Kim Jae-Sung careered over to Denilson, wrapped his arms around his team-mate’s muscular frame and hugged him wildly. The final whistle had just sounded at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium and the Brazilian’s two goals had earned Pohang Steelers, who trailed at half-time, a 2-1 win over TP Mazembe and a place in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals.
Kim’s reaction was atypical of a player from Korea Republic, a land of premeditative, reserved inhabitants. It was one born out of abundant relief. The No7 had spurned a gilt-edged opportunity to equalise towards the end of the first half. As he trudged in at the break, head bowed, his mind was consumed by the plauging threat that he may have cost his side the chance to face Estudiantes in the last four.
“I felt that miss could have lost us the game,” Kim admitted to FIFA.com. “I felt responsible. I felt I’d let my team-mates down. That’s why I was desperate to get Pohang back into the game.”
Fortunately for the 26-year-old, his colleague spared his blushes. Kim explained his gratitude: “I ran over to Denilson and told him, ‘thank you, thank you, you saved my life! I’m so happy, I’m very grateful to you’, before joking: “Maybe I’ll buy him a gift when we get home!”
Actually, Kim’s limp shot was an inaccurate reflection on his overall performance. While he did not illuminate the Mohammed Bin Zayed as he did the AFC Champions League 2009, the 26-year-old did cause problems with his impulsive darts and inventive passes.
“My friends and family have all been telling me that I’m in the best form of my career,” Kim said. “When I first played in the AFC Champions League last year, I had the talent but I wasn’t confident enough to express myself. Now I am, and playing in the FIFA World Cup, against the best sides in the world, can only improve you as a player.”
One of those teams await Pohang Steelers in Tuesday’s first semi-final. “We don’t really watch Argentinian football in Korea, but we’re going to be studying some videos of Estudiantes,” Kim explained. “We all know about Veron, of course. He’s a legend of the sport, but he’s getting on and I think his best days are behind him. I hope to get the better of him out on the pitch.
“It will be difficult for us to win because Estudiantes are obviously a strong side. Technically, they are better than us, but I think we are mentally stronger and have a greater work-rate. This is why I believe we will beat them. But regardless of the outcome, playing in the Club World Cup is a wonderful experience. It’s a very prestigious competition and it’s an honour to be representing Korea and the whole of Asia.
“Reaching the final would be fulfilling a dream, though. Moreover, it would be amazing to play against Barcelona. They are a great team, wonderful to watch, but I really think we’d have a chance of beating them. Anyone can beat anyone in a game of football.”