Youth fights back… South Korea’s football hopes shot up

It was a disappointing defeat, but a performance that bodes well for the future of Korean football.

Kim Eun-joong’s South Korea Under-20 football team lost 1-2 to ‘traditional powerhouse’ Italy in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup at the La Plata Stadium in Argentina on 9 September. Still, South Korea made history by reaching the quarter-finals for the second consecutive tournament after finishing runners-up in Poland in 2019. Italy, who beat South Korea, will play Uruguay for the title in the final.안전놀이터

Against Italy, the team played the same ‘silly football’ that they had been playing throughout the tournament. It’s a strategy that involves solid defence followed by sharp counter-attacks to get at the opponent’s goal. Knowing this, Italy pressed hard from the start, and Korea conceded a goal in the 14th minute through Cesare Cassaday (Chelsea), who was red carded.

However, Korea levelled within nine minutes. In the 23rd minute, Lee Seung-won (Gangwon) calmly converted a penalty kick from Bae Jun-ho (Daejeon) to level the score at 1-1. Lee now has two goals and four assists in the tournament, tying him with last year’s Most Valuable Player (Golden Ball) Lee Kang-in (Mallorca).

The tie was broken in the 41st minute of the second half. From a free kick conceded by his country just outside the penalty area, Italy’s Simone Papundi (Udinese) rattled the net with a delicate kick that proved to be the winning goal.

Despite failing to reach back-to-back finals, there was plenty of encouragement for a team that has been dubbed the ‘valley generation’ and has been largely ignored. At the La Plata Stadium, a large number of fans, including local expatriates, cheered the team on. In Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square, more than 1,000 people gathered from 5am onwards to show their support. Chung Mong-kyu, president of the Korean Football Association, also joined the crowd.

On Facebook, President Yoon Seok-yeol said, “Coach Kim Eun-joong’s leadership in reaching the World Cup quarter-finals and the players’ fighting spirit gave the people hope and courage. You are the future of Korean football,” he encouraged. “When you overcome yourself and go beyond your limits, I and the entire Korean people are deeply moved,” he said, adding, “We will support you in your challenges together with the people.”

The team’s journey is far from over. South Korea will play Israel for the third-place match at 2.30am on 12 December. “The players dedicated themselves to the team more than anyone else and gave more than 100 per cent,” said Kim, adding, “We will play without regrets in the third-place match.” National team striker Lee Young-jun (Gimcheon) said, “The players fought with all their might. I have no regrets.” “We still have one game left. We won’t give up. We will prepare well as usual and do our best until the last game.”

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