European stars lead roster as Bento announces Korea’s World Cup squad
Korean national team head coach Paulo Bento finalized his 26-man squad for the upcoming Qatar World Cup on Saturday with Son Heung-min joining despite his injury and Lee Kang-in making it to his first-ever World Cup.
Of the 26 players, 18 will be heading to their first-ever World Cup.
The three goalkeeper spots all went to familiar faces: Kim Seung-gyu of Al-Shabab, Song Bum-keun of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Jo Hyeon-woo of Ulsan Hyundai. Song Bum-keun is the only goalie who has never played at a World Cup before.
Bento called up nine defenders — Kim Min-jae of Napoli, Kwon Young-gwon of Japanese club Gamba Osaka, Kim Young-kwon of Ulsan Hyundai, Cho Yu-min of K League 2 club Daejeon Hana Citizen, Kim Moon-hwan of Jeonbuk, Kim Jin-su of Jeonbuk, Kim Tae-hwan of Ulsan, Yoon Jong-kyu of FC Seoul and Hong Chul of Ulsan.
Only Kim Young-kwon and Hong have been to the World Cup before, with Kim Min-jae having to sit out the 2018 Russia World Cup with an injury.
Cho was likely a last-minute addition, replacing Park Ji-su who suffered an ankle injury and was stretchered off the pitch during Korea’s last tune up match against Iceland on Friday. Cho was substituted in for Park in the second half on Friday. He is the only player that joins the national team roster from a second-tier club. Daejeon Hana Citizen will be promoted to the first tier starting next season.
In midfield, international stars Lee Kang-in of RCD Mallorca, Lee Jae-sung of Mainz, Son Jun-ho of Shandong, Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Hwang In-beom of Olympiacos, Jung Woo-young of Al-Sadd and Jeong Woo-yeong of SC Freiburg are joined by Paik Seung-ho and Song Min-kyu of Jeonbuk, Na Sang-ho of FC Seoul and Kwon Chang-hoon of Sangmu.
Song Min-kyu made it into the squad after showing off his form in Friday’s friendly against Iceland where he produced the sole goal of the match, heading home a well-placed cross from Cho Gue-sung in the 33rd minute.
As well as Song Min-kyu, this is the first time that Lee Kang-in will play in the World Cup.
It was unclear until Saturday whether Bento would call up Lee Kang-in, who has often been sidelined by the Portuguese manager following a few disappointing outings in early 2021. Bento did call the young midfielder up for two friendlies against Costa Rica and Cameroon in September, but then left him on the bench for the entirety of both games.
Lee Kang-in’s final inclusion in the World Cup roster does not come as a surprise as he joins the national team in the middle of a successful season with Mallorca this year, where he scored three goals and marked three assists in his 14 matches. That achievement saw him nominated for La Liga Player of the Month in August and listed as one of the top five Asian prospects at the upcoming World Cup by ESPN on Sunday.
To the entire country’s relief, Son Heung-min was also called up despite undergoing surgery after fracturing his eye socket just a couple of weeks ago.
Son Heung-min’s third World Cup was put on the line when he fractured his eye socket on Nov. 1 after Chancel Mbemba’s shoulder connected with his face during the 29th minute of a Champions League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Marseille at Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, France.
He underwent surgery three days later with the Korea Football Association announcing on Nov. 5 that the surgery was successful.
On Saturday, Son Heung-min made his first public appearance since his fracture. While missing out on playing Spurs’ match against Leeds United, he came on to the field after the match to celebrate the club’s 4-3 win with his teammates, although his left eye was still visibly swollen.
With a swollen eye, he is likely to be fitted for a protective mask for the World Cup. The protective masks used by players at most top European clubs are made of carbon-fiber using a mold of the player’s face by a company in Italy.
Jung, Lee Jae-sung, Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan are the only midfielders who have played at the World Cup before.
The two forwards are Hwang Ui-jo of Olympiacos and Cho Gue-sung of Jeonbuk Hyundai. Qatar will be the first World Cup for both forwards.
Korea will play their first game against Uruguay on Nov. 24.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]