U20 World Cup: We’re off to the Final!

Photo Credit: Yours Truly, 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup Final, Suwon World Cup Stadium.

I’m going to try something a bit different here so bear with me. The Tavern is not just a place for news about Korean football, we also thrive on our storytelling about our experiences falling in love with the beautiful game. Here’s a story from my experience at the 2017 U20 World Cup Final in Suwon.

As an English teacher at a hagwon in Incheon from 2014-2016, my closest friends were my mainly British coworkers. So, when England went on a run to the finals of the 2017 U20 World Cup in Korea, my friends convinced me to reschedule my flight back home so I could attend the final with them (I was already there during that time for a family visit). It was incredible to sit in the stadium filled up not only with Korean fans, but also many expat British fans excited to watch the Young Lions play for the trophy against Venezuela. They were incredibly ecstatic and drunk by the time the English players came to celebrate with our section of the stadium. My old boss received Freddie Woodman’s gloves and another friend (a Tottenham supporter) received Josh Onomah’s boot. It’s an incredible memory that they’ll always have. On Saturday, we’ll have that exact same opportunity since we’re in our first men’s U20 World Cup Final!

Let’s take a look back at that magical match in Lublin where the Young Taegeuk Warriors booked their spot in the final Saturday in Lodz.

The Lineup

Photo Credit: @TheKFA Twitter

With fatigue becoming an issue in midfield, Kim Jungmin and Cho Youngwook were rested in a lineup that made me a bit nervous. My worries were completely unfounded, as both Kim Seyun and Go Jaehyeon acquitted themselves quite well even though they had received little playing time up until yesterday. Go especially made an impression with his attacking nature and willingness to shoot from outside of the box, shooting just over at one point in the match (full disclosure: I was in the office during this match so I’m not going to remember many details).

Our defense continued to be incredibly difficult to break down, and our wingbacks Choi Jun and Hwang Taehyeon once again provided a lot of great width. Choi Jun (a former Ulsan youth product now with Yonsei University) is quietly making a name for himself with his great play out on the left. Remember, the senior national team right now is spreading play out left on a very regular basis.

Let’s talk about the goal for a second: Lee Kangin clearly watched Trent Alexander-Arnold’s masterful deceptive corner against Barca. On a foul out near the midway line, Kangin first makes it look like he’ll take the free kick on a quick restart. Next, he waves that off and motions for his teammates to ready themselves around the box. However, out of the corner of his eye he sees that Choi Jun is absolutely unmarked on the left flank. He plays a simple straight through ball to Jun who runs onto it first time and curls in a beauty. Three Ecuadorean defenders are scrambling for the block, but Jun gets just enough height to evade their slides. 1-0 Korea.

Ecuador had a goal ruled out via VAR in the second half. The call overall was a little bit tricky not because the line was tight but because Ecuador had so many players offsides! On clearance off a corner (I think?) 3-5 of Ecuador’s players were really slow to get back onsides and a ball was pumped back into the box. The resulting shot hit the post and then a quick rebound was into Korea’s net. Luckily, the VAR correctly ruled that at least 1 of Ecuador’s offsides players attempted to get their head on the long ball. No Goal.

And then there was this:

Lee Gwangyeon’s Jo Hyeonwoo moment

I mean, Campana was absolutely sure he had scored a late equalizer. Lee Gwangyeon surely has a strong case as the best goalkeeper at this tournament and that was an absolutely world-class save off a point blank header. That was in the 95th minute of added time! Michael Oliver finally blew the whistle after the resulting corner and that was that. Korea had made our first FIFA U20 World Cup final, surpassing the 1983 semifinalists.


This team is peaking at the right time and more importantly, has the depth to rest players without suffering. Kim Jungmin and Cho Youngwook started on the bench and Lee Kangin was substituted in 73rd minute.

Coach Chung Jungyong is putting on a masterclass in rotation and substitutions as every change he’s making is working out for him. He now has the options of Um Wonsang, Jeon Sejin, Cho Youngwook, Go Jaehyeon, Park Taejun, Kim Jungmin, and Kim Seyun in his midfield arsenal. It’s an embarrassment of riches that standout K League players like Um Wonsang, Jeon Sejin, and Cho Youngwook are not even guaranteed a starting spot in these starting lineups. Chung has worked with this squad for the past two years and really knows his players and what roles they can work in. I’m excited to see what lineup he comes up with for the final.

We’ll be back Friday with a full Ukraine preview!

Match Info:

Korea Republic vs. Ukraine

Stadion Widzewa, Lodz, Poland

June 15, 12 PM EST, 1 AM KST (June 16)

Broadcast Info: FS1/FSGo (US), TSN/TSNGo (Canada), All KOREAN MAJOR NETWORKS.

I just want to win and have that memory just like my friends have. Let’s get it!

About Michael Welch 89 Articles
That Halfie Korean-American who loves football (I mean, soccer).


  1. Very early days I know, but already envisioning a future “Dream Team” with LKI, Paik SH, Jeong WY, Lee SW, along w/ stalwarts like Son, Hwang IB & Kim MJ, all on the same field. A question, how many of those guys would be directly competing w/ each other for spots, particularly attacking MF? Are some of them flexible enough to play other positions, so they could still bring their skills to the pitch (a la Paik as DMF against Iran)?

    And how would such a team compare to the best squads SK has fielded up to now? Would Bento know how to make maximum use of all these guys on the pitch at the same time, one cohesive transition-mad unit?

    And as w/ all shiny new things, how good is the U20 GK Lee Gwang Yeon? Potentially better than the guys we have now, so no more debate betw. Jo & Kim? Also, what’s his height (can’t find on Google)? And Choi Jun, hearing good things about him too.

    U20 has my head spinning lol, but can’t remember feeling this optimistic like ever.

      • I’m not sure exactly either how it would work either, but I was thinking the same thing haha. This was my way of putting everyone together:

        They’d play a 4-1-2-3
        GK: Cho/Kim/Lee(in the future)/or whoever
        LB/RB: No one in particular in mind
        CB: Kim MJ + Kim YG(or one of the CBs from this U-20 team)
        CDM:Paik SH
        CM: Hwang IB + Lee KI
        LW: Lee SW
        RW:Jeong WY
        ST: Son HM

        I’m not sure how this team would actually play, but my ideal team to put everyone who’s been showing good potential.

        • What a sweet group right? I think Choi Jun is listed as LB, so if he continues on a good trajectory that’s 1 spot taken care of.

          I think he’s also capable on offense in a pinch, good for quick transition & when you need bodies to flood opposing third, or on set pieces like that beauty yesterday (I forget what his crossing is like, hopefully better than current Backs on NT).

          • Choi Jun is very very good. I am very interested to see what K League team signs him out of university and when he decides to go pro.

            He is similar in play and stature to Kim Moonhwan, and his crossing is good! I would say he is just as good as Hong Chul at crossing. And he’s way younger than Hong Chul so he can only get better at that skill!

    • Hi Dae! I’m feeling optimistic too! Lee Gwangyeon is good for sure. He’s 184cm or ~6′-6’1″. I think you can compare him to 2017 GK Song Bumkeun, who went on to earn military exemption the following year.

      Lee Gwangyeon’s next goal will be to earn the starting job at Gangwon FC. Right now he’s their cup GK only. So he’s gotta become a starter if he really wants to warrant a look for the Olympics roster. Song had been a starter for Jeonbuk in the 2018 season that led to him being chosen as the 2nd Asian Games GK.

      The GK of the future will come down to what happens this summer and next summer at the Olympics. Does Jo Hyeonwoo move to Europe and continue improving, thus unseating Kim SG once and for all? Does Song Bumkeun earn a senior call-up soon or a move to Europe? Will Lee Gwangyeon earn military exemption in Tokyo? All these questions and their answers will most likely mean that Kim SG shouldn’t be at the 2022 World Cup.

    • Here’s my team of the future, in Bento’s preferred 4-1-3-2:

      Jo HW
      Choi J(U20) -Kim MJ-Kim HW(U20)-Kim MH
      Paik SH
      Lee SW-Lee KI(U20)-Kwon CH
      Son HM-Jeong WY

      The depth off the bench will be absolutely ridiculous. You can bring Hwang IB, Hwang UJ, Lee JS, Jeon SJ, Oh SH, Cho YW, Kim JM, Um WS off the bench.

      Also, I didn’t even include Hwang Heechan. He better improve his game fast or he’s gonna lose his spot on the national team, because these kids are way better than him.

  2. This has been a great ride. No matter what happens in the final (it’s almost a home match for Ukraine), Korea U20 should be proud.

    I’m not so sure Korea has found their best formation yet, I still like Lee Kang-In to play back further in the midfield in order to control possession.

  3. Can someone explain to me why everyone is so excited about this tournament? I’m looking at a list of finalists and runners-up from past tournaments. They include Venezuela, Serbia, Czech Republic, and freaking Qatar. You all are acting like it’s the greatest achievement ever, but those countries haven’t done shit at the next level afterwards.
    Happy for Korea if they win or even finish second, but I’m just wondering… whats the big deal?

    • Hi Jay, thanks for your comment.

      You are absolutely right that the U20 World Cup is not a predictor of success at the senior national team level.

      However, the reason why this tournament is important is that it is still widely regarded as the pinnacle of scouting in youth football. It is especially important for football nations like Korea to do well to get their players in front of scouts from bigger clubs around the world. The hope is that a trophy on Saturday will be a ticket to moves to Europe for some of the breakout stars of the Korean team. Already seeing articles that scouts from Europe are interested in Um Wonsang, Oh Sehun and Jeon Sejin.

    • We all know that U20 World Cup is different from the real thing and that getting to the final of the U20 competition pales in comparison to doing well in the actual World Cup. It’s definitely not the greatest achievement ever.

      That said, it’s a lot of FUN to root for Team Korea. Korea is doing exceptionally well and is beating quality opponents like Argentina, Japan, and Senegal. It’s exciting to see Korea step up in this arena and showcase its own football stars of tomorrow.

      Korea’s success here also shows that the country is doing something right in youth development (which I’m especially especially glad to see). [Just look at what Korea has done with its women’s team, and we can see how the country’s FA can mess this up.]

      As I see it, the football world is in flux right now with increased focus on youth development, tactical know-how, and global monetary investment in the sport. The European countries show no stopping of dominating the football world, and traditional powers such as the South American countries are scrambling to keep up. Africa is losing its best to emigration, and sleeping giants such as the U.S. and China are showing some signs of waking up. Amongst all this, there’s a big question as to whether Korea can maintain its position as an Asian football power given how quickly other Asian minnows are catching up, and Japan is continuing to learn from Europe and getting better at imitating them.

      Getting to the finals of the U20 is a big statement that Korea is progressing forwards too (in our own way) and that our current team built around Son is not the peak of what we can or will achieve. There’s a lot of hope in the achievement, and that puts everyone in a feel-good mood.

    • At the end of the day, we’re fans. And like fans of any team, the success of our prospects is something we all want. If ur an NFL or NBA fan, it’s those top draft picks; baseball, you look to the minors for that future all-star.

      I can’t speak for those other countries, why they couldn’t build upon their success. And no, a U20 win is no end all be all; it’s not a AAA championship fans want, it’s the World Series.

      What KNT fans are excited about is that we have a pretty decent base of established relatively young veterans, and we believe we’re witnessing an upcoming crop of promising youngsters. And that if you mix the 2 properly, w/ a dash of luck, that dish might turn into something special come Qatar ’22.

      Think of it like that ok team that just misses the playoffs every yr, cuz they’re missing those few special pieces that would take them over the hump. We’re excited we might have found a piece or 2.

      Ofc it’s no guarantee, but the prospect of this, of several things coming together w/in the right window of opportunity, is what I’d say has us pumped, or me at least (won’t use the term “Golden Generation”, too early for that). Oh, and nothing wrong w/ a WC title either, regardless of age group 😉

    • zzzzzz. yeah, we’re all acting like it’s the greatest achievement ever and you’re a troll. switch back to WNBA games to get your fix.

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