Hong Myung-bo says ‘I was the one with the most shortcomings’

June 27, 2014

(Yonhap)  After his team was eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with a 1-0 loss to Belgium on Thursday, South Korean head coach Hong Myung-bo blamed no one but himself.

“We fell short, and I was the one with the most shortcomings,” he said at the post-match press conference.

Coach Hong Myung-bo won't be able to avoid heavy criticism for a while. (Yonhap)

Coach Hong Myung-bo won’t be able to avoid heavy criticism for a while. (Yonhap)


He declined to grade himself or the team after South Korea went winless for the first time since 1998.

“I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to evaluate myself,” Hong said. “But what I can say for certain is that I was the weakest link.”

South Korea opened with a 1-1 draw with Russia, but lost to Algeria 4-2 before getting blanked by Belgium, who played with ten men for the entire second half.

Hong, who substituted defensive midfielder Han Kook-young for forward Lee Keun-ho to start the second half, lamented his team’s missed opportunities.

“They controlled the game in the first half, but we were doing okay with our counterattacks,” Hong said. “After the red card (on Steven Defour), the situation changed and we should have attacked from the flanks more, but I do feel like we spent too much time in the middle.

Even though South Korea closed out the campaign without a victory for the first time in 16 years, Hong said he has “no regrets.”

“I suppose giving up three goals the first half against Algeria was the most disappointing part,” Hong recalled. “We never got to use what we had planned for the second half in that game.”

“But overall, I think our players carried out our game plan well. One positive thing to take from this is that our young players will benefit tremendously from this huge experience,” he added.

A handful of head coaches have already resigned after their teams were eliminated, but Hong, who took over South Korea last June and is signed through the Asian Cup early next year, was noncommittal about his immediate future.

“I don’t get swayed by other people’s opinions when I make decisions,” he said. “I’ve always been that way, and I am going to think about what the right course of action is for myself and decide accordingly.”

Hong benched ineffective forward Park Chu-young to start the match and kept him there for the night, even as South Korea struggled to finish around the net. Hong appeared to have caved to mounting pressure to make the particular change, after Park managed just one shot in his first two matches and had been all but invisible.

Hong said he didn’t have a separate meeting with Park before making the switch.

“I inserted players that I felt were necessary for this match, and I thought they all performed well enough,” the coach said.

The winning Belgian coach, Marc Wilmots, credited his players with sticking together as a team after they went down a man.

Only four players who had started for Belgium against Russia last Sunday were back in the starting lineup against South Korea. With injuries and yellow cards abound, Wilmots had earlier said he wanted to give fresh bodies a chance to play and foster a healthy competition within the team for playing minutes.

Wilmots added that he expects a better future for South Korean football.

“This is a young team, and they have a very good foundation,” Wilmots said. “I think they should continue on this foundation. The coach is doing a very good job.”

In the wake of their defeat, however, the young South Korean players were too distraught to think about what might lie ahead.

Son Heung-min, the youngest member of the team at 21, was inconsolable. He admitted he is normally an emotional type, and that he doesn’t take losses well.

“I hate losing and everything (about the loss) hurt,” he said with his eyes puffed and his voice cracking. “I am so sorry to all my teammates, coaches and people who’ve helped the team behind the scenes, and also to fans back home who watched us on television in the wee hours of the morning. It pains me that we couldn’t return their love with better results.”

Son was one of the few bright spots for South Korea in Brazil. With a solid performance on both ends, he was named the Man of the Match against Russia, even though he didn’t actually score a goal.

He did get on board against Algeria in the second match, during which he fully displayed his considerable skills in open space.

“What make me feel more apologetic is that as the youngest player on the team, I learned so much and I take so much with me from this experience,” Son added.

Captain Koo Ja-cheol was more composed in accepting the defeat and the elimination, but said his team didn’t quite have enough time to prepare for the World Cup.

Hong Myung-bo took over the national team in June last year, after the conclusion of the Asian qualifying for the World Cup with only a year left before the big tournament.

“If we’d had a chance to battle through the qualifying stages together, we would’ve been able to get tighter as a team,” Koo said. “We were put together before the World Cup, and there was a lot of pressure and stress from outside for us to really become a unit.”

Koo acknowledged the players ultimately didn’t have the talent and skills to get past the group stage, but that didn’t mean they didn’t try. “We gave everything we had for 90 minutes,” he said.