Asian Cup 2023: A history of Korean players in the RSL

Al Shabab goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu will, unfortunately, have to watch from the sidelines as Korea Republic face Jordan tonight in the semi-final of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023.

Kim suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury during a training session with the Taegeuk Warriors earlier in the tournament.

That will also sideline him for the remainder of the Roshn Saudi League season, where he has played for Al Shabab since joining the Riyadh-based club in 2022.

The RSL has a long history of signing Korean players, including some of the national team’s biggest names.

Kim Seung-gyu - Al Shabab (2022 - Present)

The 33-year-old shot stopper has been a regular for Korea Republic on the international stage since making his debut against Peru in 2013, named in Korea’s squad for the FIFA World Cup in 2014, 2018 and 2022. At the latter of which he featured in all four games for the team as they made the Round of 16.

Having played across Korea and Japan, with the likes of Ulsan Hyundai, Kashiwa Reysol and Vissel Kobe, Kim moved to Al Shabab in 2022 where he has proven to be one of the league’s most consistent performers between the sticks.

In the 2022-23 season he kept 11 clean sheets, and already has five to his name so far this season - a tally he will no longer be able to add to owing to his recent injury.

Jung Woo-young - Al Khaleej (2023 - Present)

Another national team regular, Jung, a combative central midfielder, is the only other Korean currently in the RSL alongside compatriot, Kim Seung-gyu.

A veteran of the national team, he also featured for the Taegeuk Warriors at both the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.

While this is his first season in Saudi Arabia, he is no stranger to football in the Gulf having enjoyed five successful seasons with Qatari giants Al Sadd before joining Saihat-based Al Khaleej ahead of the current RSL campaign.

Jang Hyun-soo - Al Hilal (2019-2023)

A reliable central defender, Jang was one of the most popular players at Al Hilal, endearing himself to his teammates and fans for his performances on the pitch throughout a decorated four seasons in Riyadh.

Joining from J.League outfit FC Tokyo ahead of the 2019-20 RSL season, Jang followed a long line of Koreans to feature for Al Hilal. He quickly etched his name into the history of the club with two AFC Champions League crowns, three RSL titles, as well as playing a leading role in helping Al Hilal finish as runners-up in the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup.

A health scare brought his time in the capital to an end, but he remains a beloved figure at Al Hilal, posting on X recently ‘Blue is forever’.

Lee Young-pyo - Al Hilal (2009-2011)

A veteran of the historic 2002 generation that made the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup on home soil, Lee is one of Korea’s most revered players and is the fourth most-capped players in Korean history.

The full-back enjoyed a successful career in Europe with PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund, before arriving in Riyadh to join Al Hilal in 2009 at age 32. It made Lee one of the first Koreans to play in Saudi Arabia.

But far from being a fading star, he enjoyed a hugely successful stint with Al Hilal, winning back-to-back RSL titles in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Kwak Tae-hwi - Al Shabab (2012-2014) & Al Hilal (2014-2016)

A calm figure at the heart of defence, Kwak was already a regular of the national team when he arrived in Saudi Arabia and went on to be named in the national team for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

While it was at Al Shabab where he first played in the RSL, it was with cross-town rivals Al Hilal that he made his name, particularly during their run to the 2014 AFC Champions League final, where he was a commanding presence at the back.

Kwak returned to Korea in 2016 to play with FC Seoul, but he remains a much respected figure within Al Hilal for his contribution over three seasons.

Other Koreans who have called the Kingdom home

There are a few other notable Korean players to have graced the RSL over the years. Lee Chun-soo, a veteran of two FIFA World Cups and 78 caps for the national team, kitted up for Al Nassr during the 2009-10 season.

Kim Jin-su and Kim Byung-suk also featured for Al Nassr, while Cho Sung-hwan, Seol Ki-hyeon, Suk Hyun-jun and Yoo Byung-soo represented their cross-town rivals, Al Hilal.

One of Korea’s most high-profile exports, Park Chu-young, who signed for Arsenal at the peak of his powers, played for Al Shabab for a short period in 2014, while Song Chong-gug also wore for the Riyadh club's jersey during the 2010-11 season.

Finally, well-travelled defender Lee Won-young spent a brief period playing for Ettifaq in 2011.