“The pros don’t wait… Disciples, be strong.”

After reaching the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, South Korea coach Kim Eun-joong, 44, has some heartfelt advice for his players as he prepares to say goodbye.

The national team reached the final four for the third time in its history at the U-20 World Cup, which concluded on Wednesday (June 12). But they were initially met with indifference. They lacked a star like Lee Kang-in (Mallorca) from the 2019 tournament in Poland, where they finished runner-up, and they were underpowered. It was even called the “valley generation” compared to the 2019 team, which was dubbed the “golden generation”. Of the 21 members of the national team, 19 were aged 19 to 20. Of the 19, only Bae Jun-ho (Daejeon Hana Citizen) was a regular starter.

However, the national team far exceeded the expectations of experts and soccer fans. They defeated the favorites, France, 2-1, in the first round of the group stage, and went on to win the round of 16 and the quarterfinals, earning applause not only in Korea but around the world. In an interview at the Grand Brizo Hotel in La Plata, Argentina, where the team is staying, Kim said, “Our first goal was to pass the group stage, and if we made it to the round of 16, we were going to give it our all, so the staff expected to make the quarterfinals if we did well. When we won the quarterfinals, I had tears in my eyes because I was so happy and proud of the players.”

The national team players made a name for themselves at the U-20 World Cup, but once they returned to their clubs, they became ‘unknowns’ again. Kim warned the players who will be playing in the professional ranks, “The pros don’t wait for you. If you don’t get stronger, you won’t survive. The moment you are satisfied, you will go downhill. Don’t be satisfied, work hard, find out what you can do and do it,” he said. He emphasized the importance of not settling for anything less than excellence and continuing to improve.

The team’s success in the tournament was due to the strong relationship between the coach and the players. The communication between Kim, a Gen Xer, and the Gen Z players seemed to be a challenge, but the players trusted and followed Kim’s sincere approach. “I was sincere in trying to teach them one more thing, and I think they knew that, and I think that’s what built trust in the team,” Kim said. “You can only know what you have and what you can do when you play for a team, and a lot of times our players didn’t even know that. There were times when they came here and realized their potential and said to the coaching staff, ‘I can do this.’”

The tournament also highlighted the team’s “silly soccer” game. It’s a tactic that involves playing a solid defense and then attacking the opposition with quick counterattacks and set pieces. This tactic was developed about two weeks before the tournament started. What made it work was trust and faith.

“We prepared for about two weeks because we realized that this was the only way to beat France. I wasn’t too worried because I had always emphasized transition to the players, but defense was the key. We had video meetings to set up our defensive positions, and the players responded well because we had been doing it for a while.”스포츠토토

National team captain Lee Seung-won (Gangwon FC) was one of the players who improved the most during the tournament. Lee scored three goals and provided four assists, earning him a bronze ball as the tournament’s third-best player. He took Coach Kim’s advice to heart, saying, “Just because I did well at the tournament doesn’t mean I’ll be able to play for my home team. “The golden ball has a different shine to it,” he said. “When I received the bronze ball, I thought, ‘I’m going to play for my team. I got the bronze ball, and it made me want the gold. I will continue to improve with the goal of earning a spot on the senior national team.”

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