Road to Brazil
This was not about the journey but about the destination. Not many will look back on qualification with any fondness. The third round cost Cho Kwang-rae his job after a loss in Lebanon while new guy Choi Kang-hee was not exactly an improvement.
The team started the final round well, with wins in Qatar and at home to Lebanon, but then five points were dropped away in Uzbekistan and Iran to threaten the team's position. In the end, Korea lost the final game at home to Iran but squeezed over the line to Brazil thanks to the narrowest of goal difference margins.
Just a few days later, Choi stepped down as he always promised he would, and stories started to leak of divisions in the team. All in all, it is a chapter that nobody wants to read again.
The final stage was much more impressive than what had gone before as the Taeguk Warriors clinched qualification with two games, both at home at that, to spare. Four wins and four draws suggests consistency with a 2-0 win in Riyadh and 1-1 draw in Tehran the picks of the octet though it was a 4-1 win over UAE in October 2008 that really kick-started the campaign.
A 2-0 win in Dubai in June ended it and at the end of a sticky night's work in West Asia, players and fans dancing on the pitch as a seventh successive spot was secured.
South Korea Kit 1
South Korea Kit 2
South Korea v Algeria 22 June; Porto Alegre
South Korea v Belgium 26 June; Sao Paulo
This is a Korean team that is fairly young but with a reasonable amount of experience. Just one of the 23 to go to Brazil has celebrated his 30th birthday and Kwak Tae-hwi, injury cost the former captain a place in the 2010 team, is unlikely to make the starting eleven.
All hope that the defence doesn't need the old warhorse. Kim Young-gwon and Hong Jeong-ho are the central partnership at the back and much depends on the youngsters. Defensive issues almost cost the team a place in Brazil, especially set pieces which caused chaos on a regular basis.
There is also pressure on goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryeong. The big Suwon shotstopper is one of just five survivors from the 23 in 2010 but struggled in 2013 for both club and country, losing his number one status temporarily in January though Kim Seung-gyu didn't seize the chance with both hands. Full-backs have a big part to play providing width with Lee Yong and probably Yun Suk-young getting forward and getting crosses into the box at every opportunity.
Ki Sung-yeung sets the tempo in midfield, ensuring that the team retains possession more than past editions and with Lee Chung-yung and Son Heung-min on the flanks, though both like to come inside.
The group is navigable. Russia, Algeria and Belgium don't hold too many fears, though as it is seen as relatively easy, expectations have risen at home. Whatever the group, Korea would hope to get to the second round. That is still the yardstick that measures success. Getting past the first round for the third time in four World Cups would be a sure sign that football in the Land of the Morning Calm is something to be respected.
The group is open but if Korea fail, that will not go down well at all. In 2010, there was pressure but it is higher this time. Much depends on the opening game with Russia, not just the result but how the team plays.
Key player: Son Heung-min
Son Heung-min is ready to be unleashed in front of a global audience. All in Germany know the talents of the attack. Get the ball in front of him and run from deep at pace and with intent and fire home a missile from medium range. His big money move to Bayer Leverkusen from the K-League went reasonably well though there was some instability off the pitch but when he is good, he can be devastating. The World Cup could be the perfect platform.
One to watch: Kim Young-gwon
The central defender is one of the most highly-rated playing in Asia, perhaps even the best. Guangzhou Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi is one of his biggest fans. Mobile, intelligent and a great reader of the game, Kim has a bright future and all believe that it will be in Europe sooner rather than later. At the World Cup, he has to hold firm. Still liable to lapses in concentration, if Kim can play to his potential, then Korea have a great chance.
Coach: Huh Hong Myung-bo
It will always a question of when and not if Hong would take the job, especially after he started his coaching career with the U20 and U23 teams. Well-respected and loved after a stellar playing career which included four World Cups, he was the captain of that 2002 semi-finalists, and stints in Korea, Japan and MLS. A charismatic leader that commands the loyalty of the players, Hong has already demonstrated his potential, taking the U20 team to the quarter-final of the 2009 World Cup, losing only to eventual champion Ghana. Even better came in 2012 when he led the team to the bronze medal at the London Olympics.
1954, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2006 First Round; 2010 Second Round; 2002 Semifinals
Predictions & Latest Odds
Should be able to make it out of the group.
How they qualified
Came second in Group A in the final round of Asian qualification.
On the sidelines
On the sidelines
2014 will be their ninth World Cup, easily the best record in Asia.
Get a good start and Korea will be sight of the second round though it is difficult to know just how the team will play. Hong has been in the job less than a year and he is trusting players he knows well from past tournaments. The big issue is the defence. If the backline holds, Korea has the pace to trouble all three of the other teams. It's a big if but the team has the energy, pace and just enough experience to have a good World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-ryeong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Horang-i), Lee Bom-young (Busan I'Park)
Defenders: Kim Jin-soo (Albirex Niigata), Yun Suk-young (QPR), Kim Young-kwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Hwang Seok-ho (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg), Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Lee Yong (Ulsan Horang-i), Kim Chang-soo (Kashiwa Reysol)
Midfielders: Ki Seung-yeung (Sunderland, on loan from Swansea), Ha Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Han Kook-young (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Jung-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton Wanderers), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg)
Strikers: Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Arsenal), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Horang-i)