Together, it was our weapon

The so-called “Valley Generation” shook off the indifference and ended the U20 World Cup 2023 with a fourth-place finish.

The South Korean U20 soccer team, led by Kim Eun-jung, dropped a 1-3 decision to Israel in the third-place match of the tournament at La Plata Stadium in Argentina on Wednesday (June 12). After conceding a goal to Ran Binyamin in the 19th minute, captain Lee Seung-won (Gangwon FC) equalized from the penalty spot five minutes later, but the team conceded back-to-back goals in the 31st and 40th minutes to Omer Senior and Anan Khalili as their stamina waned, leaving them in the final four.

Despite the disappointing loss, it was significant for the team to achieve a second consecutive top-four finish after finishing as runners-up at the 2019 tournament in Poland. The only other times South Korean men’s soccer has finished fourth in a FIFA-sanctioned tournament was at the 1983 U20 World Cup and the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup.

This achievement seems even more remarkable because they have been labeled the Valley Generation. In sports, a generation of athletes with exceptional performance is known as the golden generation, while the opposite is called the valley generation.

Kim Eun-jung-ho was officially inaugurated in January 2022, well after the COVID-19 pandemic had reached its peak. His preparation period was somewhat shorter than his predecessors. Compared to the 2017 tournament in South Korea, which featured Lee Seung-woo (Suwon FC) and Baek Seung-ho (Jeonbuk Hyundai), and the 2019 tournament in Poland, where Lee Kang-in (Mallorca) won the Golden Ball (MVP), there were no players who were clearly recognized by soccer fans. Bae Joon-ho (Daejeon Hana Citizens), who has been a regular in the 토토사이트 K League, Kang Sung-jin (FC Seoul), who scored his debut goal in the A match, and Kim Ji-soo (Seongnam FC), who has been receiving European offers, were not given much attention.

But Kim has been quietly preparing for a turnaround. The team rallied around Kim’s calm and delicate leadership, who had been coaching the U23 national team since 2017 and was in constant communication with the young players, and grew into a “one-man team” despite not having an ace. “I want to build a competitive team that can compete on the world stage,” Kim said at the start of the program, and he delivered on both his promise and the players’ growth.

The team faced some bad news ahead of the tournament, with Lee Hyun-joo (Bayern Munich) and Sung Jin-young (Korea University) dropping out of the lineup due to injuries, and frontline player Park Seung-ho (Incheon United) dropping out midway through the tournament due to injury, but Kim proved those worries unnecessary.

The team’s disciplined, counter-attacking style of soccer shone through, especially from set pieces, which were their main source of goals. Six of Korea’s 10 goals in the tournament came from set pieces, with Lee Seung-won (3 goals, 4 assists) at the center of it all, earning a bronze ball as the tournament’s third best player.

Despite the results, Kim’s biggest accomplishment was the development of Lee Seung-won, Lee Young-joon (Gimcheon Commerce), and Choi Seok-hyun (Dankook University) as the future of Korean soccer. However, the lack of experience due to the lack of consistent playing time at the club level, as well as the fitness issues that were exposed in the quarterfinals, will need to be addressed in the future.

Kim said he was proud to see his first students grow over the past year and a half. “In the process of challenging and preparing for the big stage of the World Cup, they could have lost motivation because they were not in the limelight,” he said, “but they didn’t shy away and proved their worth by enduring the hardships.”

Meanwhile, in the final match of the day, Uruguay defeated Italy 1-0 to win their first title after a ‘two-for-three’ series. Italy had to settle for their first ever final appearance.

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