The quick-silver Koreans, who were once the Asian team to beat and also runners-up at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, are trying to regain lost ground, which only bodes well for the sport on the continent. . By defeating 2016 Olympic champions Argentina, as they did in the current 2023 World Cup crossover match, South Korea have taken a big step towards renewal.
Trailing by two goals until the start of the final quarter, the Koreans never lost their structure and conviction, guided by their two-decade constant – Jang Jonghyun, who scored his second goal in the 50th minute and was the central figure of a set- piece that was scratched with a variation.
Crowds join us as Korea erupt in celebration of their incredible shootout victory over Argentina to advance to… https://t.co/5kGlQJOooS
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The Argentinians, leading 5-4 until four minutes and a little on the clock, were caught napping against the nippy boys in red, who won 3-2 in a shootout. While the other three Asian teams in the tournament – the hosts, India, Malaysia and Japan – had to lick their wounds in the placement matches in Rourkela, the Koreans were celebrating their entry into the quarter-finals in Bhubaneswar.
They will face 2018 runners-up Netherlands in their Round of 16 on Wednesday.
“Who is it? Holland? Oooh, such a strong team,” coach Shin Seok-kyo said, with the joy of reaching the quarter-finals big on his face as well as in the lighter tone. of his remark.
Shin has been through what South Korea is trying to win back in world hockey, leading the team’s gold medal chase in 1994 and 2002. asian games with his deadly corners, which also played a major role in the Asian Cup triumphs of 1994 and 1999.
Jonghun took over penalty corner duties and has reigned at the top of the D since Shin laid down his stick in 2002. After gold at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea’s game consistency began to decline, as they missed the bus to Rio 2016.
(Photo credit: FIH)
The drop in support for the home game was one of the main reasons behind this.
“Korea is not interested in hockey. The sport is not famous,” coach Shin explained on the reasons behind Korean hockey’s downfall.
The country has never had enough supplies of hockey players. The structure of the game was never solid, but coaches like Shin tried to stick with whatever was available to them.
“There are only four clubs in South Korea and five college teams,” Shin said. “About 150-200 players,” he added. This small number includes the cream of hockey players across the country. The squad for the World Cup in India was chosen from among these players.
“In our squad, 14 players are playing their first World Cup. Five or six are experienced players,” Shin said. “So we have a young team for the future. Our goal is the Asian Games in Hangzhou (China) and the Olympic Games (Paris 2024).”
Things have improved for the team since 2021. They reclaimed the Asian Cup in 2022 after nine long years and the previous year they won the Asian Champions Trophy.
But it’s never easy at home for Koreans.
“There is no professional league. Four clubs contribute financially – Seongnam City Hall, Incheon City Sports Association, Gimhae City Hall and the military,” added the coach.
Middle school is when kids usually start playing hockey in South Korea and then graduate from high school where they continue to play the sport.
“There are 15 teams each (in middle school and high school). Then they go to college where there are five teams. Some players then serve in the army for two years. After that, some opt for clubs and others are retiring. Keeping the players together is very difficult,” Shin said.
At these levels, Shin said working on basic skills was his goal as a coach.
“Ball control, open reception, how to attack, how to defend.”
Shin was not happy to see three Asian teams fail in the quarter-finals.
“Very sad,” he said. “India is the leader of Asia, (Tokyo) Olympic bronze medalist, a top team. Malaysia and Japan also didn’t reach the quarter-finals. There was pressure ( on South Korea vs Argentina) as the only remaining Asian team.”
That pressure will rise to another level on Wednesday in the quarter-finals against the Dutch.
But it was hard to detect any nervousness in Shin’s words, for whom reaching the quarter-finals was his team’s first objective before embarking on this World Cup after eight years apart.
“My boys are young. Some days they play very well and some days not so well. It will take time… Maybe two or three years later they will be experienced players,” Shin said.
Slowly regaining his mojo, a win over Holland and a place in the semi-finals against defending champions Belgium will be another giant leap in South Korea’s comeback story.