Ha Tae-Kyun is the talk of the town on the Korean peninsula. Despite only starting his pro career this spring, he has nevertheless sprung to prominence thanks in large part to one famous strike.
On 8 April, the 19-year-old Suwon Bluewings forward scored the only goal of the game against arch-rivals FC Seoul in front of a record K-League crowd of 55,397. "I tried to enjoy the game early on but I felt under a lot of pressure," young Ha told FIFA.com. "After scoring the goal, though, I felt like floating up into the sky. No doubt about it, this was the best and most memorable goal I've ever scored."
With the domestic K-League season approaching its midway point, the towering Ha is regarded as a frontrunner to pick up the Young Player of the Year award. At the start of his debut season he was just hoping to pick a few games here and there for experience sake, but he has already featured in 12 games, scoring three goals and grabbing one assist in the process. Even as established Suwon stars like Ahn Jung-Hwan and Eduardo de Oliveira have been warming the bench, new man Ha is called into action on a regular basis and is looking every inch the seasoned veteran.
A winding road to Canada
Although eligible to coach Cho Dong-Hyun and on the fringes of the national team set-up, Ha's place in Korea Republic's U-20 side was not guaranteed until he hit his stride on the domestic scene in 2007. The coach was seen as having enough strikers at his disposal, with Lee Sang-Ho, Shim Young-Sung, and Ha's Suwon teammate Shin Young-Rok leading the attack at last year's AFC Youth Championship. As a result, Ha was left out of the regional finals in India but he always kept faith that another opportunity would present itself.
During a training camp in Spain earlier this year, Ha was given a chance to play out of position as a right full-back, regarded by coach Dong-Hyun as the weakest spot in the squad. "Defensive duties were attractive and interesting to me. It was an interesting experience to play an opposite role to the one I am accustomed to," admitted the 19-year-old.
Although he is often compared to Reading's Seol Ki-Hyun because of a shared background (they graduated from the same high school in Gangreung) Ha's role model is Dutch hit man, former Manchester United and current Real Madrid star Ruud van Nistelrooy. "His power, ability to play with defenders at the back, and positioning are the qualities I wish to make my own," Ha admits.
Back to front
As was his wish, Ha proved himself as a predatory striker for the national team after his brief flirtation at the back in the Suwon Cup in March, scoring his first goal in a 4-0 win over fellow Canada-bound side Gambia. Ha remains humble though, saying: "There are so many good players in this squad, which means I will have to try harder to earn a spot at the [FIFA U-20] World Cup. I'll be able to score more goals if I react more quickly when chances come."
More chances will indeed come for Ha as the teenager is now a regular member of the U-20 set-up. He was called up to the national team ahead of friendlies with Mexico and Costa Rica in Busan this week and is one of just 14 professional players in the 24-man squad, most of whom will be short-listed for the world finals in Canada in July of 2007. The tallest forward in the team - he stands 1.87 metres and weighs 83 kilograms - Ha will be hoping to impress his coach and seal a place at this summer's world finals.
The young Taeguk Warriors will travel to Toronto on 17 June, when Korea Republic have a friendly with the Czech Republic the following week before their final preparation game with hosts Canada. The Koreans will be based in Montreal, where they will take on fellow Group D denizens USA, Brazil, and Poland.