Jung: 2002 World Cup was unforgettable

  • Jung Wooyoung took part in Russia 2018, where Korea Republic beat Germany

  • Midfielder wants to lead Al Sadd to continental glory

  • He believes Qatar 2022 will be a great experience for everyone

Korea Republic enjoyed something of a fairy tale summer when it co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. The tournament, at which the Taegeuk Warriors finished a very commendable fourth, was a turning point for thousands of Koreans, who drew inspiration from their team’s performance and used it to help set their future goals. The World Cup’s impact, however, might have been greatest on the nation's young footballers, who were more motivated than ever to replicate the heroics of Ahn Junghwan and Lee Woonjae, to name but two.

In Ulsan, a city that hosted three fixtures at the 2002 finals, thousands of people would gather at the city’s stadium, which was used as a fan zone to watch the national team in action. Jung Wooyoung, only 13 at the time, attended with his family and watched as his national heroes went all the way to semi-finals.

"I still recall those unforgettable moments," Jung told FIFA.com. "We played very well, beating one great side after the other. It felt wonderful watching them win games and progress to the last four. What I saw first-hand made me determined to follow their path,” said Jung.

And although the current Taegeuk Warrior star fondly recalls those great World Cup moments, he never thought he’d be experiencing the tournament for himself 16 years later at Russia 2018.

“I never imagined I’d play in the World Cup that early in my career, but with persistence and hard work I was able to improve my game and secure a spot among the 23 players who went to Russia. It’s certainly something I’m proud of."

After coming on as a substitute in the first two games, the defensive midfielder started his side’s final group fixture against Germany. “After we’d lost to Sweden and Mexico, no one expected us to even draw with Germany. It was a difficult game against a team that attacked non-stop, but we were determined to win and our hard work ultimately paid off,” Jung explained.

“We were very happy to beat the defending world champions and prove we could compete with big teams. We wanted to progress to the last 16, but luck wasn’t on our side in the first two fixtures. We certainly weren’t happy with our group-stage exit and expected a lukewarm reception at home, but the moment we came out of the airport, we found thousands of fans waiting for us. They thanked us for our good performance. It was great to feel that appreciation from them,” he added.

Experience and ambition

Now with another two years’ international experience under his belt, Jung is part of the Korea Republic squad competing in the Qatar 2022 qualifiers. He hopes his side continue their proud qualification record, which has seen them appear at every edition since Mexico 1986.

"Yes, we have a long tradition at the World Cup and we want to maintain this legacy. The qualifiers have been very difficult, and opponents want to deny us a place in the final round. It’s true we’re in second position in our group, but we’ve played one game less. Moreover, we’ll be playing three games [Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Korea DPR] on home soil, which gives us the advantage to finish top of the group and make the final qualifying round."

With eight points, Korea Republic lie second behind pacesetters Turkmenistan, who are on nine, and level on points with Lebanon. However, Korea Republic have a better goal difference (ten goals scored and none conceded), which strengthens their chances of reaching the final qualifying round and making Qatar 2022.

Qatar experience

Jung started his professional experience overseas, playing for clubs in Japan and China PR from 2011 to 2018. He then joined Al Sadd of Qatar, where he is in his second season. Having spent two years in the country that will host the next edition of the global showpiece, he is already well adapted to life in the Gulf.

"I never thought I’d love life here," he said. "Everyone is friendly and that has helped me adapt to this new lifestyle. In fact, I was delighted to find some Korean restaurants in Qatar. That said, I still share traditional Qatari meals with club-mates when we have our training camps. I love eating lamb."

With two of the eight Qatar 2022 stadiums already opened, Jung has had the chance to play in both of them. “It’s wonderful to drive by the stadiums. Right away you feel a desire to play in them. We had several games at the Khalifa International Stadium and Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah. It’s amazing. I can imagine how the players who will be coming to the World Cup in two years’ time are going to feel. I hope I’ll be in top form then so that I can keep my spot in the national team and take part in this big tournament."

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 11: Jung Woo-young (R) of Al-Sadd SC challenges for the ball with Cedrick Sansot (L) of Hienghene Sport during the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019 match between Al-Sadd Sports Club and Hienghene Sport at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 11, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Lukas Schulze - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Jung has helped Al Sadd to win the Qatar Stars League, the Sheikh Jassim (Super) Cup and the Qatar Cup. The AFC Champions League, however, remains the team’s ultimate goal. “Unfortunately, luck hasn’t been on our side at continental level. We exited at the semi-final stage in the last two editions, but we aim to go all the way and lift the trophy. I think our chances improved when it was confirmed that we’ll play our remaining games in Doha and won’t have to travel. We’re determined to get back to winning things."

Having shared a dressing room at Al Sadd with Spanish legend Xavi Hernandez, who is now the team’s head coach, Jung considers himself lucky. “I remember I used to watch him when he played at the 2002 World Cup. I continued to watch him as one of the stars of Barcelona and Spain. He had a fantastic career. It was great playing alongside him at Al Sadd, where we learned a lot from him. He is a great person and has a bright future as a coach."