■ Heartfelt advice from Kim Eun-joong, who led the U-20 World Cup to the final four
“The moment you are satisfied, go downhill.
You have to find out what to do”
Emphasising efforts to develop skills
“At the World Cup, defence first, counterattack second.
Young players are amazing and special
Trust in the team unlocked potential”
After reaching the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Kim Eun-joong, 44, has some heartfelt advice for his players as he prepares to say goodbye.
The national team reached the last four for the third time in their history at the U-20 World Cup, which concluded on Wednesday (12 June). But they were initially met with indifference. They lacked a standout star like Lee Kang-in (Mallorca) at the 2019 tournament in Poland, where they finished runners-up. It was even labelled the ‘valley generation’ compared to the 2019 squad, which was dubbed the ‘golden generation’. Of the 21 players in the squad, 19 were aged between 19 and 20. Of the 19, only Bae Jun-ho (Daejeon Hana Citizen) was a regular starter.
However, the team far exceeded the expectations of experts and football fans alike. They beat favourites France 2-1 in the first round of the group stage, and then went on to win the round of 16 and the quarter-finals, earning applause not only in Korea but around the world. In an interview at the team’s accommodation, the Grand Brizo Hotel in La Plata, Argentina, on 12 December, Kim said: “Our first goal was to pass the group stage, and if we got to the round of 16, we were going to give it our all, so the staff expected to reach the quarter-finals if we did well. When we won the quarter-final, I was in tears because I felt the players were amazing and I was happy for them.”
The national team players made a name for themselves at the U-20 World Cup, but once they returned to their clubs, they became ‘unknowns’ again. “In the professional world, they don’t wait for you. If you don’t get stronger, you won’t survive. The moment you are satisfied, you will go downhill. Don’t be satisfied, work hard, find out what you can do and do it,” he said. He emphasised the importance of not being complacent and continuing to work hard to improve, both now and in the future.
The team’s success at the tournament was due to the strong relationship between the coach and the players. The communication between Kim, a Generation X coach, and the Generation Z players seemed to be difficult, but the players trusted and followed Kim’s sincere approach. “I was sincere in trying to teach them one more thing, and I think they knew that, and I think that’s what built the trust in the team,” says Kim. “You don’t know what you have or what you can do until you play for the team, and a lot of times our players didn’t even know that. There were times when they came here and realised their potential and said to the coaching staff, ‘I can do this’.”
The tournament also highlighted the team’s ‘silly football’. It’s a tactic that involves defending tightly and then attacking the opposition with quick counter-attacks and set pieces. This tactic was developed about two weeks before the start of the tournament. It was trust and faith that shone through.
“We had about two weeks to prepare because we knew it was the only way to beat France. I wasn’t too worried because I had always stressed to the players about transition, but defence was the key. We had video meetings to set up our defensive positions, and the players responded well because we had been doing it for a while.”
Team captain Lee Seung-won (Gangwon FC) was one of the players who improved the most during the tournament. Lee scored three goals and provided four assists, earning him a bronze ball as the tournament’s third-best player. Lee took Kim’s advice to heart: “Just because you do well at the tournament doesn’t mean you’ll get a chance to play for your home team. “The golden ball has a different shine to it,” he said. “When I received the bronze ball, I thought, ‘I’m going to play for my team. When I got the bronze ball, I got greedy for the gold. I will continue to improve with the goal of earning a spot on the senior national team 토토사이트.”