Now or never for Son Heung-min and Korea Republic

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan investigates if Korea Republic have any chance of keeping alive their 2018 FIFA World Cup hopes against Mexico.

On paper, the situation does not seem that dire for Korea Republic.

They started their 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F campaign with a narrow 1-0 loss to Sweden, by no means an embarrassing result, and still have two games to earn their place in the Round of 16.

Now, here is where the problems begin.

Firstly, their next game on Saturday is against a vibrant Mexico side that has already stunned Germany 1-0.

Then, of course, even if they get a positive result against the Mexicans, they will need to back that up in their final Group F game against aforementioned reigning champions Germany.

If the opposition ahead of them was the only obstacle to overcome, then perhaps there would still be reason for plenty of optimism.

But, at the moment, it seems like the South Koreans greatest enemies are themselves.

The defeat to Sweden was not damning in terms of the final result but by the way they barely troubled their European opponents, mustering just five efforts on goal and none on target.

This, despite boasting one of the hottest properties in European football at the moment – Tottenham star Son Heung-min – in attack.

So, what is going wrong with the Taegeuk Warriors?

Without trying to point fingers, coach Shin Tae-yong has to shoulder most of the blame and he is already finding himself increasingly under fire.

His decision to name just three recognised forwards in his 23-man squad was an indication of his tactical approach for the tournament, but then came the baffling decision to start with Kim Shin-wook – standing nearly two metres tall – against the equally physically-imposing Swedes.

Korea Republic will need a much better display against the Mexicans.

Perhaps a less direct, more inventive approach would have worked better and Korea Republic certainly looked more of a threat in the final 20 minutes after Kim had been brought off.

One of the problems for Shin now is the fact that, although there have been calls for Kim to be dropped for Saturday’s game, he could arguably be effective against the Mexicans and it remains to be seen if the South Korean coach will cave in to external pressure.

Regardless of their starting XI that takes to the field at the Rostov Arena, Korea Republic will be aware that anything other than a win could spell the end to their chances.

And, with a final Group F match to come against Germany, maybe that ship has already sailed.

Yet, if anything, the South Koreans at the very least need to give their fans something to cheer about.

Just like Saudi Arabia, who were humbled 5-0 against Russia but at least followed up with a display to be proud of, even if their 1-0 loss to Uruguay ultimately sealed their elimination.

With big names like Son, captain Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol, along with rising star Lee Seung-woo, there is no reason why they cannot at least give Mexico something to worry about.

With regards to reaching the knockout round of the 2018 World Cup, that dream may already be over.

Nonetheless, in terms of restoring pride for themselves and for Asia, it is now or never for Korea Republic to show why they are called the Taegeuk Warriors.