Jo Hyeonwoo earns surprise start in Korea Republic's opener
Goalkeeper made several impressive saves in 1-0 defeat by Sweden
Nicknamed 'Daegea’ - after Spain's No1 - at club team Daegu
Korea Republic coach Shin Taeyong has raised quite a few eyebrows with experimental formations and unexpected call-ups in a series of friendlies in the build-up to the finals. So it was not difficult to anticipate that there would be another element of surprise when he submitted the starting line-up for the Group F opener against Sweden.
However, Jo Hyeonwoo’s inclusion in the starting XI came as a bigger shock than the fact that coach Shin opted for an attack-minded formation. In fact, the 26-year-old had only earned six caps before flying to Russia. And as his kit No23 suggests, he is the third-choice goalkeeper, a position that rarely gets the chance to play in a major tournament.
“I didn’t realise I was going to start until the coach told me just before the game,” Jo told FIFA. “But I wasn’t really surprised, because all the goalkeepers, including myself, are always ready to play whoever gets the chance to. It was fantastic to represent my country on the world stage, but I’m sorry that the game has ended this way.”
But no one would blame Jo for the 1-0 defeat by Sweden in Nizhny Novgorov, where ‘Daegea’ – his nickname at his club Daegu for his slender figure and resemblance to Manchester United custodian David de Gea – pulled off one of the best performances in his career. He did not only stop Marcus Berg from opening the scoring early in the first half, but he went on to keep the yellow waves at bay until Andreas Granqvist finally broke the deadlock from the spot.
“I can’t even count the moments that I should have done better when I look back now,” admitted Jo. “This is a disappointing result for me. But I’ll have to be ready for a chance to come in the next games.”
Only coach Shin knows whether Jo will have another opportunity to shine. But he could at least take heart from the case of Jung Sungryong, who came to South Africa 2010 as an understudy to legendary Lee Woonjae then went on to stand between the sticks from the very first match of that memorable campaign.