When the final whistle blew in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, the Korea Republic players could contain themselves no longer and fell to the ground, beside themselves with joy.
For the first time in their history, the Taeguk Warriors had won a medal at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. Thanks to their 2-0 victory over Japan they can return home with a bronze medal around their necks.
“Today we made history and showed that Asian football is becoming increasingly strong in the international game,” a clearly delighted Koo Jacheol told FIFA.com after the match.
The 23-year-old captain, who plays for German Bundesliga club FC Augsburg, was crucial to his team’s triumph over Japan. Not only was his superb performance a driving force in his side’s victory, but he also scored the clinching second goal in the 56th minute.
Confidence the key
Korea Republic have impressed throughout the entire tournament at London 2012. They were tactically adept, played a quick, effective short-passing game and were strong in defence thanks to a robust and hard-running backline. It speaks volumes that their only defeat was a 3-0 loss against Brazil in the semi-finals.
For Koo, the reasons behind his country’s recent success are clear: “We have great quality individually. That helps us to compete at this level and of course it increases our self-confidence.”
It was precisely that quality which often helped the South Koreans come out on top in tight match situations. There was no sign of the reserved mentality they were often perceived to have in the past.
Koo believes there is a simple explanation for this: “As I’m playing in Europe now, I took the opportunity to tell the team here at London 2012 that we have no reason to fear the European sides. That’s partly why we played so confidently,” he told FIFA.com
Making progress for Asia
They can now look to the future with even greater optimism. “Hopefully our historic achievement here at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament will give other Korea Republic players the chance to play at European clubs,” said Koo, for whom the duel with neighbours Japan made the occasion all the more special.
“In my opinion, both South Korean and Japanese football will get stronger in the future and that will go a long way to help develop the game in Asia.”
As to what can be expected from the Korea Republic side in the next few years, and whether they can improve on their bronze medal earned at London 2012, Koo was initially more hesitant.
“Looking ahead to [the FIFA World Cup in] Brazil in 2014, it’s difficult to say anything right now,” he said, before adding with a grin. “But one thing is clear - we are confident. Let’s just wait and see what happens.”