Back to full health, Wolverhampton forward Hwang Hee-chan eyes long-awaited win over Iran

March 21, 2022

After sitting out South Korea’s past two World Cup qualifying matches with an injury, forward Hwang Hee-chan is back in the mix, fully healthy and ready to help the country close out the qualifying round on a high note.

Hwang, first-year forward for Wolverhampton Wanderers, arrived at the National Football Center (NFC) in Paju, north of Seoul in Gyeonggi Province, Monday afternoon for the start of training camp. South Korea, having already grabbed a spot in the World Cup, will face Iran in Seoul on Thursday and the United Arab Emirates in Dubai on March 29 to close out the final Asian qualification round.

Both South Korea and Iran have qualified for the World Cup with time to spare, and they will be battling for the top spot in Group A. Hwang said staying motivated, even after qualifying for the big tournament, won’t be an issue for his team.

“Our goal is to win both of the remaining two matches, and we want to finish first in the group,” Hwang said. South Korea currently have 20 points, two back of Iran. “We are all pursuing the common goal and we all understand the importance of that match. I am sure everyone has arrived here prepared to win.”

South Korea’s last win against Iran came in January 2011. In the seven matches since, South Korea have managed three draws and lost four other times. Their most recent meeting ended in a 1-1 draw last October in Tehran, with South Korea wasting Son Heung-min’s second-half goal.

But Hwang said it was still a major confidence boost for South Korea.

“We left that match with a lot of confidence in ourselves but we were also disappointed not to have won that game,” Hwang said. “That’s going to fuel us this time. Since we’ll be playing in front of our home fans, we’ll be able to find an extra gear inside us.”

Hwang missed South Korea’s two previous qualifiers due to a hamstring injury. Without missing a beat, South Korea defeated Lebanon 1-0 and then Syria 2-0. Son, the team’s longtime captain, was also absent with injury.

Hwang said he was never worried about the team because of South Korea’s depth up and down the roster, adding that he was “proud” of his teammates for delivering wins without him.

“In some earlier matches, we were also missing a few players, but we always have players ready to step up and contribute,” Hwang said. “No matter who’s on the field, we’re going to be just fine. We’re not a team that will lose games just because we’re without a couple of players.”

Hwang had a recent injury scare for Wolves last weekend, when he appeared to have hurt his left hip against Everton. He did come in off the bench against Leeds United on Saturday, and he said Monday that he had just suffered a minor bruise.

“It stung for a bit, but after two or three days, I was back to 100 percent,” Hwang said.