U-20 football coach considers taking Olympic post

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U-20 football coach considers taking Olympic post


Coach Lee Kwang-jong, far left, and his team pose at Incheon International Airport yesterday, after leaving the U-20 World Cup as quarterfinalists. [NEWSIS]

Korea’s U-20 football team coach, Lee Kwang-jong, said yesterday that he is open to taking over the coaching vacancy on the country’s Olympic team left by new national team coach Hong Myung-bo.

The coach brought his team home from Turkey after ending his second U-20 World Cup campaign at the quarterfinals, an improvement from the Round of 16 performance in his first bid in 2011. His team was only a win away from tying Korea’s best record reached three decades ago in Mexico, but still it tied the country’s second-best result reached three times before.

Lee, 49, who led the U-19 team to win the Asian title last year, was praised in particular for his ability to keep the players under control, in contrast with former national team coach Choi Kang-hee. Lee’s team, full of little-known players, showed grit and unity in Turkey, compared with the star-studded, but divided Choi squad.

“Whether I become the Olympic coach or not, it’s not my call,” Lee said yesterday. “But, if I am chosen, I will do my best.”

The helm of the Olympic team has been vacant since Hong served out his term at the 2012 London Olympics. Hong, who was named as Choi’s successor as the national team coach last month, steered Korea to a bronze medal in London, Korea’s first-ever medal at an Olympics.

Lee has been a youth national team manager since 2007. He led Korea to finish second in the AFC U-16 Championship in 2008 and to reach the quarterfinals of the U-17 World Cup in 2009. In November, Lee led Korea to win the Asian Football Confederation U-19 Championship, beating Iraq on a penalty shootout. Korea lost to Iraq on a penalty shootout on Sunday.

“We were in the position of challenging the teams from Europe and South America,” Lee said. “We still lag behind, but I realized that if we try harder, we could be on par with others on a world stage.”

BY MOON GWANG-LIP [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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