Lee Dong-gyeong of South Korea celebrates his goal against Argentina in the teams' Olympic men's football tuneup match at Yongin Mireu Stadium in Yongin, 50 kilometers south of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Throughout his team's training camp for the upcoming Olympic men's football tournament, South Korean head coach Kim Hak-bum has been trying to hammer home one constant message.
Play with confidence, and don't be scared against anyone.
And that message appears to have gotten through to midfielder Lee Dong-gyeong, who scored a breathtaking goal against Argentina in a pre-Tokyo tuneup match Tuesday.
Lee's thunderous midrange strike in the 34th minute tied the score at 1-1 at Yongin Mireu Stadium in Yongin, 50 kilometers south of Seoul. Argentina broke the deadlock early in the second half, which only set the stage for Um Won-sang's last-gasp equalizer. It gave South Korea a 2-2 draw they didn't entirely deserve.
His team's defensive woes notwithstanding, Um, like Lee, emerged from the hard-fought match feeling confident that Argentina can be beat should the two countries meet again at the Olympics.
A lot of things must break right for that to happen. South Korea will play out of Group B, and Argentina will be in Group C. The earliest they can meet is in the semifinals.
In his postmatch interview, Lee spoke of Kim's pregame message about not backing down against Argentina, and how the players kept battling until the final whistle.
"I think we all gained confidence that we could beat Argentina if we meet in the semifinals," Lee said. "The coach has told us that no matter how strong our opponents are, we can beat them if we play with confidence. And I think I saw a glimpse of that possibility today."
As for his highlight reel-worthy shot, taken from a few meters beyond the penalty arc, Lee said he heeded his coach's message to shoot as often as possible, even from afar.
Asked about the team's overall effort, Lee said, "We were able to create good counterattacking opportunities against skilled players. It would have been better if we hadn't given up goals."
Um, too, followed Kim's advice to the letter, as he looked more aggressive than usual in firing shots from all over the place.
His goal also came from a distance, but Um's calling card remains his blazing speed.
"I know I am fast, and I'll capitalize on my speed as much as I can at the Olympics," he said. "I know my role will change from match to match. And no matter what that may be, I'll do my best whatever the coach asks me to do."
Coach Kim himself offered that despite some obvious defensive shortcomings, he still had reasons to feel optimistic about South Korea's chances in Tokyo.
The second and final tuneup match for South Korea is Friday against France.
"They're obviously a great team, but the key for us is not to get caught up (in the discrepancy in talent) and just play our game," Kim said. "We'll identify whatever problems that surface from that match and address them as necessary." (Yonhap)