This article is part of Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Expert Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 32 qualifying countries. theguardian.com is showing previews from two countries every day ahead of the tournament, which begins on November 20.
The Taeguk Warriors are the first country outside of Europe and South America to reach 10 consecutive World Cup finals. In fact, there are only four other countries that have qualified for the last 10 tournaments and they are Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain.
South Korea is understandably happy to be in such an elated company and was eager to show off its talent in Qatar, but on November 1, disaster struck. The only player who couldn’t get injured, Son Heung-min, collided with Marseille’s Chancel Mbemba in Tottenham’s last Champions League group stage game. The next day, it was confirmed that the 30-year-old had a fractured eye socket.
Terrible news for player, country and coach, Paulo Bento, who had been working on ways to get the most out of Son at the World Cup. Luckily for South Korea, Son has since declared himself fit so Bento doesn’t have to rethink his entire system, which was a 4-1-4-1 in qualifying. It was a formation that worked well on the trip to Qatar, with the 2-0 win over Iran as the highlight, but proved insufficient in games against stronger nations like Brazil, Mexico and even Japan. The opponents of the group in Qatar? Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana.
Son’s injury isn’t the only issue Bento has in mind heading into the tournament with several key players out of form, such as Wolves’ Hwang Hee-chan, Olympiakos’ Hwang Ui-jo and Kwon Chang-hoon of Gimcheon Sangmu. To be fair, they’ve been playing badly for a while now and that could open the door for some of the youngest squad players in Qatar.