The 2023 FIFA U20 World Cup in Argentina kicked off recently, with Korea playing our first game against France. We won 2-1. On one hand, the score should’ve been 2-0, with France earning a very dubious penalty towards the end of the match that even French media outlets admit was very generous. Yet we really could’ve lost this game 5 or 6 to 2, such was France’s wastefulness in front of goal. I was shocked that France could not score in open play.
Before we get into the match itself, a quick recap for context. In 2019, the last edition of the U20, Korea made it all the way to the finals. Led by the likes of eventual golden ball winner Lee Kang In, promising FW currently a bench player in Japan Oh Se hun, and a solid squad of now-prominent K Leaguers including Um Won Sang, Kim Ju Sung, Lee Gwang Yeon, and Cho Young Wook, the team defeated Japan, Senegal, and Ecuador before eventually losing to Ukraine 3-1 in the final. The KFA even had an Instagram campaign recently where the 2019 U20 class sent 응원 messages ahead of the opener against France (not entirely sure what the best English translation of 응원 would be because “cheering” doesn’t really work). The KFA also posted quotes from all 21 squad members in a “meet the players” sort of series – and almost all of them mentioned the 2019 heroics. So there was a decent amount of pressure on the players going in, and you would’ve forgiven them if they had lost to France (who you could argue are title contenders). Instead, the following team won 2-1:
I will make a second post detailing the squad and the manager at a later time. The more well-known names recognizable in this starting lineup are Kim Ji Soo, the Seongnam CB with rumors of interest from Bayern Munich and more recently Brentford FC, Kang Seong Jin, one of the top young talents in the K League, and Kim Yong Hak, who plays for Portimonense S.C. alongside Park Ji Soo, although he has yet to play for the senior team. The team lined up as a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 with #9 Lee Young Jun up front, #14 Kang Sang Yoon as the AM (he plays defensive mid originally but Jeonbuk has sadly been using him more offensively – we need more DMs!), Kang Seong Jin and Kim Yong Hak as our wingers of course, and Lee Chan Wook and Lee Seung Won in CM. #2 Park Chang Woo started RB, #19 Bae Seojoon started LB, and Choi Seok Hyun / Kim Ji Soo was our CB pairing. Kim Jun Hong, a Jeonbuk player already at Gimcheon Sangmu (but being overshadowed for his club by the slightly older Shin Song Hun, also a youth setup GK regular), started in goal.
The game itself was crazy. The first 20 minutes it seemed a French 1-0 was inevitable. Our right back #2 Park Chang Woo was a total revolving door with the French LW and LB getting past him with a near 100% success rate. Our CBs had to cover each time and fortunately, either their crosses/cutbacks were way off the mark or less frequently, they got a shot off that was blocked or way off target. In the early stages of game France held ~75-80% of possession, and throughout the game it didn’t get much better (they ended with 60%).
Yet somehow we ended up scoring first. We had maybe one shot compared to France’s .. many, yet a textbook counter attack between Kim Yong Hak and Lee Seung Won was expertly finished by the latter to pull Korea ahead.
After the goal we held on for dear life as more of the same continued. France would successfully attack down their left, get to the R side of our 6 yard box on a regular basis, and either flub the cross or miss the goal. I seriously felt like France was focusing all of their attacks down their left, while it kind of seemed like (to my eyes) that our players might even have been avoiding attacking down our right as well / avoiding passing to Park Chang Woo, because even in buildup he lost possession on a number of occasions. Thankfully, they could not capitalize on anything. Our team clearly has the technical ability to work the ball out from tight spaces and defended admirably, but outside of the 1-0 we were just as wasteful, with a chance from a GK error wasted due to poor first touch. Outside of a moment where Lee Seung Won the goalscorer was clearly pulled down in the penalty box, we didn’t do much to threaten France in the remainder of the first half.
The second half was a bit of the same – France got the better of our fullbacks, got chances, and missed them. They continued to dominate the game, and we almost had an own goal early on. But we soon scored against the run of play AGAIN, this time through a set piece – Lee Seung Won’s free kick on the left wing connected with striker Lee Young Jun, completely unmarked for his header. A deserved yet undeserved 2-0.
And then there was that incident where the French striker dove for a header and collided straight with our GK. Both players needed attention from the medical team afterward, but inexplicably, our GK got a yellow and France got a penalty? It was a bizarre call, and France converted with ease.
Speaking of which, now for the part that everyone has probably been waiting for. I think anyone watching this game, even the French media, foreigners on Instagram following the KFA, and reportedly also the French commentators, could tell that the ref was insanely biased. From the totally missed PK call to leniency with fouls, this ref did everything he could to favor France. There are tons of news articles on Naver sports on the topic of this referee right now. It was that bad.
Ultimately, a win is a win, as shaky as it was. We took our chances, France couldn’t. Let’s improve and keep up the good form for Gambia and Honduras.
Other observations of note:
MOTM goes to our GK and CBs, Kim Ji Soo and Choi Seok Hyun. They covered all the mistakes that were going on on our right side, and were instrumental in the win today. Kim Ji Soo really is very good. The KNT is really blessed with CB talent right now even outside of Kim Min Jae. Lee Han Beom is back from injury and is bossing it with Seoul, his CB partner Kim Ju Sung has been decent as well, while Kim Ji Soo seems to be on the verge of a European transfer. If he continues his form this tournament, he’ll be one step closer to a move actually materializing.
Our left back was shaky at times as well, but not the complete horror show as what was going on on the right. I’m sure he will review this game and be motivated to do better next time. But I would be surprised if he started next game.
Re: the midfield, I can see why Jeonbuk and Kim Eun Jung have been using Kang Sang Yoon as an attacking midfielder. He is very gifted and held up the ball well. The SC Freiburg II player Lee Ji Han was also effective after being subbed on. Some may call Lee Seung Won MOTM for his 1G 1A and his penalty shout – fair point, but on two occasions he gifted France the ball in our own half – hopefully we won’t be seeing more of that going forward.
We have never beaten a European side in the U20 WC in 20 years. The last time was against Germany U20 when we beat them 2-0 in 2003. In 2019 we beat South Africa, Argentina, Japan, Senegal, and Ecuador but lost to Portugal in the group stage and Ukraine in the final.
Official highlights are not out yet, but I will update this post if it does come out.