- Shin Songhoon is Korea Republic's captain and last line of defence
- His late saves versus Angola cemented a quarter-finals appearance
- Gwangju FC talent ready to stand tall against Mexico
Korea Republic have relied on a practised strategy to reach the quarter-finals at this FIFA U-17 World Cup™. In their last-16 triumph against Angola, plus group stage wins over Haiti and Chile, the Taeguk Warriors pushed for the opening goal, found it, then pulled back. Head coach Kim Jungsoo's preferred style for maintaining a lead involves all ten field players defending, and when a shot does leak through, counting on captain Shin Songhoon to stop it.
"Our forward players are our first line of defence, troubling the opponent in their own half," Songhoon told FIFA.com. "Then they come back to help out at our end, and we defend together as a team."
So far, so good. They executed their game plan to the letter against the Palaquinhas on Tuesday, closing down one of Brazil 2019's surprise packages, who previously dazzled with their speed and flair on the flanks. That was less the case against their last opponent; the Asian side contained Zini, Zito and the rest of the Angola attack for large swaths of the 90 minutes inside Goiania's Estadio Olimpico.
Songhoon had a large part to play in the clean sheet, first flashing fine reflexes to deny Zini's close-range header, then leaping to tip David's rocketed shot from distance over the bar. Korea Republic's No1 kept his focus in the midst of a late rally.
“We thought Angola was one of the fastest and strongest teams remaining," said Songhoon. "We analysed them very carefully, and our players studied, then played well so we could win.”
When the game opens up and the chances fly freely, what goes through Songhoon's mind? According to the Gwangju FC player, when he's locked in, emotions are scant.
“I focus on making saves, just doing my job," he said. "There’s no time to feel anything. I just focus on where the ball is, and where it comes from.”
Now the Koreans will prepare for Mexico. The Concacaf holders ousted Japan from the tournament, scoring twice on a Samurai Blue defence that had yet to concede in Brazil prior to their Round of 16 encounter. Two-time world champions at this level, El Tri offer one of the sternest tests the Taeguk Warriors have faced. A win would put them in the semi-finals, which would guarantee their best-ever finish at a FIFA U-17 World Cup in the same year their U-20 team took silver at Poland 2019.
Should they run out to an early lead like their quarter-final tie, Songhoon will be counted on to keep his resolve again, a task he admits isn't easy.
“It is a bit of a burden to play the position in those situations, and I feel the pressure," he said. "But our defensive players do well to keep the pressure away and limit chances. I appreciate them. And when shots do come to me, I’m prepared.”