With a 1-1 tie, you’re in a good position, but you can’t let your guard down. Especially when the final opponent is an ‘unpredictable’ African team.
Kim Eun-joong’s South Korea U20 team will face Gambia in their final Group F match of the FIFA U20 World Cup 2023 at the Mendoza Stadium in Argentina on June 29 at 6 a.m. ET.
South Korea, which defeated France 2-1 in its first match, is second in the group with one win and one draw (four points). Group leader is Gambia (6 points), which has won two straight games.
South Korea’s chances of advancing to the round of 16 are high. With a draw or better against the Gambia, they will qualify on their own. Even if they lose, they will advance if Honduras defeats or ties France in the other Group F match at the same time.
Still, there’s only one possible outcome, so don’t let your guard down until the end. First and foremost, the fact that the most important final opponent is an African team is a big variable. African teams have always been unpredictable in youth competitions.
In the history of the U20 World Cup, there have been 10 times when at least one African team has reached the final four. The last time was in 2009, when Ghana came out on top. Compare that to the adult World Cup, where Morocco only recently became the first African team to reach the final four at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
This tournament is no different. Leading up to the draw, France, the biggest name in the game, was the heavy favorite to top the group. The Gambia, ranked 120th in the FIFA rankings, was not on many people’s radar, having never really made a mark on the international stage.
However, the ‘African phenomenon’ worked this time around. Armed with speed, the Gambia defied expectations and rattled off two straight wins. France, a team full of players who have actually played on the European stage, is in danger of being eliminated after two consecutive losses.
Coach Kim Eun-joong was expecting an African upset. This comes from his own experience as a player. Kim was a player at the 1999 U20 World Cup in Nigeria. South Korea was in a group with Portugal, Uruguay, and Mali.
“We didn’t have a lot of information,” Kim says, “but I knew that Portugal and Uruguay had a lot of good players who played in Europe’s top leagues. But when we played them, the strongest team was actually Mali,” Kim recalls. “We were no match for them. They were so fast and strong that it was a tough match,” he said.
In the final match against Mali, who had already qualified for 안전놀이터 the round of 16, South Korea won 4-2 with goals from Seol Ki-hyun and Lee Dong-guk, but ultimately fell short with a 1-2 loss. Topping the group was Mali (2-1-1), who beat both Portugal and Uruguay. Mali advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Kim hasn’t forgotten the memory of 24 years ago. Even before the tournament, he warned, “Gambia is a strong opponent. We need to prepare well,” he said before the tournament.
Regardless of the name, the African team was on high alert. 24 years later, it’s time for Kim Jung-ho to learn the lesson that Kim learned the hard way.