This article is part of the Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 32 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 20 November.
The Taeguk Warriors are the first country outside Europe and South America to reach 10 consecutive World Cup finals. In fact, there are only four other countries who have qualified for the past 10 tournaments and they are Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain.
South Korea are naturally happy to be in such an exalted company and were looking forward to showcasing their talent in Qatar but then, on 1 November, disaster struck. The one player who could not get injured, Son Heung-min, collided with Marseille’s Chancel Mbemba in Tottenham’s last Champions League group-stage match. The next day it was confirmed that the 30-year-old had a fractured eye socket.
Terrible news for the player, the country and the coach, Paulo Bento, who had worked on ways to get the most out of Son at the World Cup. Thankfully for South Korea Son has since declared himself fit so Bento will not have to rethink his whole system, which was a 4-1-4-1 during the qualifiers. It was a formation that worked well on the journey to Qatar, with the 2-0 win against Iran the highlight, but it proved insufficient in games against stronger nations such as Brazil, Mexico and even Japan. The group opponents in Qatar? Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana.
Son’s injury is not the only problem Bento has on his mind as the tournament approaches with several key players out of form, such as Hwang Hee-chan of Wolves, Hwang Ui-jo of Olympiakos and Kwon Chang-hoon of Gimcheon Sangmu. To be fair, they have been playing poorly for some time now and it may open the door for some of the squad’s younger players in Qatar.