Kim Jung-ho led South Korea to a 3-2 victory over Ecuador in the round of 16 at the FIFA U20 World Cup Argentina 2023 at the Santiago del Estero Stadium in Argentina on Sunday (June 2).
With the win, South Korea reached the quarterfinals of the U20 World Cup for the second consecutive time. The team will now look to advance to the quarterfinals again when they take on Nigeria in the early morning hours of June 5.
South Korea finished as runners-up at the last edition of the tournament in Poland in 2019.
Four years ago, the team led by Chung Jung-yong had high hopes. The squad included Lee Kang-in, who was touted as the future of Korean football, and players such as Cho Young-wook, Oh Se-hoon and Kim Jung-min, who were said to be beyond the level of the age-group national team.”
Lee Kang-in, the youngest member of the squad at 18 years old, scored two goals and provided four assists to lead South Korea to a runner-up finish and win the tournament’s Golden Ball.
However, the team heading to Argentina doesn’t have a standout star. Kang Sung-jin (Seoul), Bae Joon-ho (Daejeon), and Kim Ji-soo (Seongnam) have proven themselves in their clubs and earned playing time, but they are familiar faces to K League fans. Kim Jun-hong (Gimcheon) and Kim Yong-hak (Portimonense) appeared at the 2019 U17 World Cup but failed to impress.
Add to that the fact that the U17 World Cup was canceled two years ago in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and the players were left without international experience, and there were concerns that they would have an uphill battle.
But Kim has been cruising. Unlike four years ago, when Lee Kang-in was the centerpiece of the offense, this time around, a variety of players have been rotating in and out.
The door was opened by “captain” Lee Seung-won (Gangwon). Lee scored the opening goal in the first group game against France and assisted Lee Young-joon (Gimcheon) with a precise cross from a free kick.
In the second game against Honduras, Kim Yong-hak was on fire. After picking up an assist against France, Kim Yong-hak came back from a 0-2 deficit against Honduras to score the game-winning goal, setting the stage for a 2-2 draw. With the draw against Honduras, South Korea qualified for the round of 16 early.
In the round of 16 match against Ecuador, Bae Joon-ho, who hadn’t played much in the group stage due to injury, stood out. Bae took it upon himself to set up Lee Young-joon’s first goal and added a second.
Lee Young-joon, who has been anchoring the front line throughout the tournament, has been fighting for possession and scoring two goals. Kang Sung-jin is yet to score a goal, but has been adding to the attack with his confident dribbling bursts and sharp left-footed kicks. 안전놀이터
Kim Eun-joong has mixed and matched his attacking lineup to suit the situation, resulting in seven goals in four games.
In addition, South Korea has been able to stick together as a team and get through crises. In the tournament, South Korea has remained undefeated with a well-organized squad, with all 20 players except goalkeeper Kim Jung-hoon (Korea University) having played.
Especially when facing teams with good individual skills such as France and Ecuador, they have been able to win with organic pressure and a tight defense. In addition, the 21 players are working towards one goal, including taking a victory photo with the jersey of Park Seung-ho (Incheon), who was injured during the tournament.