South Korea have been drawn in Group H of this summer’s World Cup along with Russia, Algeria and Belgium, and will be quietly confidently of causing a few upsets and of progression through to the knock out stages.
Although a lot of the squad that travels to Brazil will still be based at home, more and more players from the North East Asian nation are starting to infiltrate European football.
Two English based players, both serving loan spells for the rest of the current domestic season, could well have considerable roles to play at the tournament.
On loan from Swansea, Ki Sung-Yueng is impressing at Sunderland and will be a key man for the side in South America. Not given a chance at Arsenal, Park Chu-Young will spend the rest of the season with Championship side Watford.
Between this pair they have amassed almost 120 caps, and their experiences of playing in European football and the respect from the remainder of the squad will be critical to Korea’s chances.
Ki has been one of the unsung heroes in Sunderland’s revival under Gus Poyet of late. While the likes of Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini have been making the headlines, the loan star has been going about his business quietly, but massively effectively.
After cutting his teeth at Scottish champions Celtic, Ki moved to the Liberty Stadium in the summer of 2012, but has not impressed Michael Laudrup adequately to stake a regular claim in the side. A six-month loan move to Wearside has given him first-team football, and after impressive performances it is something of a surprise that the Swans sanctioned an extension on the deal until the end of the campaign.
Ki’s ideal role is yet to be determined at club level. He has the stature and range of passing to play in a defensive midfield role, as a deep-lying playmaker of sorts.
However, since Poyet has moved him higher up the pitch and allowed him a licence to get into the final third more often, Ki has shone. His ability on the ball, quick feet and balance are a joy to watch.
There is absolutely no doubt that Ki is more than good enough to excel in the Premier League, but where his club future lies remains to be seen.
Another man not wanted by his parent club is Park Chu-Young, who has had a forgettable period at Arsenal. Since moving to north London from Monaco in 2011, Park has only made one Premier League appearance, and after a temporary spell at Celta Vigo last term, he was farmed out to Watford in January.
During his time at the Stade Louis II, Park showed exceptional trickery, great movement off the ball and an eye for goal that had him linked with some top clubs, before he signed for one of the Premier League’s best.
The English football community will call him a flop and a failure, but it is really disappointing that the South Korean has not been given more of a chance in the Arsenal first-team.
A chance to play regularly at Vicarage Road will be a perfect tonic for the player, who can form a dangerous strike partnership with the rejuvenated Ji Dong-Won and cause opposition problems if on form.
Both Ki and Park could well be up for grabs at club level in the summer If they can get regular football for their loan sides for the rest of this term, strong World Cup performances could be the key to getting them both back on track.