This isn’t a proper recap, just want to throw first thoughts about Korea’s promising U17 squad crashing out after a blistering hot group stage where they upset Brazil 1-0, conceded nothing and faster than you can say ‘san toki ya’ became the fastest Korean team ever to advance to the round of 16. But in said Round of 16, a 2-0 loss against Belgium saw a completely different Korean team take shape – one that conceded early – was sloppy, rushed passes too often, lost their nerves and lacked some quality against a clearly more organized and technically confident Beligan side. The game wasn’t over; in a critical turning point in the 2nd half, Oh Se-hun was pulled down blatantly in the box, sending off a Belgian defender with a straight red. The narrative was set for the comeback by golden boy Lee Seung-Woo, beginning with a PK to halve the scoreline….Drama and chaos ensued as a poorly taken penalty blocked by the keeper completely took the remaining winds out of the young Taeguk Warriors proverbial sails. That was all she wrote. And yet, as the forums are probably erupting now, some with calls for heads to roll, I find myself cathartically writing about this feeling…not necessarily to lash out in frustration, but to describe this calm. This sense of perspective that’s allowing this zen-like out of body experience to occur.
No, this is not as you may suspect, a self induced bout of delirium from Kentucky bourbon for this ‘yam-jin-ya’ calmness (though it just so happens coincidentally that I am sipping a bit. It’s a small glass mind you, not straight from the bottle – important distinction there). In fact, it’s looking at my 6 year old boy sleeping upstairs, with his dreams of being the next Messi or Neymar in his head as he slumbers that I return back to the laptop and my connection with you, the Tavern goer.
These kids are young, and I hesitate to come down too hard regardless of this round of 16 loss. This isn’t the World Cup, mind you, it’s the U17 World Cup, a youth tournament providing a neat showcase for young talent. It however, doesn’t reflect the current state of international football – not on a senior level of course. To emphasize that point a bit more emphatically, Nigeria has won this bi-ennial tournament in the past. Not to piss on Nigeria, their current U17 team shows promise in this particular edition -but again, we’re talking about kids here. It’s a safe bet Nigeria’s senior national squad will need some kind of quantum leap forward in development to advance deep into an actual World Cup. But that’s also the point isn’t it -not all these young players on any of these squads are going to make it. Will they make their native country’s senior team? Some will, some won’t. Some will become internationally renown. Some will fade into obscurity. Will some of them even go pro for that matter?
These are kids we’re talking about here. Yes, competition is competition, but even teams like Argentina (usually ranked top 10) when it comes down to a youth tournament like the U17 World Cup, wildly unpredictable things happen, like crashing out at the group stage.
But citing all that doesn’t mitigate a loss like this. The set up of a pretty successful group stage makes the fall to Belgium in the round of 16 for some feel particularly like a walloping punch to the gut. Might be an overgeneralization but the asian perspective may be to castigate failure in absolute terms. I propose a different take. Allow room for failure. That room for failure is not just a option; it is, at varying points in time, vitally necessary. It gives a valuable opportunity to learn from and grow – that is, provided that the fact of a losing scoreline doesn’t crush the young person into a state of demoralization and hopeless abandonment. That discouragement, and getting over that obstacle is a life narrative game changer. The development of resolve. Certainly we can criticize the likes of Lee Seung-Woo with his boast about seeing nothing special in Belgium prior to tonight. But we need to be measured in our critique. He is young, he is human, and he can learn from this. It’s not the end for this young man. Not when contextually he’s been out of competition due to an unfair FIFA ruling banning him from participating with his Barcelona youth teammates.
We can criticize the rest of the team rightly for losing their composure, particularly during the 1st half. They can learn from tonight and still be able to walk away with something positive. Some may be tempted to derisively say that it’s just Korean football. That’s the kind of fatalistic talk that I was hearing and witnessing in the wake of Korea’s 2014 misadventures in Brazil. Speaking of Brazil, and the U17 WC group stage victory over them – I dwell on the positives and remember that Korea was the one that had that ‘jogo bonito’ aesthetic football on display for the world to see. Despite only 1 goal scored, it wasn’t just that it was enough for a win. The whole team looked brilliant through nearly 90 minutes and played with confidence and finesse. They ‘out-Braziled’ Brazil, so to speak. They won in style. Twitter was on full alert last week -buzzed about the build up to the game wining goal – which was again as close to a complete TEAM effort as anyone has seen of this squad. One must remember (as Jinseok pointed out) this team lost badly to Brazil in the Suwon tournament late last summer, then lost to the US in warm up friendlies right before group stage kickoffs (further context: LSW was fighting off an illness – not to mention losing Jang Gyeol-hee to injury and later CB Choi Jae-Young out of the tournament after a knock during the Brazil match). That’s progress in this Tavern owner’s humble opinion. That’s improvement. That’s the truer measure of potential of this young squad, and honestly it’s raised my expectations of what domestic Korean football education can do. THAT is what I will remember and take away.
I, we, need to give young players room to fail. Creativeness and class isn’t born from a pyramid scheme Bernie Madoff straight line of artificial trend line progress. Experience, real experience, needs to be forged from the white hot cauldron of this kind of competition. Take the wins with the losses. Learn. Grow. Progress.
Bright future still ahead, if perspectives allow for cooler heads to prevail. Tavern out.
Extra Time: Ji Dong-Won scored his first goal of the season for Augsburg in a German cup match against Freiburg, and Hong Jeong-Ho notched an assist. Augsburg advance to the next round by the final score 3:0.
And check this for how weird tonight has been…a man was on the physical Tavern porch, talking and mumbling loudly to himself. mind you it’s 11 at night. I almost called the cops, but I went out to investigate myself. A homeless man asked me not to shoot him. I told him he didn’t have anything to worry about. He was originally from Kenya, a little drunk, taking shelter from the remnants of tropical storm Patricia. I gave him some food and a rainjacket, uttered the few Swahili phrases I knew with him (umoja which means unity) and he went on his way looking for his friend’s house. We talked about Emmanuel Jal and music popular in Kenya now. He blessed me as he walked away, to which I said, “Back at you.”
Further on a tangent -I think after seeing some folks who haven’t seen each other for over 6 decades reunite near Geumgang mountains in North Korea recently, it hammers home a bit more perspective: that this really is just a game we witnessed tonight. Nothing more, nothing less. I marvel that I have been able to see another day, and experience life a little longer. Tomorrow is another day. I think it’s going to be a brilliant one at that. See you good people soon then. Ddo bo ja! 😉