- Goalkeeper Jo Hyeonwoo had a "perfect game"
- Previously-criticised players stepped up to the mark
- The Koreans showed the world what they could do once more
By Hounche Chung with Korea Republic
From the beginning, it was different. All of the Korean players, including the starting XI and the substitutes, gathered in a circle in front of the bench. Like a sacred ritual, this went on for a while, until the referee was ready to blow the whistle for kick-off. Their opponents, the reigning champions, were already set in their formation waiting for the Koreans to come up to the pitch.
It was no ordinary match. Even if you were a purist who does not believe in numbers or stats, you could clearly tell the difference – in possession or attempts on goal – between the sides right from the off. The mighty Germans were firing on all cylinders, as if they were out to make up for their lacklustre start to the tournament.
However, there was a twist in this game. Every time Germany surged forward to break the deadlock, something went wrong: all of their shots and crosses into the box were blocked by the men in red. Even when some of them managed to break through, Jo Hyeonwoo was on hand to parry the danger.
“I’ve never had a perfect game like this before, in my entire career,” the slender goalkeeper told FIFA.com after being named the Budweiser Man of the Match. “But I wasn’t saving all the shots by myself today – I thought the other goalkeepers [Kim] Seunggyu and [Kim] Jinhyeon were also giving me a hand.”
Those invisible hands were not the only help Jo had in the afternoon. Centre-back Jang Hyunsoo had faced harsh criticism for his involvement in all of the three goals Korea Republic conceded before the match, and there were quite a few eyebrows raised when he was included in the starting line-up once again.
However, Jang did not step back, but instead stepped up as a defensive midfielder against Germany. “The Germans are world-class players and they’re very good at maintaining possession and penetrating the gaps in our defence,” he explained. “My role was to fill the gap between our centre-backs and midfield, and I’m delighted to have done my job.”
“I thought we’d already fallen to the ground, and it was time for us to rise again. We had nothing to lose, and we had nothing to be afraid of. That’s why we were able to beat Germany today,” said Jang. “We’ve become a unit by making sacrifices for the team. And if that’s possible, I think Korea Republic will continue to be a difficult team to beat.”
His usual partner in central defence is Kim Younggwon, who also suffered from such criticism when the Taeguk Warriors were soundly beaten by Algeria 4-2 four years ago at Brazil 2014. “We can always be criticised or praised. I don’t think it was Hyunsoo’s fault, because we could have avoided it in the first place if we had helped him in such dangerous situations,” said Kim, who has overcome the difficult times to re-establish himself in the Korea Republic squad for Russia 2018.
And as if claiming his place in the starting line-up was not enough, Kim went on to score the crucial goal that put the Koreans ahead deep into added time. “I believed that it was a clear goal, so even when the referee was checking the situation with VAR, I knew the goal would stand,” he recalled. “The most important thing is, we rediscovered our confidence by beating the world champions, and in the process we proved what Korean football can do.”