Taegeuk Warriors return to Seoul
The young Taegeuk Warriors returned to a heroes’ welcome yesterday after writing another chapter in Korean football history. Some 1,000 fans and journalists flocked to Incheon International Airport as the Hong Myung-bo squad arrived.
Korea won its first-ever Olympic medal after beating Japan 2-0 on Saturday Korea Standard Time thanks to goals from Park Chu-young and captain Koo Ja-cheol.
The Hong squad, considered the strongest Korean side to ever compete in the Olympics, set its sights on bringing home a medal from the onset, even though Korea had never advanced passed the quarterfinals.
“I am happy that we were able to keep a promise that we made to you before leaving [for the Olympics],” Hong said at a media conference at the airport.
Korea’s third-place finish also ties the record for the furthest an Asian team has advanced at the Olympics, set by Japan at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
“We went through a tough and difficult process,” Hong said. “The players were desperate to realize the dream and have done their best for it.”
Korea finished runners-up in Group B competition behind Mexico, went into a penalty shootout against the host and suffered a 3-0 rout versus Brazil in the semifinals. The bronze-medal match against Japan was a fierce rivalry that saw a total of seven yellow cards, four handed out to Korean players.
But in the end, the Taegeuk Warriors came out with the bronze.
At the welcoming ceremony, coach Hong, who took the helm of the U-23 team in February 2009, bid adieu to the fans and players, saying he would decide on his future after taking a break.
The captain of the 2002 national squad, who under the leadership of Dutch coach Guus Hiddink advanced to the semifinals of the Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup, gave all the credit to the players.
“As a manager, I feel very honored that I could spend time with these great players,” he said. “I am so pleased to have ended it well.”
Koo, the captain of the Hong squad who scored Korea’s second goal in the bronze-medal match, thanked the fans for their support. Park, Korea’s leading striker who scored the first goal, asked the fans to show the same support in the K-League.
At the bronze medal match held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Park opened the scoring in the 38th minute, deceiving three defenders sending a shot past goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda into the back of the net.
Koo secured the win in the 57th minute by connecting with Park’s pass with a low drive that went through the legs of defender Daisuke Suzuki and into the left side of the net.
“It was unfortunate that we lost the game,” Japan’s coach Takashi Sekizuka was quoted as saying by AFP. “It was difficult to play our own football because of the condition of the pitch. It was very difficult to break the Korean defensive lines.”
By Moon Gwang-lip [email@example.com]