Kim Eun-Joong ended a great journey. Kim Eun-Joong’s U-20 team lost 1-0 to Israel in the third-place match of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023 at La Plata Stadium in La Plata, Argentina, on Wednesday (June 12). They finished the tournament in fourth place. ‘Captain’ Lee Seung-won (Gangwon FC) tied the game 1-1 with a penalty kick, but back-to-back goals from Anan Khalili in the 31st and 40th minutes of the second half proved costly.

Despite the loss, Kim Eun-jong-ho’s performance at the tournament was positive. Despite not having any star players, the ‘one-man team’ turned 안전놀이터 the tournament around. Coach Kim Eun-joong led the way with a well-executed ‘line defense and counterattack’ strategy and detailed leadership. With three goals and four assists, Lee won the Bronze Ball, becoming the third South Korean player to win an individual award at a FIFA-organized tournament. Kim’s performance helped South Korea reach the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup for the second straight tournament. Four years ago, they finished as runners-up in Poland, their best-ever finish.

The word “quarterfinals” is synonymous with “mythology” for South Korea, which shocked the world by reaching the last four in Mexico in 1983. But with results from the last tournament and this one, it has become a reality. There are some who say that major soccer powers do not give 100% to the U-20 World Cup, but in the last tournament alone, ‘monster’ Elling Holland (Norway) and ‘Serie A MVP’ Rafael Leão (Portugal) participated in the U-20 World Cup. Korean soccer has proven its international competitiveness in these tournaments.

The challenge now is to turn the U-20 World Cup standouts into a ‘golden generation’. After sinking to third place at the 1966 World Cup, Portugal won back-to-back Youth World Cups (the predecessor to the U-20 World Cup) in 1989 and 1991, creating a “golden generation”. The Golden Generation went on to dominate at Euro 2000, ushering in a golden era for Portuguese soccer. With back-to-back top-four finishes, South Korea’s talent has been proven. If they develop as expected, they could create a new golden generation.

However, talent is no guarantee of success. Unfortunately, South Korea hasn’t been able to translate their success at the age-group level to the A team. Poland’s runner-up generation is a case in point. Only ‘Golden Boy’ Lee Kang-in (Mallorca) has made it to the A team. Uhm Won-sang (Ulsan Hyundai) and Kim Joo-sung (FC Seoul) are on the fringes of the A team, but haven’t made it. There are many players who have yet to establish themselves with their clubs.

Experts say that the time after the U-20 World Cup is more important. Playing for the national team is essential to keep the momentum going. Playing for the national team is the only way to make the Olympic team and the A team. Former Olympic coach Kim Hak-beom says, “Players in this age group are very inconsistent. Even in this tournament, Kang Sung-jin (Seoul), who was good at the Asian Cup, was sluggish, and Lee Young-joon (Gimcheon Commerce) did not do well. In the end, it is important to establish an identity by playing consistently for the club.” Han Jun-hee, vice president of the Korea Football Association, said, “Players must now prove their competitiveness at their clubs.” Jung Jung-yong, who wrote the Polish myth four years ago, also said, “It’s all about experience. It’s good to go abroad if possible. After the Poland tournament, I was disappointed with this aspect. In the end, I think the under-22 mandatory participation clause is important. It’s not easy for a 20-year-old to play in K League 1 and 2. In the end, the players have to overcome it with their skills.”

Kim Eun-joong-ho’s players are the generation linked to the Paris Olympics. Members of the 2009 tournament, the first golden generation organized by the Korean Football Association (KFA), won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Hwang Sun-hong, the head coach of the Olympic team, and Kim Eun-joong, the head coach of the South Korean national team, communicate frequently. In addition, the A team’s head coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, has shown a keen interest in the younger players, suggesting that he could call up players from the U-20 team. If they prove themselves through regular appearances, they can work their way up to the senior team. After all, it’s the first step in creating a golden generation.

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