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.

Honduras holds Costa Rica 1-1

AP Photo/Moises Castillo
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Honduras did the United States a favor by taking a point from visiting Costa Rica in Tuesday’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula.

Anthony Lozano pushed a 35th minute chance past an indecisive Keylor Navas, as Los Catrachos set the stage for a hopeful three points.

[ STREAM: T&T-Mexico, Panama-USMNT ]

Vancouver Whitecaps center back Kendall Waston’s haphazard defending helped allow the goal, but he scored off a late Costa Rica corner kick to ensure Costa Rica will finish the international break in second place.

With four points, Honduras moves ahead of Trinidad and Tobago and the United States before both sides play Tuesday.

Costa Rica beat the U.S. 4-0 in 2016, while the Yanks battered Honduras 6-0 on Friday.

WATCH: Video Assistant calls back Griezmann goal

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France and Spain used the Video Assistant Referee program on Tuesday in a friendly, and the French likely rue that decision.

Antoine Griezmann had an incorrectly allowed goal reverse for offside, while Gerard Deulofeu saw an initially ruled offside goal allowed upon review in Spain’s 2-0 win over France.

[ MORE: Bolivia stuns Messi-less Argentina ]

Here’s an example, as Griezmann’s barely offside goal was overturned in less than a minute (Both calls took less than a minute to decide):

At the risk of sounding like a caveman, I really don’t like these razor thin offside calls being subject to review.

When you consider the improbability of timing the moment of contact with the ball — how many times have you seen a freeze frame conveniently used to make a case? — it just seems to mess with the spirit of sport.

What do you think?

Bolivia stuns Messi-less Argentina in World Cup qualifying

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
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Argentina took steps backward Tuesday in its pursuit of a 2018 World Cup berth, on and off the field.

It started as Lionel Messi was suspended four matches for verbally abusing a referee in Argentina’s Friday win over Chile.

Then La Albiceleste made another move in reverse with a shocking 2-0 loss to Bolivia in La Paz. Argentina started Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, and Ezequiel Lavezzi on the bench in what many presumed to be an easy win.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

Juan Carlos Arce and Marcelo Martins scored as ninth-place La Verde picked up its third win of qualifying with a win over powerful Argentina.

The bad news kept coming for Argentina (and Everton), as Ramiro Funes Mori left the match in the 36th minute with injury.

Bolivia will finish the international break at least 10 points back of the playoff spot, while Argentina could finish as low as that fifth-place spot.

STREAM: CONCACAF tripleheader concludes with USMNT

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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CONCACAF’s bottom three sides in the Hex standings look to make the table incredibly tight as World Cup qualifying finds three-straight matches on the docket beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Los Catrachos were creamed 6-0 by the U.S. on Friday, and return home hoping a wounded Costa Rica remains vulnerable. Honduras is dead last on goal differential, but three points would be huge and put them level with Los Ticos. Costa Rica won its first two matches before falling to Mexico on Friday.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico

El Tri has two wins and a draw from their first three Hex matches, and will be without Rafa Marquez on Tuesday. A win guarantees Mexico the top spot heading into the next round of matches in June. The Soca Warriors surprised some with their 1-0 win over visiting Panama on Tuesday. Mexico is a different class.

Panama vs. USMNT

Despite its miserable start, the U.S. can find itself as high as second with a win and help from Honduras. The injuries remain plenty for the Yanks, who are without Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Lletget, and John Brooks. Panama has allowed just a single goal through three Hex matches, but also has only managed one.