Men’s football team is relieved to earn World Cup berth
The team, led by Coach Shin Tae-yong, returned home from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where they secured a berth in the World Cup after playing to a scoreless draw against Uzbekistan.
Although the tie was less than satisfying for fans, Korea nonetheless sealed its nine consecutive appearance in the tournament by finishing second in Group A in the Asian qualifiers.
In Asia, the top two teams from each group advance directly to the World Cup, while third-place teams have to vie in playoffs to earn a berth.
“Because of fans’ support, we were able to earn a World Cup berth,” Shin said at Incheon International Airport after returning from Tashkent. “We promise that we’ll show a better performance at the World Cup finals.”
Among Shin’s 26 players, only 16 returned to Korea. The others flew to join their respective clubs in Europe and other Asian countries.
Midfielder Yeom Ki-hun, who is with the K League’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings, said he knows that some fans might not be satisfied with Korea’s performance in recent matches, but it was fortunate they returned home with a ticket to the World Cup.
“I know some fans are disappointed, but we got the result,” he said. “As a player who performs in the K League, I think it’s really fortunate for us to reach the World Cup.”
Yeom, 34, was the second-oldest player on the roster. When asked about whether he could play at the World Cup next year, the left-footed winger said he would be ready.
“I think I can go if I’m fit,” he said. “Shin told us age doesn’t matter, and his words give me motivation.”
Yeom said Korea will be a better team next year at the World Cup.
“It’s true that Korea is currently not in the same level with top-class European football teams,” he said. “But we’ll be more organized and play better football at the World Cup.”
Defender Kim Min-jae said he also wants to represent the country at the tournament. The 20-year-old center back was the youngest player on Shin’s squad, but started in Korea’s last two qualifying matches against Iran and Uzbekistan.
“If you’re a footballer, it’s obvious that you want to play at the World Cup,” he said. “I will try my best to be selected for the final roster.”
Kim, who plays for the Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, said he learned a lot from his senior teammates during the qualifiers. “It was an honor to play alongside people I watched on television before,” he said. “I really learned a lot.”