No one paid attention. There were no star players who could attract the public’s attention, and most players did not get a chance to play even in their own teams. The so-called ‘valley generation’ has always been a tagline. The interest, which was different from previous competitions, led to not only disappointment but sadness for the players.
FIFA U-20 World Cup ‘semi-finals’. That’s why Kim Eun-joong-ho’s rebellion was more enjoyable, and that’s why it was more moving. Throughout the competition, the players came together as a ‘team’ and showed their fighting spirit and passion through impressive performances in each game, bringing joy and emotion to the entire nation. “It still feels like a dream.” As if the lingering feeling still lingered, a smile spread across the face of director Kim Eun-joong (44) as he recalled those days.
‘Joyful rebellion’ achieved after a lonely journey
“I told the players, ‘If you don’t prove yourself and explode on the field, no one will recognize you.’ The best thing about our performance in the U-20 World Cup was that our players ultimately proved themselves and received recognition. If our performance had been bad, our players would have been forgotten. As a result, I think our players created some truly ridiculous situations.”
Coach Kim Eun-joong recalled the journey of the last U-20 World Cup by saying, “No one had any expectations of our players.” Coach Kim, who met at a place in Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul to mark the 54th anniversary of the founding of Daily Sports, said, “The players must have had their pride hurt and felt sad about not receiving much attention. “As a coach, I was also upset because my children were not recognized,” he said.
In fact, until the previous tournament, the FIFA U-20 World Cup was always a hot topic even before the tournament. The 2017 tournament was held in Korea and Baek Seung-ho and Lee Seung-woo (Barcelona at the time) played, and in the 2019 tournament, Lee Kang-in (Valencia at the time) played. The presence of star players naturally led to public interest. However, there were not many notable stars in this competition until just before. It was true that fans’ interest and expectations had decreased compared to previous competitions. From its launch in January last year until just before the World Cup. This was the reason why Kim Eun-joong had to continue his lonely journey for one year and six months.
There were many challenges to overcome. Above all, the biggest concern was that most of the players were not consistently receiving opportunities to play for their teams. Coach Kim said, “Actually, at that time, other than (Bae) Jun-ho, there were no players who played consistently on the team. Game sense and stamina can never be created through training. As you play consistently in the game, you develop it without even realizing it. At first, none of the players had any game sense or stamina. “I had to prepare for the competition in that situation,” he reflected.
However, he couldn’t just sit still. The decline in interest actually served as motivation to succeed in the U-20 World Cup and fueled the players’ vengeance. Under difficult conditions, Coach Kim gave the players physical tasks and other tasks every time they were called up. He returned to his team and made his own preparations without interfering with training. Here, I made a thorough plan based on my experience as a coach in major tournaments. In the end, the only thing coach Kim Eun-joong could trust was the players and the plan.
“As I was preparing for the competition, the only thing I could trust was our players. Even if they were undervalued and not recognized, the players ultimately had to prove themselves. Coincidentally, I also had a firm plan. I was confident that our players’ condition would improve at some point. It wasn’t a confidence that I wasn’t ready for, but I had faith in the experiences I had had so far. “I had faith in the preparation process.”
There were twists and turns, such as the venue suddenly changing from Indonesia to Argentina. Coach Kim Eun-joong did not waver and focused on leading the team well. More than anything, he focused on creating a ‘one team’. Coach Kim said, “Our team was close-knit and had high concentration in training. “I think I was well prepared, including a clear goal for the U-20 World Cup,” he said.
A moving journey, Kim Eun-joong cried and the people also cried.
“Ahead of the tournament, we made a plan to first pass the group stage and then throw everything into the round of 16. Our internal goal was to reach the quarterfinals. To achieve this, we went ‘all in’ for the first game against France. I thought that if we lost the first game, the next game would not be easy. “In order to capture France, we changed the strategy we had been using in Asia.”
Last May 23rd was the fateful day. From the first game, the opponent was France, the favorite. A game that everyone expected to be difficult due to indifference. As Coach Kim expressed, we conducted a thorough analysis with the sole goal of winning against France, and also changed our strategy exquisitely to suit France. Unlike Asian competitions, we had no choice but to acknowledge our objective inferiority in power. Instead, we adopted a strategy that would allow us to win.
Coach Kim Eun-joong explained the reason for changing the strategy against France, saying, “Because we are a strong player in the Asian region, we take the lead in many games, but we still have to admit that it is not enough to compete on the world stage.” To borrow a phrase from Director Kim, we prepared thoroughly, and it was a strategy that no one knew about.
“The basic basis of our team was to quickly switch offense and defense and launch a counter attack when we lost the ball. However, if the defensive line is lowered deeper against a strong team, the distance to move forward by converting to attack when the ball is stolen becomes correspondingly longer. So I hit a middle block on the halfway line. Although the opponent’s style of soccer is not fast, they have good individual skills, so there is a lot of passing the ball back and forth in narrow spaces. So we narrowed the gap as much as possible. Instead, there was a high probability of stealing the ball if you entered it, and when you stole it here, I thought that a quick attack combined with the opponent’s slow transition of offense and defense would be effective.”
The thorough analysis and strategy worked. Kim Eun-joong showed off his victory by beating France 2-1 from the first game. Lee Seung-won (Gangwon FC)’s opening goal during a counterattack was a scene where the strategy developed while preparing for the match against France worked out well. In a set-piece situation, Lee Young-jun even scored the winning goal. It was a result that surprised the whole world, and it was a game where Kim Eun-joong-ho, who went all-in against France, gained a lot.
With his momentum rising, Kim Eun-joong moved forward without hesitation toward passing the group stage. They drew with Honduras and Zambia in succession and advanced to the round of 16 with 1 win, 2 draws, and second place in the group. Although they suffered from unclear referee decisions throughout the group stage, they persevered and headed into the tournament. The opponent in the round of 16, who said “let’s give it our all” ahead of the tournament, was Ecuador. Kim Eun-joong, who was already in high spirits, won 3-2 with consecutive goals from Lee Young-jun, Bae Jun-ho, and Choi Seok-hyeon. It was a moment to achieve the goal of advancing to the quarterfinals, which was the goal before the competition.
I was not satisfied with this journey. Kim Eun-joong defeated Nigeria 1-0 after a 120-minute overtime struggle to advance to the semifinals. After the game, coach Kim Eun-joong was interviewed by a broadcaster and shed tears. The tearful interview became a hot topic, and fans who were looking at coach Kim Eun-joong and his national team also had tears in their eyes. Starting with the victory over France, public interest also changed significantly.토토사이트
“I was very grateful to the players. It was a really difficult time. It was amazing that he was able to get through the overtime without falling or collapsing. And it was also a time when our players really stood out. If I had lost in the quarterfinals, it would have just been ‘I did my best’. However, as we reached the semifinals, everyone started to look at our players differently. In a way, I think the players proved themselves through the game against Nigeria. “It was such a difficult competition to prepare for that I still get emotional thinking about it now.”
Afterwards, they unfortunately lost 1-2 in the semifinals against Italy and did not advance to the finals. Still, Kim Eun-joong, who had not received much attention until just before the tournament, stood at the center of Korean soccer last May and June. Coach Kim said, “In some ways, getting to the semifinals was a miracle. I was grateful that my children came this far. Still, he showed a good performance against Italy and had many decisive chances, so there was some disappointment. “If the game wasn’t good, it would have been less, so it was more disappointing and at the same time felt empty.” It meant that Kim Eun-joong had grown to the point where he could expect to advance to the semifinals or higher with just his performance.
Thorough preparation, Kim Eun-joong was actually confident.
Behind the players’ remarkable growth was definitely coach Kim Eun-joong. In fact, this competition was very meaningful to Coach Kim. This is because it was my first journey leading a team as a manager rather than a coach. The first major tournament I led was the U-20 World Cup, so the pressure was probably great. However, coach Kim Eun-joong said emphatically, “He was confident.”
The source of his confidence was his long experience as a coach and the thorough preparation he acquired during this course. Coach Kim Eun-joong has served as coach and head coach of the under-23 (U-23) national team since 2017 after his retirement as a player. As a coach, he has experience in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, Jakarta and Palembang Asian Games, and Tokyo Olympics. He worked with coach Kim Hak-beom for a particularly long time, and during this process, he instinctively learned the preparation process for the competition.
Coach Kim said, “I worked with coach Hak-beom Kim for nearly 5 years and participated in three major tournaments together, including the Asian Games, the final Olympic qualifier (U-23 Asian Cup), and the Olympics. In this process, he naturally learned preparation processes, etc. He was naturally prepared on what to prepare for and how to set it up. To my surprise, the preparations were carried out in a smooth and systematic manner. “I think I naturally prepared well for the competition,” he said.
In particular, Director Kim Hak-beom’s tendency to prepare thoroughly was naturally of great help to Director Kim Eun-jung, who was close to him. He said, “(Director Kim Hak-beom) is very meticulous and prepares from beginning to end without the slightest compromise. From the coaches’ point of view, there are times when you wonder, ‘Do I have to go this far?’ It’s the same thing. “He naturally learned a lot,” he added.
In addition, coach Kim Eun-joong created his own long-term plan, taking into account the uniqueness of the national team, which has limited call-up, and the situation of players who were unable to play much in their teams. He thoroughly analyzed the opponent and prepared strategic changes to suit the situation. Even though he prepared for various scenarios, he did not prepare in vain for each game as variables always occurred during the game. The head coach’s thorough preparation and confidence, combined with the players’ potential, led to the U-20 World Cup semifinals legend.
“Before the game against France, a staff member asked, ‘Are you nervous?’ Actually, I felt more at ease during the World Cup. In Asia, we obviously have to produce results and dominate the game, but in the World Cup, we felt at ease because we were competing against world-class teams. Before the World Cup, I didn’t have any expectations for our team, but honestly, I didn’t pay much attention. “It was because I prepared so well and was so confident.”