing constantly, an unprepared Taeguk Warrior side were stunned 2-1 by Lebanon in the third round’s penultimate match, which left their hopes hanging by a thread. The defeat cost Cho Kwangrae his job but under new boss Choi Kanghee, Korea Republic dispatched Kuwait 2-0 to progress at the West Asian’s expense.
The next round continued nearly in the same vein, with Choi’s side floundering with draws against Uzbekistan and Lebanon and a defeat to Iran. A 1-0 home win against Uzbekistan in the penultimate game saw their fortunes revived, but after losing the closing game to Iran by the identical scoreline, they had to wait until Uzbekistan’s 5-1 defeat of Qatar to confirm their direct qualification by edging the central Asians on goal difference.
FIFA World Cup history
Despite being Asia’s most frequent visitors to world football’s showpiece event, Korea Republic had never won a match at the finals until they co-hosted Korea/Japan 2002. They got off to a winning start with victory over Poland before defeating Portugal to reach the second round for the first time. The Taeguk Warriors went on to reach the semi-finals at the expense of Italy and Spain, only to lose to Germany in the last four. In 2010, they made history again by reaching the knockout stage for the first time on foreign soil, before going down at the hands of Uruguay in the Round of 16.
The key players
The squad's make-up kept changing during the qualifying and under new coach Hong Myungbo, a new-look team has taken shape. A series of emerging stars, notably German-based Son Heungmin and Ji Dongwon, have graduated into the team's backbone force. Mainz's Koo Jacheol is the new man wearing the captain's armband and home-based Kim Shinwook and Lee Keunho are proven goal-scorers.
Current coach: Hong Myungbo
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002 (Fourth place)
Former stars: Cha Bumkun, Hong Myungbo, Park Jisung