Choi Seok-hyeon of Korea’s national football team celebrates his tiebreaker goal against Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 tournament on June 5. (Yonhap)
A deciding goal by Choi Seok-hyeon (Dankook University) in the fifth minute of overtime landed South Korea in the semifinals of its second straight FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Thanks to Choi’s goal, the South Korean U-20 team under head coach Kim Eun-jung scored a 1-0 victory over Nigeria in the cup’s quarterfinal on Monday at the Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. It was Choi’s second straight match-scoring a goal, after the round of 16 match against Ecuador.
South Korea is now set to battle Italy for a spot in the finals at 6 am on Friday.
This is the second straight U-20 World Cup where South Korea has reached the semifinals. It’s also the fifth time overall that the men’s national team has made the semifinals at a FIFA-organized event, after the U-20 World Cups in 1983 and 2019, the World Cup hosted by South Korea and Japan in 2002, and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Their best finish to date has been as runners-up in the 2019 U-20 World Cup.
South Korea’s national football team carries the country’s flag after winning 1-0 over Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 tournament on June 5. (Yonhap)
South Korea approached the match Monday with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Lee Young-jun (Gimcheon Sangmu) at the front line and Kang Seong-jin (Seoul) and Kim Yong-hak (Portimonense) on the left and right wings.
Positioned at the center were Lee Seung-won (Gangwon), Lee Chan-wook (South Gyeongsang), and Kang Sang-yoon (North Jeolla), while Bae Seo-jun (Daejeon), Kim Ji-soo (Seongnam), Choi Seok-hyeon, and Park Chang-woo (North Jeolla) were on defense. The goalkeeper was Kim Joon-hong (Gimcheon).
Neither team was able to secure any opportunities in the 90 minutes of the first and second halves. South Korea mainly followed an approach of defense followed by attack, while Nigeria remained aggressive throughout the match but could not land any decisive blows.
In terms of attack percentages, South Korea lagged by a margin of 32% to 46%, and it also remained behind in overall shots (4-22) and shots on target (1-3).
But in the final stages, center-back Choi took advantage of a shot on target opportunity that came early in overtime. Standing near the goal zone, he used his head to divert a fast and low side corner kick from Lee Seung-won, placing it in the corner out of reach of the opponents’ goalkeeper.
With Choi also landing a decisive goal off of a corner kick by Lee early in the second half of the round of 16 match against Ecuador, the two players’ combo once again proved to be a winning formula.
“Lee Seung-won put up a terrific ball, and I just headed it in,” Choi said after the match.
“Today’s match was really a difficult hurdle, and I’m just glad we managed the victory with so much of our energy depleted. Now we’re going to prepare hard for a good match against Italy,” he added.
Choi Seok-hyeon hits a header during a match against Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 tournament on June 5. (Yonhap)
While the winning shot was scored by Choi — a defender who also lands goals — the winning formula for South Korea has been based on deft crosses by Lee, a kicking specialist. As captain, Lee had managed one goal and four assists at the event as of Monday, including the group stage.
Deploying a robust football strategy of defense followed by attack, head coach Kim Eun-jung said after the match that the team “put up a good result because the players did a good job of hanging tough.”
“They were terrific. They’re looking like the future of South Korean football, so I’m just really grateful,” he added.
At 6 am on Friday, the South Korean team is scheduled to battle Italy for a spot in the finals. Italy reached the semifinals with a 3-1 victory over Colombia in the quarterfinals the day before.
So far in the tournament, Korea has three wins and two draws, while Italy has four wins and one loss.
By Kim Chang-keum, senior staff writer
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