'In the Spotlight' is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days. Today we take a closer look at the Korean men's national team.
Currently world number six, Korea’s men come into the tournament on 1490 points, just below Spain and ahead of New Zealand in the latest FIH World Ranking list. Their best showing in the competition came back in Sydney in 2000 when they took silver, only denied the top prize by the Netherlands on penalty strokes. They first played in the Olympics when hosting in Seoul in 1988 and have played in four more Games since then. In recent times, Korea finished sixth at the 2010 World Cup and were eighth and last in the 2011 Champion’s Trophy.
The Road to London:
Korea became the last side from the world’s top ten to claim their place at the Games, doing so in dramatic fashion. They edged out Ireland with a Nam Yong Lee goal – awarded on a video referral after initially being ruled out – inside the last ten seconds of their OQT final in Dublin. It secured a 3-2 victory. They had been thrown into the qualifiers by virtue of a fourth place finish at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.
Players to Watch:
Collective is king for Korea but there is a robust aggression and power in the forward manoeuvres of Lee Nam Yong who regularly takes on the point at the top of their front-line. Nam Hyun Woo has a graceful air, overlapping from either right or left back while the panel is packed with a wealth of experience with the volume of current players with over a century of caps numbering in double figures. Among them, You Hyo Sik has already led the line in two World Cups and two Olympics as a goal-hungry forward, following his father’s footsteps into the national team. Ho Seo Jong is another top-drawer performer, named on the FIH All Star team in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Shin Seok Kyo took over after the sixth-place finish at the 2008 Olympics from Cho Sung Jun. His tenure started well, gaining bronze in the 2009 Champions Trophy with victory over the Netherlands – Korea’s best result in nine years. A sixth place World Cup finish in 2010 was a par-showing but the past two years have seen the side keep up the pace and coach Shin has a big job to arrest a run of form which dropped Korea to fourth in Asia and last in the Champions Trophy last December. His tactical nous, though, was in evidence in the Olympic qualifier as his more aggressive setup helped turn the tide against Ireland, dominating the closing phases to ultimately secure their ticket to London.
Very much a team that works as a unit, their ability to apply a couple of different, effective presses was key to their progression to the Games as they squeezed the life out of Ireland in their ultimate qualifier in March. A high work-rate is a given for the Asian side and allows them to put in long stints of high presses to affect turnovers in advanced positions while their speed on the counter matches the method well. Goalkeeper Lee Myung Ho marshals a tight-knit defence packed with guts and likely never to shirk a full-blooded, diving tackle.
Blessed with pace up front, they look to be slightly shy on creativity and firepower in the final quarter, relying on corners and a rudimentary, crash ball style from play to eke out the vital scores. Cards for stick tackles can be an Achilles Heel, too.
Reaching the heights of 2000 looks likely to be beyond the current vintage as their fifth place finish at the 2012 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in June and eighth at the Champions Trophy last December seem to portray. Nonetheless, they are capable of big results in one-off ties with their wealth of experience of the big stages. They could prove a bogey side throughout the group stages but whether they have enough nous to reach the medal positions looks a bridge too far.
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