When South Korea play their two pre-World Cup football friendlies later this month, chances are the entire defensive corps will be made up of players from the same club in at least one of the two matches.
National team head coach Shin Tae-yong on Monday announced his 23-man roster for matches against Northern Ireland and Poland. He picked eight defenders, and five of them are from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in K League 1: Hong Jeong-ho, Kim Min-jae, Kim Jin-su, Choi Chul-soon and Lee Yong. They have all taken turns in starting on the back four line for Jeonbuk in the early going of the current season.
While Jeonbuk, the 2017 K League 1 champions, have often produced a handful of national team players for important matches, it's unusual to see any one club send an entire defensive unit to the national team. It's also an illustration of South Korea's lack of depth on defense, relative to their offensive talent.
|Shin Tae-yong, head coach of the South Korean men`s national football team, listens to a question during a press conference in Seoul on March 12, to announce his roster for pre-World Cup friendly matches. (Yonhap)|
Shin's selections will raise more than a few eyebrows, though, because Jeonbuk's defense hasn't exactly been stingy. They have allowed three goals in their first two K League 1 matches of the season and allowed five in three matches at the Asian Football Confederation Champions League.
But at a press conference unveiling the roster, Shin defended his choice of five Jeonbuk defenders.
"I went with players that I felt were good enough to be on this team, and these five just happen to be Jeonbuk teammates," he said. "I think it's unfortunate that Jeonbuk have given up so many goals despite having these national team-caliber players. As far as I am concerned, they will still be competitive internationally because they've been picked for the national team on a consistent basis."
Shin held out hope that the five defenders will turn things around on the defensive end once they establish good rapport with the national team attackers.
"Rather than making frequent changes to our defense, I felt it'd be better to have guys that are used to playing together," the coach added. "These players may not be the best as a unit, and they've made a lot of small mistakes. But if we can get one or two players as a complementary piece, there could be a great synergy effect."
The five players each bring different assets to the table. Lee Yong and Kim Jin-su, two fullbacks, offer some offensive punch with their ability to send sharp crosses. Hong Jeong-ho and Choi Chul-soon are workhorses who play with a physical edge. Kim Min-jae already appears to be a complete package at 21, a strong defensive force who can also jump in on offense.
But Shin admitted that these five have to be better than they have been so far this season if they are to make the final World Cup roster and take on Germany, Sweden and Mexico in Russia in June.
"The situation with our defense gives me the biggest headache," Shin said. "German and Swedish players will be much bigger and stronger than our players, and I always worry about how our defenders can hold their ground and win aerial battles against those opponents. Defense is the first thing I talk about with the coaching staff every morning." (Yonhap)