Seoul (AFP) – Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min headlined South Korea’s preliminary 28-man World Cup squad unveiled Monday, as coach Shin Tae-yong included 12 defenders in an attempt to plug leaks at the back.

Spurs star Son was named along with Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City, just relegated from the English Premier League, and FC Augsburg’s Koo Ja-cheol as Shin rolled out his Europe-based senior players.

The Taeguk Warriors reached the semi-finals when South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, but they struggled in qualifying and have been drawn against Sweden, Mexico and holders Germany in a tough Group F.

Top-rated Son scored 18 goals in all competitions this term for Spurs, who finished third in the Premier League to secure another season of Champions League football.

In one surprise pick, Shin also included Hellas Verona’s uncapped Lee Seung-woo among his initial 28, to be cut to 23 by June 4.

The former Barcelona trainee’s club has been relegated from Serie A, but the 20-year-old midfielder will have a chance to impress in home friendlies against Honduras on May 28 and Bosnia and Herzegovina on June 1.

Shin included no fewer than 12 defenders in his preliminary squad, as he bemoaned injuries plaguing him at the back.

In the 14 matches since Shin was appointed last July after the sacking of German Uli Stielike, the team have scored 20 and conceded 19.

“There is a reason why I picked so many defenders,” Shin told reporters in Seoul. 

“At this moment, forming our defence line is the most difficult part for me. There were things that I wanted to do with our defence, but I think I can’t do it.”

Only nine players remain from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when the team went out in the group stage.

Provisional squad (club KOR unless stated)

Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe/JPN), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka/JPN), Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC)

Defenders: Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande/CHN), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo/JPN), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu/JPN), Yun Yong-sun (Seongnam FC), Kwon Kyung-won (Tianjin Quanjian/CHN), Oh Ban-suk (Jeju United), Kim Jin-su (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Kim Min-woo (Sangju Sangmu), Park Joo-ho (Ulsan Hyundai), Hong Chul (Sangju Sangmu), Go Yo-han (FC Seoul), Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea City/WAL), Jung Woo-young (Vissel Kobe/JPN), Kwon Chang-hoon (Dijon FCO/FRA), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa FC), Koo Ja-cheol (FC Augsburg/AUT), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona/ITA), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United), Lee Chung-yong (Crystal Palace/ENG)

Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur/ENG), Hwang Hee-chan (FC Red Bull Salzburg/AUT), Lee Keun-ho (Gangwon FC)