Goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong, a long-time understudy to Lee Woon-Jae, was a surprise inclusion in Korea Republic’s starting line-up against Greece. While there had been question marks over the fitness of the South Korean No1 in the build-up to the finals, few had expected Jung to start in their group opener on Saturday.
It was the realisation of a boyhood dream, and although captain Park Ji-Sung was elected Budweiser Man of the Match after the 2-0 win in Port Elizabeth, Jung played arguably the most important role as the 25-year-old kept a clean sheet on his FIFA World Cup™ debut. With his FIFA World Cup debut still vivid in his mind, Jung took time to share his thoughts with FIFA when he returned to the base camp in Rustenburg.
"I had only dreamt about playing on the World Cup stage," he admitted. "It was a whole new experience for me, and I was also pleased to help our team achieve the 2-0 victory."
I had only dreamt about playing on the World Cup stage. It was a whole new experience for me.
Jung’s surprise selection can be explained by the fact that Greece boast some of the tallest forwards in the tournament in the shape of Angelos Charisteas, Georgios Samaras and Pantelis Kapetanos.
"As the Greek players had the advantage in the air I had to be alert in their set-pieces, and the ball seemed to keep coming to me more than I had expected," said Jung, who stands at 1.9 metres. "It was also a little bit difficult to play in the first half in particular, because I was standing against the sun."
Despite his lack of playing time in the national team, Jung is establishing himself as Korea Republic’s next generation custodian. "I’ve already gone through that in the qualifying and I’m communicating well with the defenders at the moment," he said, when he was asked about the doubts over his ability to lead the defence. "When you’re on the pitch, you don’t really have to speak out loud if we already understand each other. That’s the way I do it and I’m confident about it."
A shy and polite character, Jung is respectful of his seniors off the pitch but on it there is no place for traditional hierarchy between the posts.
"I didn’t really feel the pressure about replacing older brothers like Woon-Jae or [Kim] Young-Kwang. But as long as I go out there on behalf of them all I have to is to do my best to stop the ball," Jung concluded. "We’ve played only one match so far, which means I should work harder to have more chances to play in the upcoming games."