Nanjing has a rich history. The capital of the Jiangsu province is one of the oldest cities in southern China and was once the capital city of both the Republic of China and, occasionally, the country’s dynastic rulers. In the much more recent past, this ancient metropolis on the Yangtze Kiang delta has also been full of history for Korea Republic’s U-15 footballers.
In August 2013, the city was the setting for the Young Taeguk Warriors’ gold medal triumph at the Asian Youth Games, an achievement the South Koreans are keen to repeat at this year’s Boys’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament - almost exactly one year later.
“We’re happy to be back in this beautiful city where we have such good memories; I hope we can repeat this success,” midfielder Im Wharang told FIFA.com. “We’ve come here to win, but we’re well aware that this is the Olympic Football Tournament, with strong teams from all over the world taking part.”
Returning to the scene of the previous year’s triumph, the Jiangning Sports Centre Stadium, only seems to have spurred on the Korea Republic’s young players. The team began their campaign in an impressive fashion with a 5-0 win over Cape Verde Islands, and a draw in their next group match against Vanuatu would already be enough to secure their passage to the semi-final. “Despite our opening victory, we need to be on our guard against our next opponents,” Im Wharang said, warning against premature euphoria.
A well-matched midfield duo
Seongnam FC’s lively midfielder is one of five players in the current Olympic squad who received a gold medal last summer. His two goals at the Asian Youth Games underlined his attacking qualities as he formed an effective partnership in the centre of the pitch with Jeong Wooyeong, who also scored three times. “Jeong and I are old friends,” the South Korean No7 explained with a smile. “We’ve known each other since primary school and there’s an almost telepathic understanding between us.”
Despite this, the two pals have been deployed in different roles by their new coach Choi Young Joon. “Our coach told us to pay more attention to our defensive work and concentrate on stifling the opposition’s attacks in midfield,” Im Wharang explained. He carried out this task to the letter against Cape Verde Islands, but was still quick to criticise himself despite his team’s resounding win: “I’m not happy with my performance. To be honest, I wasn’t able to fully meet my coach’s expectations. I hope I can improve in the next match.”
This sentiment is sure to cause alarm among his rivals, and proves the young South Korean is more than ready to write the next chapter of success in his career here in Nanjing.