The backbone of South Korea's national team plays in the J-League. The exodus of players from South Korea to Japan that began with Noh Jung Yoon in 1993 has steadily increased.
South Korean players have had little success in Europe - former Bundesliga star Cha Bum Kun is the notable exception - but they are big hits in Japan.
South Korea has 10 players in the J-League - more than any other country except Brazil. Here's a look at the five who are key members of South Korea's national team:
CHOI YONG SOO (JEF United). ). Choi, the No. 2 active scorer (26 goals) on the South Korean national team, has been largely responsible for JEF United's success (third in the overall standings). In his first full season at the Ichihara club, the 30-year-old striker has 21 goals in 26 games - second in the J-League. Choi, who started the last two games at the 1998 World Cup, climbed the ranks from Yonsei University to Army team Sangmoo and LG Cheetahs before signing with JEF United in 2000.
HONG MYUNG BO (Kashiwa Reysol). ). Hong is South Korea's all-time cap leader with 122 international appearances. One of Guus Hiddink's first moves after being named South Korean national team coach was picking Hong to captain the World Cup 2002 co-hosts. The 32-year-old sweeper hopes to play in his fourth World Cup. He was the youngest player on South Korea's 1990 World Cup team and scored two goals at USA '94.
HWANG SUN HONG (Kashiwa Reysol). ). Hwang, 33, was written off after missing France '98 because of a lingering knee injury, but he has enjoyed a new life under Hiddink. Hwang, South Korea's all-time leading scorer with 47 goals in 91 games, scored against Mexico and Australia in wins at the 2001 Confederations Cup.
PARK JI SUNG (Kyoto Purple Sanga). ). The 20-year-old midfielder shocked the Korean soccer community when he left Myungji University last year to sign with J-League Second Division club Kyoto Purple Sanga. He has helped Purple Sanga win promotion back to the First Division.
YOO SANG CHUL (Kashiwa Reysol). Yoo, 30, hoped to sign with Barcelona after the 1998 World Cup, where he scored the tying goal for South Korea in its 1-1 tie with Belgium. He ended up at J-League powerhouse Yokohama Marinos before joining Hong and Hwang at Reysol. Yoo, whose goal beat Mexico at the Confederations Cup, has often been compared to former English star Bryan Robson for his work rate in midfield.
by Soccer AmericaManaging Editor Paul Kennedy