- Ki Sungyueng is preparing for his third FIFA World Cup
- Korea Republic’s captain looks ahead to Russia 2018
- Swansea City midfielder says first game against Sweden is crucial
Representing your country at the FIFA World Cup™ is a tremendous honour for any player. Even greater is to don the captain’s armband. A veteran of South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, Ki Sungyueng is preparing for his first global finals as Korea Republic’s skipper, following in the footsteps of national legends such as Hong Myungbo, Lee Woonjae and Park Jisung.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Swansea City midfielder talks about his relationship with the World Cup – from watching the Taeguk Warriors storm to the semi-finals on home soil in 2002 as a teenager to readying himself for Russia 2018, where his side will face Sweden, Mexico and world champions Germany in the group stage.
FIFA.com: It’s been 16 years since Korea Republic hosted the 2002 World Cup. How did the tournament impact you?
Ki: Every stadium, every street – everywhere in Korea – was full of red shirts. I was in Australia at the time, so I couldn’t experience the amazing atmosphere, but I still saw it all on TV. I couldn’t believe we were playing against the likes of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany. It was a bit of a shock to see that happening. Nobody in Korea expected we would reach the World Cup semi-finals. It was amazing and it’s something that will be hard to achieve again. That team are heroes in Korea.
What’s your favourite memory of Korea Republic at that tournament?
The last 16 game against Italy. I can remember still it had a big impact on me. We conceded the first goal and normally when you concede against Italy, it’s difficult to score because they have a great defence. But Korea went on to score, take the game to extra time and then get the golden goal to win the tie. I still remember now the celebrations after that game. It was the best game of the tournament.
Who was your footballing hero growing up?
Hong Myungbo because of the way that he played. He was an intelligent player, I admired him very much. He’s one of the biggest names in Korean football history.
Park Jisung was one of the breakout stars of 2002. What was it like for you watching him at that World Cup and then going on to share a pitch with him at international level?
I watched him on TV and then when we met for the first time, I couldn’t speak to him because I was too shy! He was a big star and I was a young kid who had just joined the national team. There was a lot that I learned from him. With his attitude and mental strength, he was an example for everyone in the national team. Even though he was a big star he wasn’t arrogant, he is very polite. As a player, he was the best to play for Korea and, as a man, he is the perfect guy.
You’ve already played at two World Cups. What advice would you give to those younger players making their debut at the tournament?
It can be difficult for those playing at the World Cup for the first time. There’s pressure and you can get nervous. Playing in a World Cup is a different kind of atmosphere. It’s the biggest dream for any player. If you get the chance to play at the World Cup you must be ready, but you must also enjoy it.
While this will be your third World Cup, Russia 2018 will be the first where you’ll be wearing the captain’s armband. What will it mean to captain your country in Russia?
It’ll be different to the last two World Cups I played in. I now have added responsibility for the team, for the country. As a captain, you must set an example and you need to perform better than any other player. There’s a lot of pressure and sometimes it can be stressful, but I’m proud to captain my country. Hopefully we can perform and progress from the group stage. That’s my aim and it’s the aim of the team also.
Sweden, Mexico, Germany: what do you make of Korea Republic’s group at Russia 2018?
It’s a difficult group. Everyone can say they are better than us because they are all higher in the FIFA Ranking. But in football, you never know what’s going to happen, especially at the World Cup. Even though those teams are better than us, sometimes we can beat them. It will be a tough challenge but I’m really looking forward to facing these big teams. The first game against Sweden is the biggest for us. If we win, then who knows what can happen. But if we don’t get something from that game, I think it will be difficult for us to qualify from the group stage.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heungmin has been in sensational form for club and country. How important is he going to be to Korea Republic’s hopes at Russia 2018?
He’s the main player and the one who can threaten the other teams. Our attack relies on him a lot. He’s scored a lot of goals for Spurs and has shown his quality that he can play striker, winger or as a No10. He’s got great ability and hopefully he can score some goals for us. I think opponents will be afraid of him. His quality is dangerous. Whenever he gets a chance, there’s always the possibility of scoring goals.