The last time Hwang played Japan was in the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan last June.
Hwang named his best age-group squad for the tournament, including recalling Lee Kang-in from Mallorca. They cruised through the group stage, topping Group C.
They met Japan in the quarterfinals. Japan fielded a team of 19- to 21-year-olds instead of 23-year-olds with the long-term goal of preparing for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The odds were stacked in favor of the Koreans.
But when the lid was lifted, the game played out differently than expected. Japan scored the first goal in the 21st minute of the first half and added a second in the 20th minute. Japan’s third goal came in the 35th minute, sending Hwang to his knees with a score of 0-3. Prior to this tournament, South Korea had never reached the quarterfinals of the U23 Asian Cup.
Coincidentally, many of the players who played in that match, including Lee Kang-in, are in the squad for this tournament. They are midfielders Hong Hyun-seok and Ko Young-joon, 온라인카지노 defender Choi Joon, goalkeeper Min Sung-joon, and forward Cho Young-wook.
“We lost heavily to Japan last year, so we want to redeem ourselves,” said midfielder Hong Hyun-seok, who has been the mainstay of the team. “Of course, we need revenge,” said forward Cho Young-wook, “but honestly, even when I see them for the first time, all I can think about is winning. I’m trying to think about how to win and how to prepare.”
However, unlike South Korea, which built an elite squad with three wild cards based on its current members, Japan is actually younger. Instead of excluding the overseas players from the last tournament, the team is made up of college players and professional rookies. This year’s tournament was pushed back a year, allowing players born in 1999 to be selected, with 2001 being the oldest, followed by seven players born in 2002, and one player born in 2004. The team didn’t draw any wild cards, but still managed to go undefeated through the group stage and earned a spot in the gold medal match against South Korea with a 2-1 win over tough North Korea in the quarterfinals and a 4-0 victory over Hong Kong in the semifinals.
“We will be fully prepared for the final and I hope everyone can play on the field,” said Japan coach Oiwago after the quarterfinal against Hong Kong, “We will do our best to win the gold medal.” “Japan was too strong,” said Hong Kong coach Jern Andersen.
Beyond Hwang Sun-hong, the final is also a chance for Korean soccer as a whole to break the Japanese downturn. In recent years, South Korea has struggled against Japan at all levels, including the senior national team. In March 2021, the senior national team was knocked to its knees 0-3 by Paulo Bento’s men, and in June 2022, the under-16 team lost 0-3 to Japan. The senior team also went 0-3 at the East Asian Cup and 0-3 in the U-17 Asian Cup final.
Coach Hwang Sun-hong said, “We have to win regardless of the reason,” adding, “We will take the last step together.”
South Korea has stood on the podium five times (1970, 1978, 1986, 2014, 2018) and won the most titles (Iran four) since men’s soccer became an Asian Games program in 1951 in New Delhi, India. After winning the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and the 2014 Jakarta Palembang Asian Games, South Korea will become the first team in Asian Games history to win three consecutive titles.