South Korea’s Under-24 men’s soccer team won its first-ever three consecutive Asian Games gold medals, scoring 27 goals in seven games.
Hwang Sun-hong’s men came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 in the final of the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games on Sunday at the Huanglong Sports Center Stadium in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China.
With the victory, South Korea won its third consecutive Asian Games gold medal, following Incheon in 2014 and Jakarta-Palembang in 2018. No other country has won back-to-back Asian Games men’s soccer titles, but this is the first time South Korea has won three in a row.
Hwang’s dominant performance at the tournament led to a ‘sweep’, but there were many nervous eyes on him before the Asian Games.
In June last year, South Korea lost 0-3 to Japan in the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Asian Cup, shocking fans by losing to the Japanese U21 team even though Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain), Hong Hyun-seok (Ghent), and Cho Young-wook (Gimcheon) all played.
In June of this year, the team played two away trials in China with a 1-1 draw, and in September, the team lost 0-2 to Qatar in the first round of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers in Changwon, Gyeongnam.
Although the Qatar game was played with different players from the Asian Games squad, the team was coached by Hwang Sun-hong, and it was said that the team’s prospects for gold at the Asian Games were unclear.
One of the biggest headaches for Hwang was that Lee Kang-in, the national team’s top player, suffered a leg injury in late August that kept him out of action for nearly a month.
Even if the injury healed, it was unclear if Lee would be called up to the Hangzhou Asian Games squad until close to the start of the competition.
The Asian Games is a tournament where European teams are not obligated to field a squad.
In the end, Lee was only added to the squad just before the second game of the group stage against Bahrain, while Hwang Sun-hong started to light up the path to gold with a cool 9-0 win over Kuwait in the first game.
Besides Lee, fellow Europeans Jung Woo-young (Stuttgart) and Hong Hyun-seok (South Korea) also showed that ‘playing water’ is different.
Jung scored seven goals in the semifinals, including a brace in the quarterfinals against Uzbekistan, while Hong scored an early free-kick in the quarterfinals against China, which was considered the biggest test.
The three wildcards, who are not subject to the 24-year-old age limit, have also done a good job of shoring up the national team’s weaknesses.
Baek Seung-ho (Jeonbuk) anchored the team in the midfield, while defenders Seol Young-woo (Ulsan) and Park Jin-seop (Jeonbuk) added to the overall stability.
It was a different lineup from the one used at the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games five years ago, which featured two strikers in Son Heung-min (Tottenham) and Hwang Eui-jo (Norwich City), with goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo (Ulsan) as a wild card.
This, coupled with Hwang Sun-hong’s leadership in keeping the players together as a “one-man team,” despite the presence of a huge star player in Lee Kang-in, has put to rest the doubters who were nervous about this team before the tournament.
The next goal for this age group is the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Hwang will rebuild the squad with players who will qualify for next year’s U-23 Asian Cup and prepare for the U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar in April 2024.
A gold medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games should put a lot of confidence in the eyes of those watching the team as they return to the Olympic fold. 스포츠토토