Eight months ago in the AFC U-19 Championship, the Taeguk Warriors were held at 1-1 midway through their quarter-final against Iran. With a ticket to the FIFA U-20 World Cup at stake, the players were understandably nervous against strong opponents and needed some extra motivation.
That was when Kim stepped in to add a few words to captain Lee Changgeun’s pep talk, as he recalled when speaking with FIFA.com. “I told the lads to listen up. ‘This game is only 90 minutes long, but depending on the result this could all be over or we could be together again next year. This could be the last time'.”
As Lee and his team-mates testified, Korea Republic became a completely a different side after the interval and went on to win 4-1 to claim their place at Turkey 2013.
But not everyone could make the trip to Turkey. Ironically, the Koreans had already lost two of those who scored against Iran that night, namely Moon Changjin and Kim Seungjun, through injuries in the buildup to the finals. In-form playmaker Ryu Seungwoo was the next to fall, being stretchered off during their final group match against Nigeria.
“Actually, the heart-shaped hands that Seungwoo showed when we celebrated his goals were all for Seungjun,” Kim explained. “But we never knew he was also going to be injured, it's very unfortunate.”
That has left Kim as the only option up front for coach Lee Kwangjong ahead of the Round of 16 clash with Colombia, but the Seongnam Chunma starlet argued he is not feeling the pressure having broken his duck in a 2-2 draw with Portugal last week.
“I don’t think I’ve got too much burden on my shoulders just because we lost them,” he said. “It’s true that they are good players but we can carry on because we’re a good team. A player cannot play football on his own, and after all, football is a team sport. That’s what the coach has always told us, and we’re not worried at all right now.”
While Lee Kwangjong has been his mentor in the national team for the past couple of years, Kim was also lucky to begin his professional career in 2012 as a room-mate of a living legend, who recently racked-up his 150th goal in the K-League.
“Before I was loaned to Seongnam this season, I shared the room at the clubhouse with Lee Donggook,” said Kim, recalling his days at Jeonbuk Motors. “At first I was quite shy to be around such a great player, but he was so kind and told me everything about movements, positioning, and taking shots.”
Kim, who stands at 1.88 metres tall, is known as the Giraffe among his team-mates, but has a flexibility and agility comparable with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who he wants to resemble as a fellow tall striker. In fact, they have something more in common: they are both black belts in taekwondo.
Although Kim has yet to establish himself at his club and in the national team, the 20-year-old is eager to prove himself and lead his country to the quarter-finals – a feat Korea Republic achieved four years ago at Egypt 2009.
“Everybody knows Colombia are the favourites but we’re also well prepared for them. Some people say that we’re the underdogs, which I do not agree with,” he insisted. “It’s a matter of our pride when they underestimate us. We’ll give everything we’ve got against them so there should be no regrets after the match.”