South Korean striker Kim Shin-wook may not be the first attacking option for the national team, but that doesn't mean he is merely a bench member.
As a second-half substitute, Kim was instrumental in South Korea's 2-1 victory on Tuesday against Uzbekistan in their final Asian World Cup qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He replaced fellow striker Lee Jeong-hyeop in the 67th minute and delivered a fine assist that set up Koo Ja-cheol's winner in the 85th.
|Kim Shin-wook (Yonhap)|
The Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors striker, who is 196 centimeters tall, headed down a cross by another second-half sub, Hong Chul, and the ball found Koo, who scored with his left foot at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
"Since Uzbekistan's defense was very solid, I just thought about breaking their defense," Kim said after the match. "Lee Jeong-hyeop moved a lot in the first half (and made Uzbekistan players tired), so I was comfortable playing in the second half."
Although Kim didn't score a goal, his performance was so impressive that even Uzbekistan head coach Samvel Babayan said they lost because their defenders failed to stop the towering forward.
In the final round, South Korea are in Group A, along with Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Qatar and China.
With the qualification reaching the midway point, the Taeguk Warriors overtook Uzbekistan in second place with Tuesday's win.
South Korea now have 10 points from three wins, one draw and one loss, just one point behind the group leaders Iran.
Only the top two teams in the six-nation group will earn automatic berths to the World Cup in Russia, while the third seed needs to go through the playoffs.
"We always meet Uzbekistan in critical situations, but we have been strong in crucial moments," he said. "Our team atmosphere got better with the victory. We'll keep up our hard work to dominate opponents in remaining matches."
Last month, Kim made the national team for the first time since August 2015, but the 2015 K League Classic scoring champion failed to make a big impact in two previous World Cup qualifiers.
The 28-year-old watched South Korea's 3-2 win against Qatar from the bench. Against Iran, he played nearly 30 minutes in the second half but couldn't stop South Korea from losing 1-0 in Tehran.
Making things worse, South Korea football coach Uli Stielike said earlier this month that Kim is not their first attacking option.
The German said his "Plan A" for attack is to let hard-working forwards like Lee Jeong-hyeop penetrate lines of defense and engage in one-two plays with midfielders, and his "Plan B" is to use Kim, who is well-known for using his strength to hold off defenders near the box.
Stielike later explained that there are some tactical reasons for bringing Kim off the bench, saying Kim is more useful when the opponents are tired.
"When players like Kim enter the game in the middle, opponents have a hard time adjusting to his style of play," Stielike said. "I also thought if Kim started, it would be difficult for us to play a possession game. It's easy to switch from a possession game to a long-ball game, but doing the opposite is not easy."
Despite being a secondary option, Kim said that doesn't mean he can only make a small contribution to the team.
"My personal goal for the national team right now is to create chances for my teammates," Kim said. "That's why I tried not to take a shot and helped my teammates shine. As a result, the team and I both had a good game."
Kim, however, said he doesn't just want to remain as a "joker,"
a football term for a player who comes off the bench to score goals. Kim has scored three goals in 34 matches for South Korea.
"I want to be part of 'Plan A' for the team," he said. "I will try to adjust to the team's style, but I need some time. I need to work closely with my teammates to score goals and perform better."
Kim said teammates like Son Heung-min and Koo Ja-cheol are trying to bring him to their European clubs. Kim, who made his pro debut in 2009 with Ulsan Hyundai, previously has been linked with a move to European clubs.
"My teammates (at European clubs) said to me they feel comfortable when playing with me," he said. "They try to recommend me to European clubs, and I am thankful for that. I also enjoy playing with them." (Yonhap)