From Messi to Lee Kang-in… U-20 World Cup, the beginning of a legend

The 2023 Argentina International Football Federation

(FIFA) Under-20 (U-20) World Cup kicks off on May 21st. Celebrating its 23rd U-20 World Cup, a total of 24 countries will participate in a fierce battle for about a month until June 12 next month.

The U-20 World Cup is the world’s most prestigious age-specific competition in which men’s soccer players under the age of 20 participate among the national competitions sponsored by FIFA. From the first tournament held in Tunisia in 1977 to Qatar in 1995, 16 countries participated. In the early days, it was called the FIFA World Youth Championship, commonly called the ‘World Youth Football Championship’ in Korea, and the age limit was less than 19 years old. The age was raised to 20 from the Portuguese competition in 1991, and the current name ‘World Cup’ was used from the 2007 Canadian competition.

The U-20 World Cup, where the world’s best prospects compete, is also regarded as the ‘gateway for superstars’. Lionel Messi, a legend of the host country Argentina and considered the best soccer player (GOAT) in history, also won the Golden Ball (Best Player) in 2005 and began to draw attention as a world-class player. In addition to Messi, Argentina has produced a number of Golden Ball winners, including the late Diego Maradona (1979), Javier Saviola (2001), and Sergio Aguero (2007). In addition, Brazil’s Adriano (1993), France’s Paul Pogba (2013), and Korea’s Lee Kang-in (2019) are stars from the Golden Ball who have also emerged in the adult stage, starting with the U-20 World Cup.

The host country, Argentina, which is also the recent winner of the Adult World Cup (2022 Qatar), also showed off its football powerhouse by winning the U-20 World Cup six times, the most ever. South America’s main rival, Brazil, follows with five championships. Although Brazil is slightly behind in the number of championships, it holds the record for the most appearances (18) and the most points (232 points, 72 wins, 16 draws, 15 losses) in the U-20 World Cup history. Brazil is the only team that has played more than 100 games in the tournament and has accumulated more than 200 points.

By continent, South America won 11 championships and Europe won 10 championships, continuing its strength just like the Adult World Cup. However, recently, European teams (France-Serbia-England-Ukraine) have been winning the championship four times in a row. Ghana, Africa, was the only winner in 2009 to produce a winning team from a continent other than South America and Europe. North and Central America and Asia have yet to come out with a winning team. Qatar in 1981, Japan in 1999, and Korea in 2019 won the runner-up, which is the best Asian record ever.

Korean soccer has advanced to the finals for the first time since the 1979 Japanese tournament, which was the second tournament. Korea has become a regular customer of the U-20 World Cup, as this Argentine tournament was the 16th (joint third place) final stage. Korea has recorded 60 points in total in the finals with 19 wins, 14 draws and 27 losses, and is ranked 12th overall (1st in Asia).

The Taegeuk Warriors succeeded in passing the group stage eight times, more than half of the last 15 finals qualifiers. In the 1983 Mexico tournament, the third challenge, Park Jong-hwan passed through the group stage for the first time and made it to the semifinals. Until the adult national team reached the semifinals of the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, it was the greatest feat the Korean national soccer team achieved in the world-scale national competition organized by FIFA. Since then, the popular ‘Red Devil’ has become a nickname symbolizing the Korean national team.

In 1991, they formed a unified South-North team for the first time in Portugal and succeeded in advancing to the quarterfinals. In particular, since the 2000s, he has succeeded in passing the first round six times out of the last nine competitions, and has achieved remarkable results of two quarterfinals (2009 and 2013) and one runner-up (2019), winning the U-20 World Cup. He has grown into a strong player representing Asia.

In the 2019 Polish tournament, ‘Jeong Yong-ho’ wrote a new history by advancing to the finals of the FIFA-sponsored competition for the first time in Korean men’s soccer history and winning the runner-up, the best ever. Lee Kang-in, who was the ace of the Korean national team, recorded 2 goals and 4 assists at the time, and despite finishing runner-up, became the first Korean male player to win the Golden Ball in a FIFA-sponsored competition.

Coach Kim Eun-joong, who will lead the U-20 national team following coach Jeong Jeong-yong, also has a deep relationship with the U-20 World Cup. Coach Kim played an active part in the U-20 national team, scoring 7 points in 11 matches, and also participated in the 1999 U-20 World Cup held in Nigeria. At that time, the national team, which was called the Golden Generation, including Kim Eun-joong, Lee Dong-guk, Seol Ki-hyeon, Song Jong-guk, and Kim Yong-dae, defeated Mali in the group stage, but lost to Portugal and Uruguay and failed to pass the group stage with 1 win and 2 losses. Kim Eun-joong was scoreless in the tournament at the time.

Of course, in the same year, rival Japan made it to the final stage, leaving a bigger regret for the Korean national team’s sluggish performance. Coach Kim Eun-joong had a splendid professional career as a goal scorer representing Korean football in the 1990s and 2000s, but he remained as a player of misfortune with no experience in the adult World Cup, only playing in 15 A-matches in the national team.

As a result, the U-20 competition became the first and last competition in which Kim Eun-joong entered the finals of the World Championship hosted by FIFA in the national team uniform. And after 24 years, coach Kim Eun-joong returned to the U-20 World Cup stage as a coach to achieve his unfulfilled dream as a player.

The U-20 World Cup was originally a two-year cycle, but it was held again in four years as the 2021 tournament was canceled in the aftermath of the novel coronavirus infection (Corona 19) that hit the world over the past few years. Kim Eun-joong is determined to carry on the momentum of his runner-up in the last tournament.

Kim Eun-joong was drawn in Group F with France, Honduras and Gambia. The first match against France at 3:00 am on the 23rd, the second match against Honduras at 6:00 am on the 26th, and the final match against Gambia at 6:00 am on the 29th. All three group stage matches will be held at the same venue, Mendoza, Argentina.

It is evaluated that it is a match worth doing except for France, which is the favorite for the championship. Korean football is inferior to France with 1 win, 3 draws and 4 losses in the history of the U-20 national team. They met twice in the U-20 World Cup finals, 2-4 in 1997 and 1-3 in 2011, both losing by two goals. In this tournament as well, France is evaluated as having a solid power as the members of the semifinals of last year’s European Football Federation (UEFA) Under 19 (U-19) Championship are the main axis.

On the other hand, Korea has the upper hand against Honduras and Gambia, winning all of them. Honduras is recording 2 wins in 2 matches against the U-20 national team, and Gambia was the only match against Gambia in the 2007 Suwon Cup International Youth Football Championship and won 4-0. However, Honduras reached the semifinals at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, and Gambia won the runner-up at the African Football Confederation (CAF) U-20 Nations Cup, winning tickets to the World Cup finals and showing off their formidable power. .안전놀이터

Korea is dominated by promising players such as Kang Seong-jin (FC Seoul), Kim Ji-soo (Seongnam), Lee Young-joon (Kim Cheon Sangmu), and Kim Yong-hak (Portimonense). There is no star player like Lee Kang-in from four years ago, so the level of attention and expectations are low, but based on his unique teamwork, he is determined to reverse the indifference as a result.

There have been many cases in which the promising players produced through the U-20 World Cup have grown into the backbone of Korean soccer. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann also said he would watch this tournament with interest. Attention is focusing on whether Kim Eun-joong can continue another U-20 legend following Park Jong-hwan in 1983 and Jeong Jeong-yong in 2019.

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