- Korea Republic are in their first U-20 World Cup final four since 1983
- Their attitude and mindset have them in fine form
- “Football isn’t just a physical sport”
Saturday night’s seesaw quarter-final between Korea Republic and Senegal was bursting with drama. Desperate, game-saving equalisers, tearful embraces and frenzied fans were all on offer at the Bielsko-Biala Stadium, and that was before the penalty shoot-out even began.
When the final whistle sounded, Korea Republic players piled on one another in celebration. The Taeguk Warriors fell behind twice in the opening 90 minutes and went two down in the shoot-out, but persevered to stamp their spot in the FIFA U-20 World Cup semi-finals.
“Frankly it was just a ridiculous game,” Lee Jisol told FIFA.com. Jisol forced extra-time with his glancing header eight minutes into second-half stoppage-time. “It was crazy to see the lows and highs, both personally and as a team. I think we tried our best. This is what makes football amazing.”
Every game Korea Republic have played at this world finals has been decided by no more than a single goal, and they’ve prevailed in four consecutive outings. That includes wins over six-time champions Argentina and Asian rivals Japan.
So what has given them their edge in Poland?
“I knew our team could go this far,” said head coach Chung Jungyong. “Our young players have had the opportunity to get good experiences and they’ve been able to build self-confidence. That contributes to success in these situations.
“The organisation of this team could not be achieved overnight. It took years. That is why I looked for equality and mental strength in all my players.”
Jisol embodied that team spirit and toughness on Saturday. As the clock ticked down in regulation time, Korea Republic made a last-ditch attacking move and won a corner. Before kick-taker Lee Kangin walked to the flag, Jisol got the attention of his team-mate.
“I told him that I would cut to the near post,” said Jisol. “He delivered it brilliantly. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t take my eyes off the ball.”
Kangin notched another assist in extra-time to put his side on top, but Senegal drew level in the final sequence of the game to force penalties.
Jungyong maintained faith in his players, even when they missed their first two attempts from the spot.
“I didn’t really worry much about the pressure they would be feeling,” he said. “I think our players were ready and did a great job.”
“Football isn’t just a physical sport,” said Jisol. “It’s also about attitude and mindset. Those two things really influence a lot.
“Over the years we’ve been experienced many moments like this. I think that played a part in generating the momentum for our success.”