Goal.com's 13 for '13 Asian Football Countdown: South Korea

Although the senior men struggled, South Korean teams shined on both the continental and Olympic levels, with a Korean player named Asia's best for the first time since 1991
By Lee Yong-Hun

2012 was a year of ups and downs for Korean football. The National team coach was replaced under controversial circumstances while the Taeguk Warriors joined the final round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. The Under-23 men shined on the global stage, capturing bronze at the London Olympics.

Meanwhile, Ulsan Hyundai became the third Korean side in four years to win the Asian Champions League, with ace striker Lee Keun-Ho being named Asian Player of the Year. The season saw several big changes to domestic football, including a promotion-relegation system for the first time in K-League history.

The national team had a difficult start to 2012, when the replacement of coach Cho Gwang-rae was controversially reported by the media prior to the Korean Football Association's official statement. Jeonbuk Motors manager Choi Gwang-Hee was selected as the man to lead the team to Brazil.

Korea beat Kuwait in February, reaching the fourth round as group leaders. They won their first two games against Qatar and Lebanon, but drew at Uzbekistan and lost to Iran. The Taeguk Warriors now trail Uzbekistan by a point in Group A.

The Under-23 team, on the other hand, had a wonderful year. In the 2012 London Olympics, Korea's youngsters beat Great Britain in the quarter-finals, redeeming themselves after a heavy semi-final loss to Brazil with a 2-0 bronze medal finish over regional rivals Japan.

The Under-19 team won the 2012 AFC U-19 championship winning via penalties against Iraq, while the Under-20 women reached the quarter-finals of the 2012 FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in Japan.

In the K-League, the Demolition Combination (Dejan and Molina) lead FC Seoul to their fifth domestic championship. Seoul found themselves on top of the table after 30 matches and never relinquished their league in the split-season Championship round.

Pohang Steelers beat Gyeongnam FC 1-0 to win their third FA Cup trophy. In Asian competition, Ulsan Hyundai completely dominated the final match against Al-Ahly, winning 3-0 to become the Asian champions for the first time in club history. Their international form did not hold up in the Club World Cup as they fell 3-1 to Monterrey in the quarter-finals and 3-2 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the fifth-place match.

Following the long-awaited introduction of a relegation system Sangju Sangmoo and Gwangju FC will play in the second division in 2013.

After winning the Scottish Premier Leagueeague with Celtic, Ki Sung-Yong broke the transfer fee record for a Korean player with a six million poundmove to Swansea city. There he established himself as a core member of his side.

Former Manchester United player Park Ji-Sung has struggled with injuries at QPR, while Ji Dong-won hasn’t played a single game this season and may be loaned during the January window.

In the Championship, Lee Chung-yong has recovered from the horrific injury he sustained last season and is working his way back into the Bolton line-up. Cardiff City's Kim Bo-Kyung had a hard time adjusting to life in England, but is getting more playing time and looks to be bound for the Premier League.

In Germany's Bundesliga, Son Heung-min has established himself as Hamburg's main striker with six goals to his name. Meanwhile, Koo Ja-Cheol was been loaned to Augsburg for the second season in a row after scoring five goals and two assists to help the side escape relegation in the spring.

After his difficult year with Arsenal, Park Chu-Young was loaned to Celta Vigo in summer, where he is competing for a starting spot with Mario Bermejo.

Closer to home, Korean players have become a hot commodity in East Asia, where they are second in number only to Brazilians in Japan's J-League. Defender Kim Young-Kwon made seven starts for CSL-winning Guangzhou Evergrande after joining them mid-season from Omiya Ardija.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR | Lee Keun-Ho, Ulsan Hyundai and South Korean National Team

From South Korea, the choice can be none other than Asian Player of the Year Lee Keun-Ho. In addition to the continental honours, the former Gamba Osaka man was named Asian Champions League MVP and part of the K-League's Best XI for 2012.

In the ACL, Lee notched four goals and seven assists in Ulsan's undefeated 12-match run to their first Asian trophy. Lee also had a wonderful year with the national team, recording five goals and three assists in eight matches and tying with Lee Dong-Guk for top scorer honours.

The season was a fitting swan song for the 27-year-old, who will step back from the club spotlight for the next two years as he serves his mandatory military service. He'll still take the pitch as a member of military club Sangju Sangmu Phoenix, who will play in the country's second division.

MOMENT OF THE YEAR | Berisha's embellishment gives Roar another Grand Final win

The country's Under-23 men made history in London, becoming Korea's first football team to medal in the Games when they captured the bronze in the 2012 Summer Olympics. The victory was all the more sweeter as it came against fierce rivals Japan.

Goals by Park Chu-Young and Koo Ja-Cheol were enough to see Korea through at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff against a Japan side that seemed to have run out of gas following their unlikely run to the medal round.

But the greatest prize of all for the team may have been an exemption from military service, which will make it all the much more easier for Korea's young generation of footballers to make the jump to Europe.


Korea's biggest goal will be to qualify for the World Cup in what would be their eighth straight Finals appearance. They have three games to accomplish this feat, playing against Qatar in March before facing Lebanon, Uzbekistan, and Iran in June.

Another important aim for 2013 will be to stabilize the K-League's newly-created second division, in order to help secure Korea's footballing pyramid and help to ensure the success of the promotion and relegation system.

Check out the rest of 13 for '13: Australia Singapore, China, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iran, Indonesia, IndiaVietnamHong Kong

For the latest news, features, and analysis on Asian football,
follow Goal.com Asia on