U-23 football team looking to recover reputation

August 22, 2018

JAKRATA, Aug. 22 (Yonhap) — South Korea will try to move past their disappointing group stage performance and get back on track for their men’s football title defense at the 18th Asian Games.

South Korea reached the round of 16 in the men’s football competition at Jakarta-Palembang 2018 as runners-up in Group E with two wins and one loss. They’ll next face Iran, the winners of Group F.

South Korea, led by head coach Kim Hak-bum, started their group stage campaign with a sweet 6-0 win over Bahrain, but suffered a shocking 2-1 defeat to Malaysia in the next match. The under-23 team then narrowly edged Kyrgyzstan 1-0 to advance to the knockout stage.

It was disappointing performance for South Korea, the defending Asiad men’s football champions. In 2014, they took the crown without a defeat and without conceding a goal.

This file photo taken on Aug. 17, 2018, shows South Korea under-23 national football team players leaving the pitch after the first half in the men's football Group E match against Malaysia at the 18th Asian Games in Bandung, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

This file photo taken on Aug. 17, 2018, shows South Korea under-23 national football team players leaving the pitch after the first half in the men’s football Group E match against Malaysia at the 18th Asian Games in Bandung, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

An unexpected runner-up finish changed South Korea’s whole plan.

South Korea will first have to deal with tough travel schedule ahead. After playing their round of 16 match at Wibawa Mutkit Stadium in Cikarang, east of Jakarta, they have to move to Patriot Chandrabhaga Stadium in Jakarta for the quarterfinals. And for the semifinals and final, they need to go to Pakansari Stadium in Bogor, south of Jakarta.

If they have won the group, they would have competed in their round of 16 match at Patriot Chandrabhaga Stadium in Jakarta and played at Pakansari Stadium from quarterfinals to final.

South Korea’s runners-up finish was so unexpected that it even influenced teams in other group.

In Group F, teams were trying to avoid finishing in first place because they knew they would have to face South Korea if they won the group.

Iran and Saudi Arabia were vying for the top spot in the group until South Korea lost to Malaysia. But with South Korea poised to become the runners-up, both Iran and Saudi Arabia gave only minimal effort to win their final group stage matches, against Myanmar and North Korea, respectively.

Iran lost to Myanmar 2-0, while Saudi Arabia fell 3-0 to North Korea. Due to goal difference, Iran won the group and were chosen as South Korea’s opponents in the round of 16.

In this file photo taken on Aug. 20, 2018, South Korea's Son Heung-min (C) takes a shot during the men's football Group E match against Kyrgyzstan at the 18th Asian Games in Bandung, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

In this file photo taken on Aug. 20, 2018, South Korea’s Son Heung-min (C) takes a shot during the men’s football Group E match against Kyrgyzstan at the 18th Asian Games in Bandung, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

South Korea originally expected to face either Vietnam or Japan in the first knockout stage match as Group E winners. Iran were a team that they didn’t really think about meeting in the round of 16.

“Honestly, we have yet to fully analyze Iran since our group stage result turned the other way,” coach Kim Hak-bum said. “I’ll decide our tactics after making a full analysis on Iran. In the knockout round, we’ll pick tactics that our players can best execute.”

South Korea lost many things from their stunning loss to Malaysia. Although they did bounce back with a win over Kyrgyzstan, it wasn’t enough to fully recover their Asian football powerhouse image.

South Korea, one of the few teams in the men’s football competition using three wild card members, were considered the top favorite coming at the tournament with a star-studded squad headlined by Tottenham Hotspur Son Heung-min.

With their archrivals Japan and Iran not using overage players, some fans even argued that South Korea are deploying too much firepower to win this tournament.

In this file photo taken on Aug. 20, 2018, South Korea's under-23 national football team players celebrate after they beat Kyrgyzstan in the men's football Group E match at the 18th Asian Games in Bandung, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

In this file photo taken on Aug. 20, 2018, South Korea’s under-23 national football team players celebrate after they beat Kyrgyzstan in the men’s football Group E match at the 18th Asian Games in Bandung, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

There is reason for South Korea to form their squad with wild cards. For South Korean male footballers, Asian Games gold medal is more than just an honor. The South Korean government exempts athletes who win a gold medal at the Asian Games, or any Olympic medal, from mandatory military service.

For players like Son, getting military exemption is important because they can continue their pro careers without interruption.

With military service exemption at stake, South Korea were believed to have extra motivation coming to the Asiad. But it turned out that being highly motivated doesn’t always translate into good results.

A loss to Malaysia was South Korea’s first loss to the Southeast Asian country in 44 years at the Asian Games. Against Kyrgyzstan, South Korea attempted 26 shots, but only one hit the net.

Some of the players were criticized for not only their performance on the pitch, but also their actions off the pitch during the group stage.

Hwang Hee-chan showed unsportsmanlike behavior after the Malaysia defeat as he left the pitch without shaking hands with Malaysian players. Following fans’ criticism, he closed his social media accounts.

Coach Kim, however, said the Malaysia loss will serve as their turning point, or a “precaution,” on their road to the gold medal.

“I’m sure the players learned many things from the match against Malaysia,” he said. “We cannot allow same mistakes to happen again. From now on, we will play every match like a final.”

This file photo taken on Aug. 19, 2018, shows South Korea's under-23 national football team players training for the 18th Asian Games at a football field in Bandung, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

This file photo taken on Aug. 19, 2018, shows South Korea’s under-23 national football team players training for the 18th Asian Games at a football field in Bandung, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

 

 

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