Kim Young-gwon redeems himself

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Kim Young-gwon redeems himself


Kim Young-kwon speaks during an interview on Sunday. [KIM KYUNG-ROK]

Center back Kim Young-gwon was one of the most maligned players on Korea’s national football squad after he criticized the team’s supporters last year. But after scoring a goal in Korea’s 2-0 win over Germany on June 17, he’s become a fan favorite.


Kim Young-gwon celebrates after scoring during Korea’s Group F match against defending champion Germany at the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Kazan Arena in Russia on June 27. [YONHAP]

“Up until the day I left for Russia to compete in the World Cup, I heard negative comments,” Kim said. “I told myself that this could be my last World Cup and played as hard as I could, and I received a reward.”

During Korea’s final qualification match against Iran in August 2017, the two teams played a scoreless draw at Seoul World Cup Stadium. Kim said that Korea failed to win due to poor communication between the players due to fans’ loud cheering. As Korea’s defense in the game was weak, fans also criticized Kim’s performance.

“The match against Iran last year was my first national team match in a year,” Kim said. “Since I was also wearing the captain’s armband, I felt a lot of responsibility. I blamed [our loss] on a lack of communication between the players. I didn’t mean to say that, but when I saw the interview later, I understood the fans’ reaction.”

But he redeemed his tarnished reputation during Korea’s victory over World Cup defending champion Germany last week. Not only did Kim play a strong defensive game, he scored Korea’s first goal in stoppage time.

At first, Kim’s goal was ruled offside, but after a video review, it counted as a goal.

“I took the shot calmly,” Kim said. “But the referee held up the offside flag. I couldn’t control my rage at the moment. But when I was waiting for the video review, it felt like it was going to be a goal. Those few minutes felt really long. One player got on his knees and was praying.”


Kim and his family. [KIM YOUNG-GWON]

Kim played every minute of Korea’s campaign in this year’s World Cup. Kim scampered across the field as a defender, and to avoid possible handballs, he often held his hands behind his back in the penalty box.

“I tried to be more careful in our match against Germany,” Kim said. “I just felt like we could give away a penalty kick if the ball slightly touched our arms. I played as hard as I could until the end. And it wasn’t only me. Everyone did. We didn’t know that we were eliminated even after the whistle. We later heard that Sweden won against Mexico.”

When Kim scored Korea’s first goal, he kissed his forearm, which bears a tattoo of his wife and his daughter’s names. Right after the match against Iran, Kim changed his status on social media to private, and changed it back to public after the game against Germany.

“It’s O.K. for me to get criticized for my own wrongdoing, but I couldn’t stand the comments made about my wife and my children,” Kim said. “My wife encouraged me, telling me that if I get through this hard time, the situation can change.”

During the World Cup, Jang Hyun-soo faced heavy criticism from fans over his mistakes. During Korea’s match against Mexico, Jang was called out for a handball in the box. Mexico converted the penalty and went on to beat Korea 2-1.

“I told Hyun-soo my experience,” Kim said. “I believe that Hyun-soo can overcome this.”

When Kim started playing football, he didn’t face an easy path as his family struggled financially after his father’s business went bankrupt.

“In 12th grade, I trained until Friday, and on Saturdays, I went to do some manual labor,” Kim said. “I made 70,000 won ($63) a day, and after tax, I made 63,000 won. I lived on that for a week and saved up money to buy football cleats.”

In 2015, Kim received scouting calls from Everton FC in the English Premier League. He wasn’t able to achieve his dream of playing in the European leagues, and plays for China’s Guangzhou Evergrande instead.

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