After Asian Games fame, Hwang Ui-jo remains hot

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After Asian Games fame, Hwang Ui-jo remains hot

Hwang Ui-jo of the J League’s Gamba Osaka is proving that his streak at the Asian Games wasn’t just luck.

Hwang once again led Gamba Osaka to a 1-0 victory against Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday with a goal in the 84th minute.

Hwang has scored four goals in three matches after returning to play in Japan two weeks ago. During a match against Vissel Kobe on Sept. 15, Hwang scored the game winner to lead the team to a 2-1 victory and against Shimizu S-Pulse on Sept. 21, Hwang scored another in the team’s 2-1 victory.

For the 2018 Asian Games, Hwang was one of the Korean U-23 national team head coach’s Kim Hak-bum’s three over-23 selections, along with Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur and Jo Hyeon-woo of Daegu FC.

Because Hwang failed to make it onto the national team for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Kim’s selection caused controversy over whether he was added due to personal connections. Aside from not competing at the World Cup, many believed that adding Hwang was pointless as Kim already selected Son as a striker. However, Hwang quickly proved doubters wrong by becoming the leading scorer at the Asian Games with nine goals.

Hwang is continuing to prove his worth with his J1 League team. With the win on Saturday, Osaka is now riding a four-game winning streak - good enough to get themselves out of the league’s relegation zone - and Hwang is now ranked fourth in the league for scoring. In the 23 games Hwang has played in this season, he has scored 13 goals. Osaka is now ranked 13th in the 18-team league with nine wins, six ties and 13 losses.

“In the past, Hwang Ui-jo seemed like he wasn’t moving enough when he didn’t have the ball,” said Lee Hoe-taik, former manager of the Korean national football team. “But within the past year, he improved significantly. He made the ball head towards the goal [more] and now has various shots.”

Hwang’s success is thanks in large part to tremendous help from Gamba Osaka’s defenseman Oh Jae-suk and veteran player Endo Yasuhito. Hwang transferred to Gamba Osaka in June 2017, after five seasons playing for K League club Seongnam FC.

When Hwang joined Gamba Osaka, Oh, the only other Korean player in the club, told him, “In Japan, we are just foreign players. We won’t be getting help by just being here. To survive, you need to get recognized by your teammates first.”

Hwang worked harder than any other players on the team to get his chances and get recognized by fans. And his hard work paid off, as Endo showed his trust towards Hwang in front of his teammates, in the locker room saying, “I’ll make a pass to you so just trust me and move along with the plan.”

Endo is one of the most influential players on the team because he is a living legend, playing for Osaka for 18 seasons. For the Japanese national team, Endo has played 152 matches and scored 15 goals.

Once Endo started making passes to Hwang, the rest of the players on the team also started to support him on the field.

“[Before Hwang,] Oh Jae-suk gave a strong image to Gamba Osaka that Korean players are hard workers,” said Hwang’s agent. “Ui-jo also worked hard by working on shooting after the team’s practice was over. That’s how he got recognized by his teammates.”

Even when Hwang has a day off, his head is filled with football. He spends the day watching videos of Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema and Tottenham Hotspur forward Harry Kane.

As he makes strides in the J League, Hwang is likely to get added back to the Korean national team roster, which Bento will announce today. The Korean national team will play a friendly against Uruguay on Oct. 12th.

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