World Cup goal scorers look back on lessons learned in Qatar
The majority of the Taeguk Warriors arrived back in Korea on Wednesday after being knocked out of the 2022 Qatar World Cup on Monday evening with a 4-1 round of 16 defeat to Brazil.
Despite exiting the tournament early, the Korean squad can arrive home with their heads held high after defying the odds to emerge out of a difficult group and reach the round of 16. Four players get to return home as World Cup goal scorers: Kim Young-gwon, Hwang Hee-chan, Cho Gue-sung and Paik Seung-ho.
Of the four, Kim and Hwang are the only two who have been to the World Cup before.
Veteran defender Kim, playing at his third World Cup, was once again able to pull through in a clutch moment, opening the scoring in the last group stage match against Portugal at the 2022 World Cup.
This was nothing new for Kim. Four years ago in the final group stage match against Germany at the 2018 World Cup, he was the one to break the goalless deadlock, scoring Korea’s first goal four minutes into injury time. Son Heung-min built on that opener, allowing Korea to win 2-0 and knock Germany out of the World Cup.
Four years later, it was Kim who once again opened the scoring for Korea. After Korea conceded a goal to Portugal five minutes into the match, he netted the equalizer in the 27th minute. Building off that effort, Hwang scored the winner in injury time to lead Korea to the round of 16.
“We achieved what we aimed for,” Kim said on Monday night. “It’s still a shame that we can’t go further but I am proud of the players for advancing to the round of 16 for just the third time for Korea.”
Hwang had a frustrating World Cup, struggling with a hamstring injury that left him sidelined for most of the tournament. When he finally did get to step on the pitch as a second half substitute, he made the moment count by scoring his first World Cup goal.
It was only in the second half of Korea’s final group stage match against Portugal that Hwang was able to come on the field. But that was all the time that he needed to prove himself as he scored the winner in injury time.
“After the long four years of preparing really well, the final match results are disappointing but I am so very proud that the players fought until the very end,” Hwang said on Monday.
“Brazil put on a great performance and despite trailing behind by a big goal difference, we did not give up until the very end. I am proud of that. I am grateful for the fans who stayed up late for us and cheered for us.”
Despite putting on a spectacular performance against Portugal, Korea was unable to repeat that form against top-ranked Brazil on Monday. Brazil is the most successful country when it comes to the World Cup, winning in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002.
They have also finished second place twice, third place twice and fourth place twice.
While Korea and Brazil had recently faced each other in a friendly over the summer that Brazil won 5-1, this was the first time that Korea has faced Brazil at the World Cup.
“I’ve learned a lot at the World Cup especially after facing Brazil,” said Hwang. “It’s not just about working hard and fighting tooth and nail, but we need to be clever and efficient with our strategies. The players also understand this. This isn’t the end for Korea because we have many young players and I believe that we will grow into a better team and will do better next time.”
The 2022 World Cup will be a year to remember for the two other goal scorers, rising stars Cho and Paik.
Korea’s second group stage match against Ghana was Cho’s first start at a World Cup, after being substituted in during the first match against Uruguay. Despite being his first start, he scored a brace to become the first Korean to score multiple goals in a single World Cup match.
Although the two headers were not enough to stop Ghana from beating Korea 3-2, they were what gave Korea the chance to advance to the knockout stage, as Korea edged out Uruguay to earn a seat in the final 16 with an upper hand in goals scored.
“I want to thank the fans back home for staying up late and cheering for us,” said Cho. “It’s goes without saying that the players did their best until the end.”
Cho may be enjoying a sudden burst of global attention, but he didn’t just appear out of thin air. He was the top scorer in the most recent K League season with 17 goals, also picking up five assists in his 31 matches. He was also named FA Cup MVP after scoring three of the eight goals in both legs of the FA Cup finals.
“I could see how Brazil could be such a strong team,” said Cho. “Most players come from top clubs around the world, clubs that go to the UEFA Champions League. The way they touch, pass and play the ball is so concise and quick. They play impeccable football.”
After showing off his form on the world stage, this may be Cho’s chance to get some experience playing overseas.
“After playing against players from Europe and South America, I want more chances to play against them and grow as a player. I always thought of the World Cup as something big and scary, but now that I have experienced it, I know that it’s not. I now feel that I can grow wherever I go.”
The final goal scorer for Korea was Paik, who scored a screamer from mid-range in Korea’s clash against Brazil. After coming on as a substitute in the second half, he provided the sole goal for Korea and prevented the Taeguk Warriors from going home empty-handed against the top team.
“After missing out on the group stage matches, I vowed that if I ever got a chance to get on the pitch, I would do my best and be of help to the team,” Paik said. “I am grateful to have gotten my chance and am grateful to have scored for the team. I learned a lot from the experience.”
The emergence of younger players like Cho and Paik who were able to provide some crucial offense offers a glimpse of a bright future for the Korean team.
“Now that I have played my first World Cup, I understand how hard I have to work to get to the World Cup,” said Paik. “I now have a new objective of preparing well for the next World Cup. As much as I am desperate to get there, I will put that into my training for the next four years.”
The Taeguk Warriors arrived in Incheon Airport on Wednesday afternoon.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]