The coach was more famous than the players.

Kim Eun-joong unleashed the potential of under-the-radar players with thorough preparation and created a new page in Korean football history.

The South Korean U-20 football team, led by Kim Eun-jung, reached their second consecutive World Cup quarter-final with a 1-0 victory over Nigeria in extra-time at the Santiago del Estro Stadium in Argentina on Friday (5 June), with Choi Seok-hyun scoring the winning goal.

South Korea did not concede a goal in regulation time with a strong defence against Nigeria’s pacy attack. In the fifth minute of the first overtime, Choi Seok-hyun (Dankook University) headed home a corner kick from Lee Seung-won (Gangwon) for the winning goal.메이저놀이터

With the win, South Korea completed another miraculous run to the quarter-finals. It is the only Asian nation to reach back-to-back quarter-finals.

Previously, Japan had reached the quarter-finals three times in a row (1995 quarter-finals, 1997 quarter-finals, 1999 runners-up), but with the exception of one runner-up finish, they stopped their challenge in the quarter-finals.

South Korea were runners-up at the 2019 edition of the tournament before reaching the last four.

Kim Eun-joong-ho flew under the radar in the run-up to the tournament.

He had reached the semi-finals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-20 Asian Cup 2023 in Uzbekistan in March, a qualifier for the tournament, but failed to reach the final after losing to hosts Uzbekistan.

At the time, criticism was levelled at the team’s performance and the lack of big-name players.

In addition, there was a lack of playing time for players in their age group in the K League, which led to a lack of match fitness. With the exception of Bae Jun-ho (Daejeon), most of the players were not even utilised as rotation resources.

However, Kim Eun-joong made many changes to the roster at short notice.

Despite being drawn in a difficult group, he focused on defence and used Lee Young-joon (Gimcheon), Kim Yong-hak (Portimonense) and Lee Seung-won to attack the opposition with counterattacks and set pieces.

What they lacked in fitness, they made up for with quick substitutions and evenly distributed playing time. With the exception of a few players, the team used two players for each position.

With Park Seung-ho (Incheon) out due to injury, Lee Young-joon anchoring the frontline and Kim Jun-hong (Gimcheon) steady in goal, Korea played virtually the entire tournament with the same 21 players.

The quarter-final against Nigeria was their toughest match of the tournament. While they had shown the strength to overcome two goals against Honduras, the Nigerians were in a precarious position where a single goal would have sent them crashing to the ground.

South Korea finished regulation time with a physical defence and scored the final goal from a set piece in stoppage time to secure a miraculous victory.

After the game, Coach Kim said, “There were many things we prepared for, but the most important thing I emphasised to the players was the battle of concentration, and I thought we could win if we didn’t give up and showed our strength until the end. The players did a good job, so I’m happy with the result.”

“I was actually more worried than I expected. Our players were also upset because they didn’t know much about our players,” he said, adding, “I’m grateful that they trusted me and the coaching staff.”

“All the coaching staff can do is see the potential in our players and it hurts to see them not being recognised. We were sincere with them and they responded well. I think they’re bringing out things they don’t even know they have. I think our players are amazing,” he added.

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