Coach Kim Eun-joong, who led the miracle of the Korean U-20 national team, was nicknamed ‘Ottuk-i’ during his active career. When he was in middle school, he was hit by a ball and injured his eye, but he lost sight in his left eye because it wasn’t treated in time. He did not give up and worked hard even in situations where the focus of his vision was not good. As a result, he made a name for himself as a striker representing Korean soccer along with Lee Dong-guk in the 1990s.메이저놀이터
Centerback Choi Seok-hyeon (Dankook University), who scored headers one after another in the round of 16 match against Ecuador and the quarter-final match against Nigeria, is only 178cm tall. Originally, center back is a position lined with tall people approaching 190cm. Even so, he scored two goals, and scored them with his head through the tall forest. He overcame the inferiority of his physique with his quick feet, jumping ability, and unyielding fighting spirit. Like the director who was not frustrated by his blindness in one eye.
Kim Eun-joong, who achieved a miracle at the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup held in Argentina, received little attention before the tournament. He never had a star player. In the 2017 Korean tournament, there were Lee Seung-woo (Suwon FC) and Baek Seung-ho (Jeonbuk), who were playing for the Barcelona youth team at the time. In the 2019 Poland tournament, Lee Kang-in (Mallorca), who was playing in the Spanish Primera Liga, played an active part.
On the other hand, there was no clear ace in this national team. Even the player who plays an active part in his team did not stand out. There was only one player on the team, Bae Joon-ho (Daejeon Citizen), who appeared regularly in the game. I wonder if director Kim Eun-joong said, “I’m worried about the lack of practical experience.” Outsiders called them the ‘Valley Generation’ or ‘The Caught Generation’. It meant that it could not be seen between the two towering peaks.
Although it is an age-specific competition, it is a FIFA-sponsored competition, and few reporters went there. Although the venue was suddenly moved from Indonesia to Argentina, on the other side of the world, it means that expectations were low.
True travelers know. That the valley is more beautiful and comfortable than the top of the mountain. Manager Kim Eun-joong praised the team, saying, “The players have potential, but it was heartbreaking not to be acknowledged.”
Kim Eun-joong-ho showed that even if there is no star or power is low, opportunities will come if you do not give up. He lost a lot of share in every game. He was also beaten countless times. Even in the first match against France, which we won 2-1, the number of shots was 9-23.
Individual skill differences had to be acknowledged. Kim Eun-joong-ho did not back down. Based on his organizational skills, he blocked the opponent’s attack with a tight cooperative defense. Still, when it was penetrated, he threw his body to block the shot.
There are no decisions in soccer. Even if you keep getting pushed for 90 minutes, in the end, what matters is the goal. Either way, the more goals you score, the more you win. Kim Eun-joong was like that. Throughout the tournament, Korea used the tactic of ‘counterattacking after players’ defense’. All the players came down and locked it. I waited and waited for an opportunity. When the ball was stolen, second-line strikers with good speed rushed out and aimed for the goal.
Coach Kim Eun-joong never gave up on the offense. The trump weapon was set pieces such as corner kicks and free kicks. ‘Captain’ Lee Seung-won (Gangwon FC)’s elaborate kicks led to set-piece goals at every critical juncture.
Set pieces are the best weapon for a weak team to defeat a strong team. Even if you don’t have the ball, you can make a goal in one shot in the opponent’s camp. Coach Eunjoong Kim was well aware of the importance of set pieces in tournaments. He came up with a more detailed and sophisticated set-piece tactic that worked well in the competition.
The national team, made up of students born in 2003-04, created their own motivation. No one told me to, but I found a reason to win and challenged myself. It clearly showed the strengths of the proud MZ generation of our time.
Players hung their uniforms with the number ’18’ on their benches throughout the tournament. Even during the official shooting of the Best 11 before the game, I held the uniform and took a picture. It was the uniform of Park Seung-ho (Incheon United), who fractured his right ankle just four minutes after scoring an equalizer against Honduras in the second game of the group stage.
With tears in his eyes, Park Seung-ho boarded the plane to Korea ahead of his colleagues. The players never forgot him. Park Seung-ho left for his home country first in a wheelchair, but his heart was with his colleagues. His uniform has become a medium that unites the national team. After the victory, he did not miss the festival scene either.
Those who were ignored as the ‘Valley Generation’ were reborn as the new future of Korean football. Now, it is important to take care of them so that they grow well. There are no voices of concern. They say that if they return to their team, they will fall back to the bench and may not be able to play.
A football official pointed out, “Young players do not get many opportunities to participate in their teams, so there are many cases where they disappear without being able to bloom their potential.”