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Football Reporting


South Korea sign off from FIFA World Cup with pride intact and a whole lot of newly-recognisable faces

DOHA, Qatar — On paper, bowing out of the FIFA World Cup with a 4-1 round-of-16 defeat seems like it would make for a miserable night.

But when the opponents were record five-time champions Brazil, and the team in question actually gave a decent account of themselves, then maybe the way South Korea signed off from Qatar 2022 was not that bad.

It was always going to take something monumental in order for the South Koreans to topple the mighty Brazil.

That soon became something miraculous when the Brazilians went two goals up inside the opening 13 minutes courtesy of early strikes from Vinicius Junior and Neymar.

By the time halftime came around with the scoreline 4-0 in Brazil’s favour, after further efforts by Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta, the contest — and South Korea’s campaign — was effectively over.

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Still, it was the Taegeuk Warriors who would have the final say on proceedings.

After being torn apart by some brilliant samba football from the Brazilians, South Korea produced a goal of their own to remember when they grabbed a consolation in the 76th minute — substitute Paik Seung-ho, a Barcelona academy graduated, latching onto a loose ball on the edge of the box and unleashing a stunning first-time piledriver that had Alisson beaten all ends up.

Paik’s superb strike aside, there is also plenty more that South Korea can look back on and be pleased about from their endeavours over the past fortnight or so.

For one, qualifying from their group with a draw against Uruguay and victory over Portugal as their standout results is an admirable record, even if a loss to Ghana did take away a bit of gloss.

For the most part, they were organised and resilient when on the back foot but also showed enough invention and penetration when attacking, even the finishing did not always match the build-up.

It is no surprise that Son Heung-min is South Korea’s star man by a long way. The fact that they got to the knockout round without him scoring once goes to show that perhaps they are not as overly-reliant on him as some might suggest.

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Of course, the flipside to that is how much further they might have gone had he been at the top of his game. All that is however conjecture — he deserves credit just for being there and having some sort of influence, all while wearing a protective mask after suffering a facial fracture at the start of November.

Through cameo appearances, Lee Kang-in – with his devilish deliveries on his left boot — and Hwang Hee-chan — who scored the dramatic winner in a 2-1 win over Portugal that sealed their progress into the last 16 — showed an aptitude for performing under the brightest of lights.

While understated in his mannerisms both on and off the field, Hwang In-beom emerged as potentially the Taegeuk Warriors’ midfield general for the next decade with a series of confident and energetic displays.

Even Cho Gue-sung, who seems to have gained worldwide recognition for his looks rather than his ability, displayed enough glimpses of his ability to suggest he could potentially earn a move abroad in the near future — especially after his brilliantly-taken brace of headers against Ghana which won him a place in the starting XI thereon.

Quite clearly, South Korea is not just about Son. They knew that about themselves but now, so does the rest of the footballing world.

So they depart Qatar, on the back of a heavy defeat but with their pride still intact — and with few more faces that will be recognisable to the average fan.

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And not just Cho Gue-sung.

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