FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 South Korean footballers of all time

As part of the countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of South Korea.

When it comes to Asian teams in the World Cup, South Korea hold the bragging rights. They have appeared in the tournament more times than any other team from the continent, while their run to the semi-finals when co-hosting the 2002 edition is the best performance from any Asian side.

They won't have fond memories of their first appearance at the finals, however, as they were thrashed 9-0 by a Ferenc Puskas-inspired Hungary before being beaten 7-0 by Turkey in their second and final group game.

They have since adapted to life on the grandest stage, however, and this summer's trip to Brazil will be the eighth time in a row that they have participated in the tournament.

Here, to continue our countdown to the 2014 World Cup, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of South Korea.



10. Seol Ki-hyeon (2000-09, 83 caps, 19 goals)

South Korea's Seol Ki-hyeon battles for possession against France on May 30, 2001.© Getty Images

One of the increasing number of South Koreans to have plied his trade in the Premier League in recent years, Seol Ki-hyeon played for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Reading and Fulham during his time in England.

Before his move to Wolves, the attacker earned himself a unique place in football history when he became the first South Korean to score in the Champions League, doing so with Anderlecht. During his time in Belgium he won a league title and memorably scored a hat-trick within the space of 12 minutes in the Super Cup.

Seol was a key player in his country's remarkable run to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, scoring the equalising goal against Italy that set Korea on their way to arguably the greatest moment in their sporting history. His performances in that tournament were so impressive that he was a nominee for the 2002 Ballon d'Or.



9. Choi Soon-ho (1980-91, 94 caps, 30 goals)

Having spent the vast majority of his club career in his native country, Choi Soon-ho did not have many opportunities to flourish on the world stage. However, when those chances did come about, he made the most of them.

At just 18 years of age, Choi finished as the top scorer of the AFC Asian Cup with seven goals, becoming the youngest player to top the scoring charts in the competition's history. His finest moment came at the 1986 World Cup, however, where he scored a memorable goal against defending champions Italy.

He went on to make 94 appearances and score 30 goals for the national team, including a prolific spell in 1985 when he netted seven times in just 12 matches. Domestically, he won two K-League titles and finished as a runner-up on three separate occasions.



8. Lee Dong-gook (1998-present, 99 caps, 30 goals)

Lee Dong-gook celebrates scoring a goal for South Korea on March 30, 2005.© Getty Images

Had Lee Dong-gook realised his full potential, he could well have troubled the upper echelons of this list. Nicknamed the 'Lazy Genius' by fans who thought that his work rate did not match his ability, Lee was controversially left out of the 2002 World Cup squad by Guus Hiddink having featured four years previously and finished as top scorer of the 2000 AFC Asian Cup.

His topsy-turvy career with the international team continued when he missed the 2006 World Cup through injury having been banned from the side for a year between 2007 and 2008. He finally did make his second appearance at the finals in 2010, although he was no longer a starter.

He spent time with both Werder Bremen and Middlesbrough during his club career, but it was in his homeland that he enjoyed the most success. There, he won two K-League titles and the Asian Club Championship, while also being named the league's MVP twice.



7. Kim Joo-sung (1985-96, 77 caps, 14 goals)

Another who enjoyed a stint in Germany during his club career, Kim Joo-sung spent two seasons with Bochum before moving back to Daewoo Royals in Korea. A versatile player who could fill in up front, in midfield or in defence, Kim made 77 appearances for the national team during his 11-year career.

Those 11 years encompassed three World Cup tournaments and the 1988 Summer Olympics, all of which Kim featured in. At his peak, he was widely regarded as the best Asian player in world football, and consequently he picked up the Asian Footballer of the Year award three times in a row between 1989 and 1991.

He was a two-time K-League MVP and named the best player in both the Asian Cup and Dynasty Cup in 1988 and 1990 respectively. The International Football Federation of History and Statistics (IFFHS) named him the second-best Asian footballer of the 20th century.



6. Hwang Sun-Hongh(1988-2002, 103 caps, 50 goals)

Hwang Sun-hong celebrates scoring for South Korea on June 01, 2001.© Getty Images

Despite approaching his mid-30s by the time the 2002 World Cup came about, Hwang Sun-hong was still an important part of the side that went all of the way to the semi-finals. Indeed, he scored their opening goal of that tournament, helping them on their way to a first ever World Cup victory.

That strike saw him become one of relatively few players to have reached a half-century of international goals, while his ratio of almost one every two games is very impressive. Perhaps his most memorable goal came in the 1994 World Cup, when he found the back of the net against reigning champions Germany.

He also scored against both Mexico and Australia during the 2001 Confederations Cup, ending the competition as joint-top scorer. In all, he featured in three World Cup tournaments, missing the 1998 edition through injury.



5. Lee Young-pyo (1999-2011, 127 caps, five goals)

South Korea full-back Lee Young-pyo dribbles past Portugal winger Luis Figo on June 14, 2002.© Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur fans will remember Lee Young-pyo well from his three-year stint at White Hart Lane, during which time he won the League Cup and made almost 100 appearances for the club. He was targeted by Roma while in England but eventually decided to join Borussia Dortmund in 2008.

Prior to his North London move, Lee won two league titles and a KNVB Cup with PSV under the stewardship of Guus Hiddink, who had taken the left-back to the 2002 World Cup. He impressed in that tournament as Korea made it all the way to the semi-finals in front of their own fans.

He went on to make a whopping 127 appearances for the national side, making him the third-most capped player in South Korea's history, before eventually hanging up his boots last year following a brief stint with Vancouver Whitecaps.



4. Lee Woon-jae (1994-2010, 132 caps, no goals)

South Korea goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae makes a save on December 19, 2004.© Getty Images

One above Lee Young-pyo in the all-time appearance list for Korea is Lee Woon-jae, a player widely regarded to be the greatest goalkeeper in the country's history. His tally of 132 caps is bettered only by Hong Myung-bo and saw him take in four World Cups - one of only seven Asian players to reach the finals that many times.

He featured in the 1994, 2006 and 2010 editions, but his finest moment came in 2002 as he helped Korea to the semi-finals. Lee would have a decisive role in the quarters, saving Joaquin's penalty in the shootout against Spain to help his side make history by reaching the last four.

Silverware flowed freely at club level as Lee won four K-League titles, six cups and the 2001-02 AFC Champions League with Suwon Bluewings. He was named as the league's MVP in 2008 and won the equivalent award for the Korean FA Cup a year later.



3. Hong Myung-bo (1990-2002, 136 caps, 10 goals)

South Korea defender Hong Myung-bo battles for possession with Brazilian international Ronaldo on November 20, 2002.© Getty Images

While there were many heroic performances throughout South Korea's incredible run to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, no player was more impressive for the Reds than captain Hong Myung-bo. The centre-back's performances earned him a place in the All-Star Team and saw him awarded the Bronze Ball for the third-best player at the tournament - behind only Oliver Kahn and Ronaldo.

Hong had already made history before a ball was even kicked in 2002 as he became the first Asian player to appear in four consecutive World Cups. He also made a major contribution in 1994, scoring one goal and assisting another to help his side launch a memorable comeback to draw 2-2 with Spain before again setting up one and finding the back of the net in a narrow 3-2 defeat to defending champions Germany.

The most-capped player in the history of South Korea, Hong was also the only man from his country included in FIFA's 100 - Pele's selection of the top 125 living players in 2004. As current manager of the national team, Hong will once again be travelling to a World Cup this summer as he looks to lead his side to another momentous performance.



2. Park Ji-sung (2000-2011, 100 caps, 13 goals)

Former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung celebrates scoring for South Korea against France on June 18, 2006.© Getty Images

Probably the most recognisable name on this list to the majority of fans, Park Ji-sung had more success at club level than any other South Korean has ever managed. His seven-year stint at Manchester United saw his stock rise as he made more than 200 appearances under Sir Alex Ferguson.

During his time at Old Trafford he won four Premier League titles, three League Cups and the Champions League, becoming the first Asian player to win the latter. He also won two Eredivisie titles and a KNVB Cup with PSV Eindhoven, ensuring that he retired as the most decorated Asian player of all time.

His finest moment at international level came in the 2002 World Cup when he scored the winning goal against Portugal to send Korea through to the knockout stages. He also found the back of the net in the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, becoming the first Asian player to have scored in three consecutive World Cups.



1. Cha Bum-kun (1972-1986, 121 caps, 55 goals)

It was clear early on that Cha Bum-kun was going to be a special player for Korea. While still in his teens, the striker became the youngest-ever player to turn out for the national team when he made his debut in 1972.

He went on to win 121 caps and score 55 goals, a tally that puts him top of Korea's scoring charts. He also took part in the 1986 World Cup, although his fearsome reputation as a deadly striker preceded him and he was often shadowed by two players to stunt his influence on matches.

It was at club level that he made his biggest impact. Nicknamed 'Cha Boom' for his powerful shot, he quickly established himself as one of the top strikers in Europe following his move to the Bundesliga. During a 10-year stay in Germany, Cha scored 98 goals in 308 games, winning two UEFA Cups and the DFB-Pokal. Individually, the IFFHS named him the greatest Asian footballer of the 20th century.



South Korea will face Belgium, Algeria and Russia in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.

Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in Spain's history tomorrow. You can also see all of the World Cup top 10 lists so far by clicking here.

Who is the greatest South Korean footballer of all time?

Cha Bum-kun
Park Ji-sung
Hong Myung-bo
Lee Woon-jae
Lee Young-pyo
Hwang Sun-hong
Kim Joo-sung
Lee Dong-gook
Choi Soon-ho
Seol Ki-hyeon
Other
Cha Bum-kun
38.6%
Park Ji-sung
36.7%
Hong Myung-bo
2.1%
Lee Woon-jae
0.7%
Lee Young-pyo
2.2%
Hwang Sun-hong
0.7%
Kim Joo-sung
0.9%
Lee Dong-gook
5.7%
Choi Soon-ho
0.6%
Seol Ki-hyeon
0.4%
Other
11.5%
England's David Beckham celebrates scoring against Mexico on May 25, 2001.
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