The Korea Herald


[World Cup] Stars rise and fall in S. Korea's Russia 2018 journey

By Yonhap

Published : June 28, 2018 - 10:19

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KAZAN, Russia -- South Korea suffered an early exit at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but even in their short time at football's showpiece event, the Taeguk Warriors saw new stars rising.

South Korea were eliminated in the group stage at the 2018 World Cup after finishing third in Group F. They beat defending champions Germany 2-0 in their final group stage match, but fell 1-0 to Sweden and 2-1 to Mexico in the first two matches.

Among South Korean players who made his name internationally was goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, who started all three matches at the 2018 World Cup.

South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo (Yonhap) South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo (Yonhap)

Jo had only six caps under his belt before making his World Cup debut in Russia. He was considered a backup goalkeeper for this tournament, but beat the odds to become South Korea's No. 1 goalkeeper. 

Among three goals that South Korea conceded in their first two matches, two of them were penalty kicks.

Jo, who is with Daegu FC in the K League 1, took off from his World Cup debut. Although South Korea fell 1-0 to Sweden, Jo was praised by fans for his acrobatic saves and his ability to catch opponents' crosses safely. 

Against Germany, the 26-year-old was selected as the man of the match, with his clean sheet performance against the defending champions. Germany poured 26 shots against South Korea and six of them were on target. However, none of their shots went behind Jo. 

Son Heung-min was already a star for South Korea even before the World Cup, but through Russia 2018, the Tottenham Hotspur attacker solidified his status as the national team's ace. 

Son scored two goals at the 2018 World Cup, the most among South Korean players. He first found the net with his left footed curler against Mexico and bagged his second goal against Germany on counter attacks.

South Korean Son Heung-min (7) and head coach Shin Tae-yong hug after match against Germany on Wednesday. (Yonhap) South Korean Son Heung-min (7) and head coach Shin Tae-yong hug after match against Germany on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Known for his speed and thundering strikes with both fees, Son played full time in South Korea's all three matches and made more shot attempts than any other South Korean player.

With two goals in Russia and his goal against Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, Son now shares his name with Asian football legends Park Ji-sung and Ahn Jung-hwan as the highest-scoring South Korean at the World Cup.

Both Park and Ahn retired from playing with three goals at the World Cup, but Son, who is only aged 25, still active and will try to set a scoring record at the next World Cup in Qatar.

South Korean defender Kim Young-gwon became ugly duckling-turned-hero through Russia 2018, Kim wasn't really fans' favorite, with his past performance and off-pitch remarks, but he blew people's worries and criticism with his solid defensive jobs in the back and his goal against Germany.

Lee Seung-woo and Moon Seon-min also made impressive World Cup debuts even though they were national team rookies. 

Lee, a Hellas Verona attacking midfielder, and Moon, a winger at South Korea's Incheon United, had no senior national team appearance before head coach Shin Tae-yong announced his World Cup squad last month. 

Son Heung-min (7) and Lee Seung-woo (10). (Yonhap) Son Heung-min (7) and Lee Seung-woo (10). (Yonhap)

Despite lack of experience, the two attackers played two matches each at this World Cup and showed their talents on the pitch. 

While some players made their name, other players may remember Russia 2018 as one of the tournaments that they want to forget. 

Park Joo-ho was considered a starting left back for this tournament, but played only 28 minutes due to injury. He sustained a hamstring injury during South Korea's World Cup opener against Sweden and never came back on the pitch.

For Park, this was another painful memory because at the 2014 World Cup, he was on the final squad, but never played a single match.

Jang Hyun-soo also had a hard time at Russia 2018, with some angry fans even posting online petition to the presidential office to axe the FC Tokyo defender from the national team. 

Jang became scapegoat by fans for South Korea's first two losses. Fans especially exploded when he committed handball foul that led to penalty kick goal in the match against Mexico.

For other South Korean players, Russia 2018 was a tournament that couldn't even play for a single minute.

Goalkeepers Kim Seung-gyu and Kim Seung-gyu never wore the gloves at the 2018 World Cup with Jo's presence.

Kim Seung-gyu was originally expected to be South Korea's starting goalkeeper since he was the most experienced goalkeeper on the squad with 33 caps, as well as the 2014 World Cup appearance, but the 27-year-old had to watch Jo taking his place.

Among outfield players, two center backs -- Oh Ban-suk and Jung Seung-hyun -- failed to get a single minute on the pitch in Russia. (Yonhap)