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2014 World Cup team preview: South Korea

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Getting to know…South Korea: Capable of impressive moments but lacking the consistency to make noise, it’s an uphill battle for South Korea, who barely even made it to the World Cup in the first place. Scraping through qualification, the South Koreans have yet to once again find the quality that got them to the 2002 semifinals on their home turf.  With the country’s most decorated player now at the helm, the South Koreans look to shock Russia and Belgium into the knockout round. The odds are against them.

Record in qualifying: The South Koreans squeaked by on goal difference, finishing behind Iran and narrowly beating out Uzbekistan by a single goal.  They almost blew it in the final wee, with a 1-0 loss to Iran, but Uzbekistan’s 5-1 win over Qatar was a goal short. It sent Uzbekistan into the playoff round, where they lost to Jordan on penalties. Jordan then got trounced by Uruguay, giving us a good barometer on where the Asian confederation stands compared to other continents like South America.

A look at Group H: South Korea has the ability to produce an upset, and one could be all they need to squeak into the knockout stage.  If they can shock either Belgium or Russia and take care of business against Algeria, we could see them into the next round.  They’ll need a total performance though, and qualification results don’t bode well. They dropped both matches against fellow World Cup participants Iran, and struggled to assert their dominance in matches against Uzbekistan, Qatar, Lebanon, and UAE.

Game schedule:

June 17, 18:00, Cuitabá: Russia vs. South Korea
June 22, 15:00, Porto Alegre: South Korea vs. Algeria
June 26, 16:00, São Paulo: South Korea vs. Belgium

Star Player: Heung-Min Son

Bayer Leverkusen’s young striker is a representation of the new age of South Korean talent.  Just 21 years old, he already owns 23 caps for his country and six goals, including a 96th-minute winner against Qatar in qualifying.  He also scored the winning goal for Bayer in their final Bundesliga match of the season, a 2-1 victory over Werder Bremen, to give his club a 4th-place finish in the table by a single point and qualifying them for the Champions League next season.

Son is young but battle-tested, and if he can get service from his teammates, he could be at the forefront of any surprises the Koreans score. But he needs to get the ball to be dangerous, and if the team is pegged back by a stronger opponent, things could go south in a hurry.

Manager: Hong Myung-Bo

The country’s most-capped player, Hong has untold World Cup experience and is a major asset to the country’s chances in Brazil. Having played in four tournaments as a sweeper, he received the Bronze Ball in 2002, the award for the third-place finisher in the voting for the tournament’s most outstanding player.

However, he is managerially green.  His job at the helm of South Korea is his first true managerial position, having previously led the country’s youth teams at the U-20 and U-23 levels and also assisting Guus Hiddink at Anzhi for just under a year before his appointment as manager.  If he can push the right buttons, South Korea will have a real chance to shine in Group H. Otherwise, the former LA Galaxy player fill fade into Russia and Belgium’s shadow.

Secret Weapon: Teamwork

For a team that lacks physical strength – and in some areas, athleticism – they look to make up for it by playing together.  For a squad as young as South Korea’s (nine players 24 or younger, just one player over 30), many have been together on the youth levels.  Many have plied their trade on the European stage, and if Hong can get these talents to truly come together, there will be fireworks in Group H.

Prediction: The South Koreans pulled a tough draw. The Algerians are no slouches despite being serious underdogs, and between Russia’s staunch defense and Belgium’s attacking flair, it’s hard to see Korea picking up an upset in either of those games.  On paper, their roster screams of young talent and a real surprise somewhere on the fixture list, but judging by their qualification matches, it’s going to get ugly in Brazil for South Korea.

VIDEO: “The Beast” leads Wimbledon to promotion; leaves club with epic interview

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Adebayo Akinfenwa’s time at AFC Wimbledon may be over, but he will never be forgotten.

The striker scored a penalty kick at Wembley on Monday deep into stoppage time to seal Wimbledon’s promotion to League One after a 2-0 win over Plymouth Argyle.

Headed to League One for the first time in club history, the win caps off a remarkable rise for Wimbledon that started in the ninth-tier of English football back in 2002.

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Akinfenwa, a journeyman striker in England’s lower leagues, has gained cult-hero status due to his large frame, listed at 5-foot-11-inches and weighing in at over 220 pounds, earning him the nickname “The Beast.”

Speaking to Sky Sports amid the promotion celebrations, Akinfenwa asked for other managers to shoot him a text as his contract expires with Wimbledon this summer.

It’s what dreams are made of. I’m more tired now running around [celebrating] than I was the whole game, but it’s a beautiful feeling.

Sidebar, I think I’m technically unemployed. So any managers, hit me up on the WhatsApp and get me a job.

There ain’t no better way to leave this club than to leave them promoted, it’s beautiful. For all them who said I was too big to play football, come on now.

Akinfenwa also joked about his late-match penalty, in which he was seen wrestling the ball away from teammate Callum Kennedy. When asked about the situation, Akinfenwa responded “It was just set up too beautifully, and I’m bigger than Cal, so Cal was unlucky. I’m sorry Cal K, I love you though.”

Saints to offer Shane Long new deal as Liverpool, Spurs show interest

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 08:  Shane Long of Southampton is chased down by Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane on May 8, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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After scoring ten Premier League goals this season, Shane Long looks set to be rewarded with a new contract at Southampton.

Despite having two years remaining on his current contract, multiple reports state he will get a new deal to fend off interest from Liverpool and Tottenham.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO 2016 coverage ]

Spurs’ boss Mauricio Pochettino was in Dublin this past weekend to watch Long play for Ireland, where he was pictured sitting with the player’s agent Pat Dolan. The Saints’ striker scored Ireland’s only goal in a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands.

Liverpool had also reached out to Southampton back in January about a possible move for Long, and it is believed Jurgen Klopp is quite fond of the Irish striker.

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Having already inked Virgil Van Dijk, James Ward-Prowse, and Fraser Forster to new deals, Southampton will be eager to lock up Long before EURO 2016 kicks off.

Likely to be the top striker for Ireland at the tournament, a good showing for Long on Europe’s biggest stage could lead to even more interest in the 29-year-old.

Arsenal’s Bellerin set to make Spain EURO squad after Carvajal injury

ST GALLEN, SWITZERLAND - MAY 29:  Hector Bellerin of Spain competes for the ball with Sead Kolasinac (L) and Ervin Zukanovic of Bosnia during an international friendly match between Spain and Bosnia at the AFG Arena on May 29, 2016 in St Gallen, Switzerland.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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With just one cap to his name, Hector Bellerin looks poised to make Spain’s final 23-man roster for EURO 2016.

The Arsenal right-back will take the spot of Dani Carvajal, who tore his hip flexor in Real Madrid’s win in the Champions League final.

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Bellerin, 21, made his debut for the Spanish first-team this past weekend, playing the full 90 minutes in a 3-1 win over Switzerland.

Speaking before the extent of Carvajal’s injury was revealed, Spain manager Vicente del Bosque had said “We have two days until I name my list of 23 players. While we are waiting to hear from the medics [about Carvajal], Bellerin stays with us.”

[ REPORT: Barcelona interested in Manchester United’s Juan Mata ]

Despite a lack of experience with the national team, Bellerin has played more than 50 Premier League games with Arsenal, named to the PFA Team of the Year this season as the league’s best right-back.

Spain’s first match of EURO 2016 is on June 13 against the Czech Republic, also paired with Turkey and Croatia in Group D.

Switzerland picks 3 teenagers in final Euro 2016 squad

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 29: Breel Embolo of Switzerland (R) fights for the ball with goalkeeper Jasmin Buric of Bosnia-Herzegovina during the international friendly match between Switzerland and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Stadium Letzigrund on March 29, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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LUGANO, Switzerland (AP) Switzerland has three 19-year-olds in its final European Championship squad of 23 players that features new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka.

Coach Vladimir Petkovic was expected to pick Basel forward Breel Embolo, and on Monday also selected teenagers Nico Elvedi and Denis Zakaria.

Elvedi, a defender with Borussia Moenchengladbach, and Young Boys midfielder Zakaria both made international debuts on Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Belgium in Geneva.

[ MORE: Barcelona will chase Mata if available from United ]

Zakaria takes a holding midfielder’s place left vacant when Petkovic left out former captain Gokhan Inler over a lack of playing time at Leicester.

Petkovic also omitted defenders Philippe Senderos and Silvan Widmer, and midfielder Luca Zuffi, who had been on the provisional squad.

Switzerland’s final warmup match is against Moldova in Lugano on Friday.

Switzerland is in host France’s group at Euro 2016 along with Albania and Romania.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Yann Sommer (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Roman Buerki (Borussia Dortmund), Marwin Hitz (Augsburg)

Defenders: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Michael Lang (Basel), Johan Djourou (Hamburger SV), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Fabian Schaer (Hoffenheim), Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg)

Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Watford), Blerim Dzemaili (Genoa), Gelson Fernandes (Rennes), Fabian Frei (Mainz), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke), Denis Zakaria (Young Boys)

Forwards: Breel Embolo (Basel), Haris Seferovic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Admir Mehmedi (Bayer Leverkusen), Eren Derdiyok (Kasimpasa), Shani Tarashaj (Everton).