South Korea’s head coach Kim Eun-joong, whose team was stunned by powerhouse Italy on the threshold of a second consecutive FIFA U-20 World Cup final, called it a “disappointing result” but encouraged his players for giving it everything they had.
“We played well as we prepared, but I think it was a disappointing result because we didn’t score when we had chances,” Kim reflected at a press conference after the U-20 World Cup semifinal against Italy at La Plata Stadium in Argentina on Sept. 9 (KST).
Kim’s men fell 1-2 in the semifinals against Italy earlier in the day, finishing in third or fourth place.
Kim’s dream of repeating the glory of the 2019 U-20 World Cup in Poland, where they reached their first-ever men’s final and finished as runners-up, came to a screeching halt on the eve of the final.
South Korea conceded the opening goal in the 14th minute before Lee Seung-won (Gangwon) equalized in the 23rd minute, but were left shaking their heads after Italy’s Simone Papundi scored a free-kick winner in the 41st minute.
“Toward the end, our players’ concentration and physical strength were superior, and we created good chances,” Kim said, adding, “I and the 스포츠토토 players are very disappointed because we played like that and lost.”
However, Kim emphasized that the players were dedicated to the team and gave more than 100 percent.
When the game ended in defeat after a last-ditch effort, the players couldn’t hide their disappointment, and some of them, including main striker Lee Young-jun (Gimcheon), were in tears.
“The players did their best until the end, but I think they showed tears because they were disappointed,” Kim said.
“The players must have been very upset because they entered the tournament without high expectations, but they came this far with only one goal and proved their worth on the field,” he said. “I want to applaud them because they poured everything into it.”
Kim, who has been dubbed the “valley generation” and has made it to the quarterfinals with less expectation or interest in their performance than in previous tournaments, is hoping for a “Yujong beauty” in the third-place match against Israel on Nov. 11.
“It will be very hard for the players mentally,” said Kim, “but the third-place game is the last game for the U-20s, so we will recover well so that we can have a good finish. We will play with no regrets.”
Reflecting on the preparation for the tournament, Kim said, “We’ve been together for about a year and seven months, and we’ve brought out potential in the players that they didn’t even know they had. Every player improved a little bit and proved that they can be competitive,” he said, adding that it meant that “everyone grew one step at a time.”
“Our players showed good performances and results throughout the tournament with high concentration compared to the short preparation period,” said Kim, adding, “They haven’t had many opportunities, so I hope they will take advantage of the atmosphere and get more opportunities when they go to their home teams after this tournament.”