There are several South Korean footballers plying their trade in Europe and Asia, but the hottest player for the country today is based in the domestic league.
Kim Shin-wook, a striker for Ulsan Hyundai in the top-flight K League Classic, scored in his fourth straight game on Sunday, helping his club to a 3-0 win over Gyeongnam FC at home and further improving his chances of making the South Korean team for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this summer.
Kim has netted a goal in each of Ulsan’s first two games in the K League Classic, and has also scored a goal apiece in Ulsan’s first two contests in the group stage at the AFC Champions League, the annual Asian club competition. Ulsan has won all four of those matches.
|Striker Kim Shin-wook (Yonhap)|
The game on Sunday was Kim’s third in 12 days. He played in South Korea’s 2-0 win over Greece in Athens on March 5 and in Ulsan’s 2-0 victory against Kawasaki Frontale at home in AFC play last Wednesday.
After Sunday’s game, Kim deferred credit to his teammates.
“More than my personal scoring streak, I am happy that our team has won four games in a row,” Kim said. “I’ve been running on fumes since the game against Kawasaki Frontale last Wednesday, but the joy of victories has kept me going.”
The torrid scoring run couldn’t have come at a better time for the 25-year-old. Kim is on the verge of being named to South Korea’s 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup. He has played in each of South Korea’s past six matches under head coach Hong Myung-bo and has scored twice. Scoring has been a chronic problem for South Korea, and Kim remains one of the few viable options for the center forward position.
Kim scored a career-high 19 goals last season and claimed his first MVP trophy. Gratifying as that might have been, Kim’s season actually ended on a sour note.
Ulsan suffered a deflating 1-0 loss against Pohang Steelers on the final day of the regular season to finish in second place behind Pohang by one point, when a draw would have been enough for the championship. And Kim had to watch this heartbreaker unfold from the sidelines, where he was serving his automatic suspension for picking up his second yellow in as many games four days earlier.
Kim also lost his lead in the scoring race on that last day.
Dejan Damjanovic of FC Seoul netted his 19th goal to draw even with Kim, and was credited with the scoring title for having played in fewer games than the South Korean.
So far in 2014, Kim has been playing like a man on a mission ― to lead Ulsan to its first K League Classic championship since 2005 and to its second AFC crown in three years. On a more personal level, Kim is hoping to do his country proud in Brazil in three months’ time.
Listed at 196 centimeters, Kim has been, somewhat unfairly, branded as a one-dimensional player who is only good for headers.
After taking over the national team last June, Hong used Kim sparingly as a second-half substitute in his first three matches, and left him off the team altogether over South Korea’s next five contests.
Not usually the one to openly criticize his players, Hong once said Kim’s presence was detrimental to what South Korea sought to accomplish on offense, because fullbacks and midfielders kept sending long crosses for the lanky striker, rather than trying to create chances on the ground.
Kim worked his way back into the national team picture by improving his ground game to complement his aerial assault. All four of his goals this season have come off his feet, and his two goals for the national team have also been scored on the ground.
On Sunday, Kim said he has been trying to shatter the stereotype that he could only head in the ball.
“I’ve been watching a lot of highlights where players score with their feet and trying to learn from them,” he said. “I am also grateful for my teammates for making good passes.”
Kim also said Jo Min-gook, Ulsan’s first-year head coach, has told the team to learn from creative offensive schemes by Bayern Munich, the reigning European club champ and the undefeated leader of the top German league, the Bundesliga, this season. Until recently, Kim hadn’t had much competition for the national team striker position, as much a testament to his skills as to South Korea’s lack of offensive depth. (Yonhap)