“The best enemy is within us.”
That’s what Hwang Sun-hong, head coach of the South Korea U24 men’s national soccer team, said after the team’s quarterfinal victory over China at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games on Monday.
South Korea will face Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 8 p.m. (local time) at the Huanglong Sports Center Stadium in Hangzhou, China.
Looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Asian Games men’s soccer titles after Incheon 2014 and Jakarta-Palembang 2018, South Korea will have to overcome perennial age-group favorites Uzbekistan.
Hwang Sun-hong has cruised through the group stage without any major setbacks. From a 9-0 thrashing of Kuwait in the first round, to a 4-0 win over Bahrain in the second, a 3-0 win over Thailand in the third, a 5-1 win over Kyrgyzstan in the round of 16, and a 2-0 win over China in the quarterfinals. In all, the team won five games, scoring 23 goals and conceding just one.
While the front line has been considered a weakness, Park Jae-yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai) and Ahn Jae-joon (Bucheon FC 1995) have been solid and scored goals every time they’ve played.
In addition, the so-called special second line has been performing at its best no matter who comes on. Jung Woo-young (Stuttgart), the Asian Games top scorer, has five goals, while Uhm Won-sang (Ulsan Hyundai) and Cho Young-wook (Gimcheon Sangmu) have also found the back of the net. Song Min-kyu (Jeonbuk), who was a late scratch due to injury, also warmed up by scoring a wedge goal in the quarterfinals.
Despite all the excitement, Hwang Sun-hong and his players remained calm. “We know that in times like this, we need to stay calm.
This is especially true for Hwang, who experienced it as a player at the 1994 Hiroshima Games. Hwang led South Korea to the quarterfinals with an insane goal-scoring performance, including eight goals against Nepal. However, they met Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals and lost 0-1, falling short of advancing to the final. South Korea then lost to Kuwait in the third-place game and ended the tournament with a gold medal. Even if a team scores a lot of goals and wins a lot of games, it’s all for naught if they lose a crucial match.
After the quarterfinals, coach Hwang Sun-hong said, “We need to take a step back and realize that our best enemy is within us. We need to take a step back and think about it.” After the quarterfinals, he said, “We’ll take a cautious approach, win the quarterfinals, and go to the final.
It wasn’t the only time Hwang talked about his composure and the team’s complementary strengths in interviews. “It feels good to win a big game. But you have to be careful. It can be a poison. Tactically, I have to praise the players who executed what we prepared well. We will quickly forget about the result and prepare for the next one.”
The players echoed Hwang’s sentiments.
“I scored a goal against China, but it’s always disappointing. “It may not seem like it, but I made a mistake that I shouldn’t have, and I feel that I’m still not good enough. I need to grow more. I remember all my mistakes. To grow, you have to fix it. I’ll do it again,” he said.
Park Kyu-hyun (Dynamo Dresden) said, “For us, every game is a final. No matter what players or opponents come, we will play our game without thinking about it.” 굿모닝토토
South Korea played Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals five years ago, going to extra time. A hat-trick from Hwang Eui-jo (Norwich City) and a late goal from Hwang Hee-chan (Wolverhampton) gave South Korea a 4-3 victory.
This time around, we expect a similarly fierce battle. The players are not complacent and are preparing calmly. We can’t let our guard down.