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What's next for the players who miss out on the World Cup?


South Korea national team boss Paulo Bento has named his 26-man squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. There are some surprises, some that were nailed on, and some that have missed out. Former Korean international striker and current U20 boss Kim Eun-jung says those who don't make the final squad shouldn't be discouraged. 

Although the 32 teams that have qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be able to take 26 players, three more than usual, there’ll still be some who’ll have to face the heartbreak of missing out. Some of those players will have had good seasons for their clubs and have been involved in qualifying and other tournaments. 

This was the case for Kim Eun-jung who, in the season prior to the 2002 World Cup had scored the winning goal in the FA Cup Final for Daejeon Citizen; in 2006 had scored 14 for FC Seoul, and in 2010 scored 13 for Jeju United. 

He was a proven scorer and remains a familiar name to fans of the K League. He’s ninth in the list of all-time leading appearance-makers with 444, fourth on the list of top goal scorers with 123 and eighth for assists with 56. 

But in the late 1990s and early-to-mid-2000s, Korea was well-stocked for forward players with the likes of Choi Yong-soo, Ahn Jung-hwan, Lee Dong-gook, Kim Do-hoon, Seo Jung-won, and Hwang Sun-hong among others all vying for the same positions, and so it was hard for other players to break through. 

Kim Eun-jung was one of those players who had to wait patiently for a chance. He would go on to make 15 caps and score four goals, including a hat-trick against Laos in an Asian Cup qualifier in May 2000, but never went to a World Cup.

FNR

Now 43 and the head coach of the South Korea U20 team, Kim admits that not getting called up for his country for the World Cup was a disappointment but chose to use it as motivation:

“I was always happy to play for my country but it was a big responsibility and a big weight on my shoulders. When I wasn’t picked for the World Cup, of course, it was a disappointment but it just gave me more motivation for the future and allowed me to set a new goal for myself.”

When asked what advice he would give to the unlucky ones who have been cut from Paulo Bento’s squad, Kim says that they just have to keep working hard and shouldn’t be discouraged:

“The way I would look at it is, all players dream of going to a World Cup but not all players are able to do that. Don’t be disappointed, get your heads down for your clubs, train and work as hard as you can and another chance will materialize later.”

Ex-Daejeon midfielder Hwang In-beom in action for Korea vs Cameroon earlier in 2022

Kim made his name for Daejeon Citizen, scoring the winning goal in the 2001 FA Cup Final to cement his status as a club legend. One member of the current South Korea team, Hwang In-beom, too, made his name at Daejeon. Kim backs Hwang to be a key player for the Taeguk Warriors in Qatar.

“He has a big role within the team and so I’m sure he’ll be feeling that weight on his shoulders a bit but he’s prepared well over the last four years and I am confident that he’ll perform well at the World Cup.”

Kim Eun-jung (C) with his South Korea U20 team in Paju, May 2022

Kim Eun-jung retired in 2014 and has since moved into coaching first with Tubize in Belgium before being part of the Korea U23 set up which won gold at the 2018 Asian Games. As he’s currently the head coach for South Korea’s U20s, Kim could well be nurturing a crop of players who could be part of Korea’s 2026 World Cup Squad.



“I’d say there are four of five players in the squad who have that potential,” he says when asked about how many he believes could go to Mexico, the United States, and Canada. “In four or five years from now, they could be part of the full national team but whether they can grow as players or not will depend on how well they train and how hard they work.”

For the 2022 World Cup, though, Korea have been handed a tough group - Uruguay, Ghana and Portugal and Kim places particular emphasis on the match against the South Americans on November 24th.

“The first game in any tournament is the most important, I think. If Korea can do well against Uruguay then I think their next match against Ghana will be a bit easier for them.”

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