Korea Republic still have their heads in the clouds following their victory over Mexico in the Nigeria 2009 Round of 16 on Thursday. The Taeguk Warriors have every reason to be elated too, having drawn level with almost the last kick of the game before sealing their progress on penalties.
The following morning, and with the pressures of that game a thing of the past, FIFA.com caught up with Korean captain Jin Su Kim, who relived the encounter as he tucked into a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice. "At the final whistle, we felt euphoria more than anything else," explained the Shingal HS defender. "We couldn't really analyse the match. Now, the satisfaction is still there, but we realise much better what worked and what didn't. We weren't good in the first half but we showed our character. What happened at the end of the game wasn't luck. We deserved it because we believed right up until the end."
Trailing 1-0 after conceding towards the end of the opening period, Kwang Jong Lee's charges never let their heads drop. "Even if we were behind, I never thought we could lose," said Kim. "We train hard and we prepared well, including psychologically, so that we'd be ready for that type of situation. That's why neither the players nor the coach panicked."
Taking his responsibilities very seriously, the captain himself played an important role in raising morale. "At half-time, I told my team-mates not to rush things, that our chance would definitely come and, at that moment, we'd have to make sure we didn't let it pass."
Korea Republic's chance did indeed come, with Dong Jin Kim restoring parity in stoppage time. The last-gasp nature of the goal had the added benefit of sending morale shooting through the roof in the Taeguk Warrior camp, while flattening the mood of their opponents. "When you come back in that way, you always have a little advantage afterwards," added the team's defensive stalwart. "We'd been anxious about our future coming down to penalty kicks, but we felt freer because we'd already achieved something positive. When you're in that frame of mind, things often turn out well."
That is precisely how it went for the Asian side as the match was decided from the spot, and Kim himself contributed his own effort to the cause. "When I took my penalty, the first Mexican penalty taker had already missed," he recalled. "Because of that, I had less pressure, but the responsibility is enormous, especially for a captain. I didn't want to let my team-mates down. "I'm honoured by the role of captain," continued the youngster, who earlier in the tournament helped himself to a goal against Italy. "Instead of telling my players what to do, I try to show them the way with my actions. I know I can't do everything, but if I give my all, maybe that will motivate my colleagues."
All for the cause
Given that attitude, and Kim's tendency to cover the entire pitch, his favourite player should perhaps come as no surprise: "Gennaro Gattuso. He's not the most elegant player, but he's the incarnation of combativeness and sacrifice. He gives everything for the team without looking for personal glory."
In contrast to his idol, who boasts a long list of honours, Kim has yet to open his trophy collection. He knows exactly how he would like to start his CV, however. "I haven't won anything yet, so winning this World Cup would be the best start possible to my career," said the left-back, who has taken up position in central defence for the good of the team. "After that, I want to move forward step by step while trying to progress through all the age groups. My dream is to one day be a senior international and to take part in a World Cup."
Despite those lofty aims, Kim does not need much encouragement to focus his sights back on Korea Republic's quarter-final meeting with hosts Nigeria. "They're a team we've seen several times," he said. "We even faced and beat them a few months ago, so they've got a style of play and an organisation on the pitch we understand and can master," he added. "But they've changed a lot since then and they're at home during the World Cup. The context is completely different, but we'll go out on to the pitch without fear. We can't be afraid of anyone; otherwise, you need to choose another career."
In Jin Sun Kim's case, the career of footballer seems well on the way to becoming reality, but with such obvious maturity he could almost pass himself off as a coach.