Alhough the No18 is usually given to substitute players, it has a different and special meaning in Korea Republic. It is not just a number but something of an honour bestowed on the back of young hopefuls who are expected to follow in the footsteps of legendary striker Hwang Sun-Hong.
At the age of 20, Hwang scored the first of his 50 international goals on his debut against arch-rivals Japan at the 1988 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar. By the time he netted the winner against Korea DPR in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier for Italy 90, Hwang had been affectionately dubbed Hwangsae (the Stork) for his graceful playing style and regarded as a natural successor to the much celebrated Cha Bum-Kun.
Despite being rated amongst Asia's finest, Hwang's appearances on the grandest stage of all proved to be relatively disappointing. He appeared in just two of the three group matches, against Belgium and Uruguay, as Korea Republic suffered a first-round exit. Four years later in the USA, the South Koreans came back from two goals behind to earn a hard-fought draw with Spain, but failed to gather momentum and they played out a frustrating goalless draw against Bolivia. Hwang recalls this as "the worst moment in my playing career."
The last group game against Germany saw Hwang score his first goal at a FIFA World Cup finals, but the 3-2 defeat meant the Taeguk Warriors had to return home without a win, yet again. Worse was to follow with the Stork having his wings clipped in the buildup to France 98 - a last-minute injury in a friendly with China PR - forcing him to watch from the stands as his side went down at the hands of Mexico and the Netherlands, before returning home empty handed again.
Hwang's luck finally changed four years on with Hwang determined to make Korea/Japan 2002 his crowning moment. On 4 June, in the packed Asiad Main Stadium in Busan, Hwang opened the scoring against Poland with a well-timed volley on 26 minutes that proved to be the winner. It is a moment Hwang remembers vividly, and the beginning point of Korea Republic's 'last four myth'.
"It was our first win at the World Cup," the 40-year-old told FIFA.com. "I didn't realise at that time what we had just done, but after a while I could see how important it was for myself as well as the whole country. It was huge."
He focuses on the balance of a team, while taking good care of
individuals. I've learnt so many things from him during that World Cup
and I want to be like him some day.
Following the historic 2-0 victory, Hwang received an honorary citizenship of Busan, while Guus Hiddink's charges went on to dispense with Portugal, Italy, and Spain to reach the semi-final, where they lost to Germany. Hwang, whose role-model as a player was Dutchman Marco van Basten, says he wants to resemble Hiddink as a coach. "I was impressed by the leadership of Hiddink. He focuses on the balance of a team, while taking good care of individuals. I've learnt so many things from him during that World Cup and I want to be like him some day."
After hanging up his boots in November 2002, Hwang began his coaching career at Chunnam Dragons, where he guided their reserve team as assistant coach. He then left for England, Brazil, and Germany and undertook a variety of advanced coaching courses. Hwang even went on to take part in a fifth FIFA World Cup in Germany, in a new role as a TV commentator.
A second career beckons
A little less than six years after he kick-started the Korea Republic's fairytale run to the last four, Hwang returned to his second hometown to coach Busan I'Park. Some 32,000 fans flocked to the Asiad to see a 2-1 win over Jeonbuk Motors on his debut last March, but despite the warm welcome and the flying start, Busan struggled to finish 12th in the 2008 season.
Nevertheless, Hwang remains confident about the progress his side is making. "The players got to know what I wanted from them during the season, and it took more time than expected to understand each other," he explained.
"I'd like to transform Busan into a faster and more energetic side," says Hwang. "We will improve as a team that is hard to beat, with our own brand of organised and sophisticated football."
Only time will tell if Hwang can succeed as a coach as he did as a player. No matter how long it takes, however, the Stork already has bigger plans for the future: "My dream as a coach is to lead Korea Republic to the last four at the World Cup once again."
Facts and figures
Clubs: Bayer Leverkusen (1991-92), Wuppertaler SV (1992-93), Pohang Steelers (1993-98), Cerezo Osaka (1998-99), Suwon Bluewings (on loan to Kasiwa Reysol 2000-02)
National team: 103 caps (50 goals)
Honours: 2 Asian Club Championship titles (1997, 1998), 1 Korean FA Cup (1996), 1 Korean League Cup (1993), top scorer in the J.League with 24 goals (1999), appearances at three FIFA World Cup finals (1990, 1994, 2002)