- Jung Wooyoung could be key in Korea Republic’s final Russia 2018 qualifiers
- The Taeguk Warriors are in danger of missing their first World Cup since 1986
- Jung says Korea Republic are always confident against Asian opposition
Korea Republic are at the point of no return in the qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. With Iran already qualified, the Taeguk Warriors are left to battle it out against Uzbekistan for Group A's remaining automatic qualifying spot. And leading the Central Asians by just a point, it means that they can't afford any slips-up in the remaining two games if they are to secure their tenth appearance in the world football's extravaganza.
A series of below-par performances, which included a 1-0 defeat in China PR and a 3-2 loss against Qatar in the last fixture, has put their campaign in jeopardy. The disappointing results cost coach Uli Stielike his job, with the German recently replaced by former Korea Republic international midfielder Shin Taeyong. Having dominated Asia's qualifying for so long, during which they have sealed progression to the World Cup on eight consecutive occasions, it seems that the South Koreans' invincibility is under serious scrutiny for the first time.
Despite the difficulties facing them, though, midfielder Jung Wooyoung has lost little confidence. "Like any other players from throughout the world, we see qualification to the World Cup as the most important achievement," the 27-year-old Chongqing Lifan player told FIFA.com."It is a dream we have harboured since childhood. It (the remaining berth) will be decided soon and we don't want to finish with any regret. We believe we can finally clinch a ticket to Russia 2018."
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 13, 2017
The tasks facing them are indeed daunting. Coach Shin's charges face undefeated Iran at the end of this month in a game which they must win, before travelling to Tashkent five days later to tackle Uzbekistan in what is potentially a make-or-break. "Being frank, the fixtures add to our difficulties because we have to play our last game away," continued Jung, who has made seven qualifying appearances in their bid for Russia 2018.
“In Asia, the Korea Republic team has developed a reputation of feeling strong against any team. We always believe that we are the best regardless of the opponent. We can make it through as long as we maintain our confidence."
A player of unselfishness
A product of local Kyung Hee University, the Ulsan-born Jung made his name in Japan during his spells with the likes of Kyoto Sanga, Jubilo Iwata and Vissel Kobe. Capable of defensive roles as either a central back or a defensive midfielder, Jung has also impressed through his accurate long passes and forward forays from deep. He featured as Korea Republic's Olympic team won bronze at London 2012, and when Stielike took over he gave Jung his first senior national team call-up in 2015.
"I was called up to the national team when I was in the J League," he recalled. "I think it is probably my fitness and passing ability that made some impression on coach (Stielike). I was feeling lucky and I was so grateful (for being a national team player). Of course, I can see there are still many areas where I need to improve."
From then on, Jung has figured for Korea Republic in seven qualifying matches, in which they all won. Usually deployed alongside captain Ki Sungyueng in the centre of the park, Jung shoulders significant burden.
"I am placed between our defenders and attacking players," he explained. "I should run hard and try my best to help my team-mates in both defence and attack. It is a role which requires sacrifice. In football, only the team matters. So I am ready and glad to be positioned in any place if it is good for the team."
Jung was not called up for the past three games, in which they lost twice. With the decisive matches with Iran and Uzbekistan looming large, Jung’s experience would be invaluable in the circumstances. "It is always a top honour to play for your country, but it means responsibility too. I didn't live up to the expectations previously but I am ready to prove myself.”