The younger brother has carried on the momentum of his older brothers, who reached the round of 16 for the first time in 12 years at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The Korea U-20 National Team sailed through the group stage of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina ‘unbeaten’. Head coach Kim Eun-joong’s side booked their place in the knockout stages early on, so they were able to rest up for their final group game and head into the round of 16 in good spirits. The team will now look to repeat their impressive performance at the last edition of the tournament, where they finished as runners-up to Ecuador in the round of 16.
Kim scored a goal in the 0-0 draw with Gambia in the third match of the U-20 World Cup Group F at the Mendoza Stadium in Argentina on Monday. South Korea had already beaten giants France 2-1 and drawn 2-2 with Honduras in the group stage, and had qualified for the round of 16 regardless of the result against the Gambia.
Therefore, Kim prepared a tactical plan that took into account their physical condition against the Gambia. Of the players who started the second match against 안전놀이터 Honduras on the 26th, Kim made seven changes, including Lee Young-joon (Gimcheon Commerce), Lee Seung-won (Gangwon FC), Kang Sung-jin (FC Seoul), and Kim Ji-soo (Seongnam FC).
The Gambia pounded on the national team’s goal throughout the match. However, they were unable to get past backup goalkeeper Moon Hyun-ho (Chungnam Asan FC). The Gambia sent five of their 16 shots on goal, but all were saved by Moon. There was a close call in the 21st minute when Moon’s shot hit the right post and landed in front of the goal, but the national team finished the match without conceding a goal.
The Gambia topped Group F with two wins and a draw (7 points), while the national team finished second in the group with one win and two draws (5 points). This marks the fifth consecutive time the team has advanced beyond the group stage at a FIFA-organized tournament, following the 2019 U-20 World Cup in Poland (runner-up), the U-17 World Cup in Brazil (quarterfinals), the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo (quarterfinals – organized by the International Olympic Committee, hosted by FIFA), and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (round of 16). Iraq and Japan, the two other Asian nations to compete at the tournament, both failed to advance past the round of 16.
“We used a lineup with players who hadn’t played much in the past to ensure their fitness,” said Kim, “and the players who came on in the second half were substituted sequentially to maintain their game sense for the next match.”
The team will next face South American powerhouse Ecuador in the Round of 16 on March 2 at Santiago del Estero Stadium. Ecuador is arguably the easiest opponent in the round of 16. Group 1 winner The Gambia will face Uruguay, which borders Argentina. The national team has fond memories of Ecuador. The U-20s, coached by Jung Jung-yong, beat Ecuador 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the last tournament in Poland. The team punched their ticket to the final when Choi Joon (Busan I-Park) scored the game-winning goal in the 39th minute off an exquisite penetrating pass from free kick kicker Lee Kang-in (Mallorca).
“The teams in the tournament are all strong teams with their own colors,” said Kim, who vowed to “prepare thoroughly.”