The U-22 Korean national team overcame an early wobble to secure a 3-0 win against the U-21 French team during a friendly on Monday, claiming a convincing result ahead of the AFC U-23 Asian Cup and Paris Olympics scheduled for next year.
The young Korean team, led by manager Hwang Sun-hong, faced a French side helmed by football legend Thierry Henry at Stade Oceane in Normandie, France, four days after a goalless draw with Ligue 1 side Le Havre AC.
The match looked one-sided in the first half, as Korea’s defense struggled to block France’s attacks and allowed multiple shots.
But with France failing to open the scoring and Korea making no solid goal-scoring opportunities, the teams ended with a goalless first half.
France’s attacks persisted in the second half, but Korea got on the scoresheet first with Jeong Sang-bin smashing in a free kick in the 70th minute.
That much-needed goal for Korea changed the flow of the game and gave the U-22 team more confidence, leading Jeong to manage another goal in the 79th minute to make it 2-0.
The victory looked promising for Korea by that point, but Hong Yun-sang exploited a loose ball in the 94th minute to seal a 3-0 win.
French Coach Henry said after the match the team could have avoided handing Korea their second and third goals but acknowledged that the first goal was remarkable.
The huge win comes as the young Taeguk Warriors are preparing for the U-23 Asian Cup set for April next year, which serves as a qualifier for the Paris Olympics.
A total of 16 teams compete in the Asian Cup, and the top three teams earn a spot at the Olympics.
Securing a medal at the Olympics could be crucial for Korean players, as winning bronze or higher grants them exemption from mandatory military service, which could otherwise interfere with their careers.
It would be another big achievement for manager Hwang, who led the U-24 Hangzhou Asian Games squad to gold medal glory in October, which also gave the players military exemption.
The highest finish Korea has ever managed at the Olympics was a bronze medal in 2012, when Korea beat rivals Japan in the bronze medal match.
Former national team regular picks like Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol earned exemptions that year and were able to continue their careers uninterrupted.
Despite having won only one medal in Olympic men’s football, Korea has qualified for the Games more times than any other country, at nine.
Since the 2012 Olympics, Korea have failed to reach the semifinals, finishing in fifth at both the 2016 and 2020 Games.
The U-22 national team will continue to prepare for the Asian Cup, set to take place in Qatar. The draw for the group stage will take place in the host country on Thursday.
BY PAIK JI-HWAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]