National team players return to their European teams after World Cup
Players on the national soccer team who play in European leagues, like Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan and Lee Kang-in, are heading back to training and playing for their clubs.
The Korean national team arrived back in Korea from Qatar on the afternoon of Dec. 7 after Korea ended their 2022 World Cup run with a 4-1 loss against Brazil in the round of 16.
With the exception of Kim Seung-gyu of Al-Shabab, Jeong Woo-yeong of SC Freiburg and Jung Woo-young of Al-Sadd who headed straight to their respective clubs, the rest of the Taeguk Warriors all came back to Korea.
President Yoon Suk-yeol invited the national team and head coach Paulo Bento to a banquet at the presidential office on Dec. 8 to congratulate them on having reached the round of 16 and their overall performance.
After spending less than a week in Korea, Hwang jetted off Saturday to Spain where his Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers are playing.
Hwang, despite missing out on Korea’s first two group stage matches due to hamstring discomfort, was the player that scored the winner against Portugal in the final group stage match. That dramatic goal he scored during injury time won him the Player of the Match trophy, which was awarded by Budweiser, the official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup.
That injury time goal is not just an achievement for Hwang but also comes as good news for the Wanderers.
Hwang’s goal against Portugal marked his first-ever at a World Cup and he became the first Wolves player to score at a World Cup since Ron Flowers in 1962.
Hwang had joined the national team this November after spending a difficult year in the Premier League. Throughout the year, He had been struggling in front of the goal with Wolves, failing to score since Feb. 24 — a huge dry spell that encompasses 26 appearances.
Just a week before the World Cup kicked off, Hwang was excluded from the lineup, missing out on a spot on the bench in the Wolves’ 2-0 loss against Arsenal on Nov. 12.
If he carries his form back to the Premier League, the season could turn out to have a very different ending from how it started.
Another key player that showed off some form for the Taeguk Warriors at the World Cup was Lee. But unlike Hwang, his clutch performance was somewhat expected as Lee joined the national team in the middle of an exceptional season with his La Liga club Mallorca.
Lee had an explosive start to the 2022-23 La Liga season that saw him beat his offensive record for the entirety of the 2021-22 season in just five matches.
Lee joined Mallorca on a four-year deal on Aug. 30 last year after Valencia terminated his contract, ending a decade-long career at the club that started when he joined the academy at just 10 years old.
Lee joined Valencia in 2011 and made the move up to the A team in 2018. In the 2020-21 season, Lee made 27 appearances for the club, many of them from the bench, but scored only one goal. But his failure to establish himself at the club was seen as more of a case of untapped potential than a lack of skill.
Lee now has two goals and three assists across 14 La Liga games this season and that achievement saw him nominated for La Liga Player of the Month in August.
Lee rejoined his Mallorca squad, after flying to Barcelona, Spain on Tuesday morning.
As for Tottenham Hotspur star Son, he left Korea a few hours after Lee, jetting off to London to get back to play with his Premier League club. Many Korean fans were present at the departure gates to see Son off at Incheon International Airport. Son reportedly hung around for half an hour signing autographs and taking photos with fans before departing for London.
It was a tough World Cup outing for Son after he sustained one or multiple orbital fractures ahead of the World Cup during a Champions League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Marseille.
He underwent surgery on Nov. 4 and, despite worries that he would not be able to play, arrived in Qatar with a carbon mask that he wore for all four matches that he played.
Son managed to make that crucial assist in Hwang’s winner against Portugal in the final match of the group stage, advancing Korea to the round of 16 for the first time in 12 years.
Spurs will next face Brentford on Dec. 26. Whether Son will be fit enough to play that match after his injury and the World Cup is yet to be determined.
BY YUN SO-HYANG, LIM JEONG-WON [email@example.com]