Son Heung-min, Kim Min-jae and Lee Kang-in set for World Cup qualifiers

No ‘surprise’ appointment. South Korea national soccer team coach Jürgen Klinsmann (59-Germany) is determined to keep the best of his existing squad together for next year’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup.

The Korea Football Association (KFA) announced the 23-man roster for this month’s 2026 North American World Cup Asia Second Qualifier on Saturday. Son Heung-min (31-Tottenham), Kim Min-jae (27-Bayern Munich), Lee Kang-in (22-Paris Saint-Germain), Hwang Hee-chan (27-Wolverhampton), Cho Kyu-sung (25-Mitwillan), and Hwang In-beom (27-Tsrubena Zvezda) are the mainstays of the squad. Twenty-two players are the same as last October’s roster (24). Goalkeeper Kim Jun-hong (20-Gimcheon) is joined by Song Bum-geun (26-Shonan Belmare), who has recovered from injury, and Kim Joo-sung (23-Seoul), who was called up last month, is missing. Klinsmann has played eight games (three wins, three draws, and two losses) since taking over in March, and his style of play has become clear. Barring any unforeseen circumstances such as injuries, the starting eleven will remain the same. The Korea Football Association announced the roster in a press release, without a press conference like last time.

South Korea, ranked 24th in the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), will play two World Cup qualifiers this month. They open at home against Singapore (155th) at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Sept. 16, before traveling to Shenzhen, China, to face China (79th) on Sept. 21. The 2026 North and Central American World Cup will be held in June 2026 in Canada, Mexico and the United States, with Asian qualifiers running through 2025. The previous World Cup, Qatar 2022, featured 32 nations, but for the 2026 tournament, the field has been expanded to 48 nations and the number of tickets allocated to Asia has increased from 4.5 to 8.5.

Both Singapore and China are one spot below South Korea. South Korea is expected to win comfortably. However, the significance of this call-up is that it is the final test before the Asian Cup in Qatar next January. After the two games this month, the players will return to their respective teams and will not have a chance to play together. They will need to use these two games to become more organized and find a way to break down a defensive team like Korea. South Korea was placed in Group E of the Asian Cup alongside Bahrain (83rd), Jordan (82nd), and Malaysia (137th). Klinsmann has been saying since his arrival that he wants to “lift the Asian Cup trophy”. South Korea won the quadrennial tournament twice, in 1956 (Hong Kong) and 1960 (South Korea), but have not finished on top since.

The main players are performing at their best for their clubs. Through six days, Son Heung-min has eight goals and Hwang Hee-chan has six, ranking second and sixth in the English Premier League (EPL), respectively. Lee has recorded offensive points (2 goals, 1 assist) in his last three games. The midfielder is an excellent passer of the ball, exchanging quality passes with teammate Kylian Mbappe (25-France). Kim Min-jae is a regular defender at Bayern Munich in Germany, one of the world’s strongest teams, while Cho Kyu-sung, who plays in the Danish league, scored his seventh goal in the 14th round of the league against Hvidovre on June 6, leading the team to a 4-1 victory. The national team’s morale is high, with the team’s determination to “win the Asian Cup (captain Son Heung-min)” in line with the news from overseas.

Klinsmann’s team has turned things around recently and will need to keep the momentum going. After a five-match winless streak, Klinsmann’s men beat Saudi Arabia (ranked 57th) 1-0 in England in September, and defeated Tunisia (ranked 32nd – 4-0) and 스포츠토토 Vietnam (ranked 94th – 6-0) in back-to-back exhibition games in Anbang in October. However, the team’s relative weakness has led to criticism that Klinsmann’s tactics are still vague and rely on individual players. It will be interesting to see if we see any new tactics in Singapore and China, and if the players who have been struggling to score can find the back of the net. With the momentum from their last two multi-goal wins, it will be important for them to score a lot of goals against the underdogs.

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