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There are 16 K League players named in Paulo Bento's South Korea squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, including five midfielders and forwards who we preview below.
Kwon Chang-hoon has been an established name in this South Korean side for some time now, making his international debut way back in 2015, yet finds himself only now heading to his first World Cup. Kwon made his professional club debut back in 2013, coming through the ranks at Suwon Samsung Bluewings and found himself in the K League's end-of-year Best XIs for both 2015 and 2016. His performances were enough to earn a move overseas, signing for Dijon in 2017 before moving to Freiburg in 2019.
The midfielder returned home to Suwon in the latter half of 2021 ahead of his military conscription in 2022. Kwon has spent this season playing for army side Gimcheon Sangmu, making 33 league appearances.
Having come through the youth ranks at Barcelona's famous 'La Masia' youth academy, Paik Seung-ho made the switch to K League early into the 2021 season, signing for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. The defensive-midfielder took a while to become accustomed to his new surroundings but found himself as a key component of the Green Warriors' midfield by the second half of the campaign, playing a vital role in the run-in to claim the club's ninth league title. 2022 saw him given the vice-captaincy role within his team as Jeonbuk made it to an AFC Champions League semifinal in addition to winning the FA Cup.
For Korea, whilst having spent a long time in amongst the youth sides of the nation, Paik made his senior debut back in 2019 but it was not until the end of 2021 did he become a regular name on Paulo Bento's squad list. January also saw the midfielder score his first international goals, finding the net against Iceland and Moldova in friendlies.
Song Min-kyu made his debut in the red and black of Pohang Steelers back in May 2018 but it wasn't until 2019 did his reputation begin to soar, culminating in the Young Player of the Year award in 2020 for his ten goals, six assists and scintillating showings on the pitch.
His performances and growing reputation were enough for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to swoop in midway through the 2021 season to bolster their squad in the title run-in, a transfer that worked out for the club with Song scoring three goals in addition to seven more he had scored for Pohang earlier in the campaign, with his final goal of the season helping to seal Jeonbuk's ninth league title on the final day and their fifth in a row. Song has continued to feature prominently for the Green Warriors and has since added an FA Cup winners medal to his collection this season.
On the international front, Song made his senior debut for Paulo Bento's side back in June 2021 and has continued to be called upon, picking up 13 caps and scoring his first goal for Korea in their final friendly prior to the World Cup, with a headed goal in the 1-0 win over Iceland.
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Na Sang-ho made his professional debut back in 2017 for Gwangju FC but lit up the domestic scene in 2018 with a second-division campaign that saw him claim the Golden Boot and MVP. Not only that, but his performances saw him called up Korean's 2018 Asian Games squad, where he claimed a gold medal playing alongside the likes of his senior national teammates Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan.
Na's performances saw him earn a move to FC Tokyo in 2019 where he would win a runners-up medal in his first season but would fall out of favour in his second, making a loan move back to K League's Seongnam FC half way through the campaign. His showings for the Magpies would help them secure safety as well as seeing Na seal a move to capital club FC Seoul. This season Na has featured on 32 occasions for Seoul, scoring eight.
Na Sang-ho made his debut for the senior international side at the end of 2018 and has picked up 24 caps since, scoring twice in the process with his most recent being against Turkmenistan in qualifying for this year's World Cup.
For a player who only made his professional debut the season following the previous World Cup, Cho Gue-seung's rise from second-division striker to a forward in contention to start for the Korean National Team has been highly impressive. A third-place finish and 14 goals in the violet of FC Anyang was enough to quickly draw the attention of then reigning K League 1 Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors who signed him ahead of the 2020 campaign. Despite a goal on his debut in the AFC Champions League, it still took the striker slightly longer to find his feet in Jeonju. Regardless, Cho did begin to feature more regularly as the season progressed, ultimately claiming the K League 1 and FA Cup for his efforts.
Cho then decided to take his military service early and moved to army outfit Gimcheon Sangmu who had just suffered relegation to K League 2. Eight goals and a considerable number of appearances ensured they finished second-tier Champions and they returned to the top flight at the first time of asking. Having finished his service earlier this year, Cho returned to Jeonbuk to help with a title run-in, featuring heavily and helping to lift the FA Cup with the winning goal in the semifinal and three across the two-legged final plus two assists. Cho would also win the K League 1 Golden Boot award for 2022, scoring 17 goals in 31 appearances.
Cho Gue-sung's time for the senior international side has been somewhat shorter, having only debuted just over a year ago. 16 appearances, ten starts and four goals though have booked his place on the plane to Qatar and, given the speed of his ascent so far, Cho could very well turn even more heads at the World Cup.
[READ: 14 K League players named in South Korea's World Cup squad]