This article is part of The Guardian’s 2022 World Cup Experts Network, a collaboration between some of the top media outlets from the 32 qualifying countries. theguardian.com is releasing previews from both countries every day ahead of the tournament, which will begin on November 20.
Taeguk Warriors became the first country outside of Europe and South America to reach 10 consecutive World Cup finals. In fact, there are only four countries that have qualified for the last 10 tournaments and these are Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain.
South Korea was naturally happy to be in such a great company and was looking forward to showcasing their talents in Qatar, but then on November 1, disaster struck. Son Heung-min, the only uninjured player, clashed with Marseille’s Chancel Mbemba in Tottenham’s final Champions League group stage match. The next day, the 30-year-old was confirmed to have a fractured orbital socket.
Bad news for player, country and coach Paulo Bento, who is looking for ways to make the most of the Son in the World Cup. Fortunately for South Korea, Son has since declared fit so Bento won’t have to rethink his entire system, which was 4-1-4-1 during the qualifiers. It was a well-functioning line-up on the trip to Qatar, which featured a 2-0 win over Iran, but fell short in matches played against stronger nations like Brazil, Mexico and even Japan. Group rivals in Qatar? Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana.
Son’s injury isn’t the only problem on Bento’s mind as the tournament approaches, with several key players including Wolves’ Hwang Hee-chan, Olympiakos’ Hwang Ui-jo, and Gimcheon Sangmu’s Kwon Chang-hoon coming out of shape. To be fair, they’ve been playing poorly for a while and this could open doors for some of the team’s younger players in Qatar.