The month of June is nearly over and what a month of June it was. This post is late for sure but I still feel the need to put my thoughts on this June out there. (Full Disclosure: I procrastinated big time because I’ve been negotiating the transfer deals for all our new writers!)
I think it’s best to start with the good news of June and the hope that our young Taegeuk Warriors brought to us by making Korea’s first ever FIFA men’s final. The 3-1 loss to Ukraine was rough, but this month watching that squad was more than we could have ever imagined. To take you back, here is a great highlight reel with all the great moments and also the heavy learning experience that our boys received against Ukraine.
So I missed writing a recap of the final and I know that’s not what you will want to read at this point. Instead, let’s talk about all the interesting things we have learned about the future of the KNT through this U20 World Cup. I’ll make a list.
Lee Kangin is ready-We wondered about when we would get to see Lee Kangin debut for the senior national team after he was a shock inclusion in the March squad. Now we have our answer. The U20 World Cup Golden Ball winner is ready to be involved with the senior national team full-time. He should play a role off the bench to acclimate, similar to how Bento integrated Paik Seungho, but Kangin is ready. World Cup Qualifying is starting this September and Kangin has all the tools to help this squad create great opportunities to score for Sonny, Uijo, Ppanghoon, and co. He every bit should be tasked to play the CAM/false nine role that got him the Golden Ball in Poland.
The CB Position is Stocked- Finally we can say that we have very strong CBs in the pipeline to work with for years to come. All three of Lee Jisol, Kim Hyunwoo, and Lee Jaeik performed exceptionally well in Poland and should be plenty of depth to play alongside Kim Minjae and Jeong Seunghyun. Even more promising is the fact that Kim Hyunwoo is currently negotiating a permanent transfer to Dinamo Zagreb. He is currently on a 2 year loan from Ulsan Hyundai, but rumors are that Zagreb were so impressed with his play in the youth system and in Poland that they want to sign him permanently as soon as they can. With rumors still swirling that European clubs are interested in Kim Minjae, the future of CB looks bright.
Another San Cho?– Lee Gwangyeon was incredibly good this tournament, continuing the legacy of clutch performances by Korean goalkeepers that Jo Hyeonwoo started last summer. He has pretty impressive reflex save abilities even though he’s on the shorter side for a GK. It’ll be interesting to see how he keeps his form at Gangwon FC.
Tokyo 2020 will be hard to make– Just as the Asian Games 2018 squad was hard to crack, this Tokyo 2020 squad will be hard to crack. You get 18 players for the Olympics, 3 of them can be over 23, and we all know the military ramifications on the line. However, when you see an U20 squad go to the World Cup final with the Olympics coming up the next summer, that medal seems so close you can taste it. Here’s an idea of the 18 players I think Kim Hakbum should take with him to Tokyo.
GK- Lee Gwangyeon, Gu Sungyun(overage)
DF-Choi Jun, Kim Hyun-woo, Lee Jaeik, Lee Jisol, Hwang Taehyun, Lee Kyuhyeok
MF: Lee Kangin, Paik Seungho, Kim Jungmin, Jeon Sejin, Cho Youngwook, Um Wonsang
FW: Kwon Changhoon (Overage), Suk Hyunjun (Overage), Oh Sehun, Jeong Wooyeong
Do you think that squad can bring home a medal? I’m optimistic that the answer is yes. We have just brought home FIFA runner’s up medals, let’s imagine a glorious run to the Olympic final in Tokyo so that we can parade our military exemptions in the face of the world and those silly Japanese players (sorry, I get heated about Japan but I definitely would love to shove Olympic medals in their faces).
That’s enough glory about the U20 World Cup squad. Now we need to address the debacle that was Korea’s FIFA Women’s World Cup performance in France. 0 points, 8 goals conceded, only 1 goal scored. It was hard to watch. (Full disclosure: this was why there were no recaps after Nigeria and Norway. It was hard to write about just how bad they were.)
You’ve seen people like Hal Kaiser and myself talking about it on Twitter, but let’s be clear right now: this was not the players’ fault. The KFA absolutely dropped the ball in preparing this squad for the Women’s World Cup. So this is a postmortem on the KFA’s failure and what needs to be done to prevent it. First, I just want to share the one highlight from France.
Unfortunately, this was in a 2-1 loss where Korea largely dominated Norway but were undone by defensive errors leading to penalties. Sigh, the team had potential in midfield and attack, but a disorganized defense and goalkeeper injury crisis doomed them.
What must change for the Korean Women’s National Team?
First, I think it is time for Yoon Deok-yeo to be sacked. Everything about 2019 preparations for this World Cup screamed Shin Taeyong 2.0. Korea lost most of their friendlies in 2019, rotated incessantly, and failed to develop any cohesive playing style. A 2018 Asian Cup bronze performance that showed good signs of progress wasn’t sustained at all. If anyone is held responsible, it must be the manager. Yoon Deok-yeo should have been sacked right after returning home from France with 0 points. That he hasn’t says everything about how much the KFA cares about women’s football.
Next, whatever happens to the manager, this group of women must pick themselves up and qualify for Tokyo 2020. This is the great issue that Korea is having in succeeding in women’s football. Their exploits against Asian teams have brought them to a FIFA ranking in the top 20. However, it was clear that against teams from around the world, the gap is huge. Korea has failed to improve much when asked to play teams from Europe on a regular basis. They need more experience and Tokyo 2020 is a place to start. In the four years since 2015, women’s football worldwide has made a quantum leap in quality. The Taegeuk Nangja are at risk of being left behind.
Finally, I would like to end on a tiny silver lining. I say tiny because it truly is tiny. One of the reasons why Korea is not improving in women’s football is because they play no friendlies against international opposition. They gather for the yearly Algarve Cup, AFC World Cup/Asian Cup/Olympics qualifying, and then that’s pretty much it. They got invited in 2017 to play the USWNT twice, and then they played Iceland twice in friendlies this year. They now finally have a deal with Shinsegae Duty Free, a large conglomerate, to finally organize 2 friendlies per year. Let’s hope this is just the start of Korean corporations sponsoring more friendlies for women’s football. The Taegeuk Nangja need more experience plain and simple. Let’s hope France is remembered as the turning point towards real change and support for women’s football. Remember, the KFA has submitted a bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup. We cannot host the tournament in 4 years and perform just as poorly as in France.