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Jo Hyun-woo: The New Guardian of the Korean National Team

South Korea goalkeeper Jo Hyun-woo After another outstanding performance in South Korea's 2-0 win over Germany on Wednesday, goalkeeper Jo Hyun-woo seems to have become a household name over night.  Despite the defeat and Korea's group stage exit, the Daegu FC custodian's shining performances have fascinated many football fans the world over. Tonnes of articles paying massive tributes to him have flooded in news stands, and pundits as far as the United Kingdom were waxing lyrical about this relatively unknown goalkeeper. Putting together the jigsaw pieces of Jo's career thus far by trawling through past interviews and harking back to five years worth of first-hand observations, K League United's Daegu FC columnist Muyeol Jung sheds light on how this promising goalkeeper came to be Korea's number one for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
image via 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia)


First name: Hyun-woo (pronounced Hyun-oo)
Surname: Jo (or Cho)
Nickname: "Daegea" (a combination of Daegu FC and David de Gea)
Nationality: Republic of Korea
Birth of Place: Seoul
Date of Birth: 25th September, 1991
Position: Goalkeeper
Height: 189 cm
Weight: 75 kg

Career History

1998: Sinjung Primary School (Seoul)
2004: Chung-Ang University Affiliated Middle School (Seoul)
2007: Chung-Ang University Affiliated High School (Seoul)
2010: Sunmoon University (Asan)
2013: Daegu FC

Before Turning Professional

Many people might have the preconception that Jo Hyun-woo must have been in the limelight from an early stage, but the story goes a bit different from what they may think. Back in high school, Jo Hyun-woo started garnering attention from some promising universities, but national youth teams didn't call him up until he entered Sunmoon University in Asan, arguably the least promising university among the options that were available to him.

According to an interview back in 2015, a major motivation behind the decision to join Sunmoon University was because of a Brazilian coach who had already taught him in high school and also because he wanted to join a university team where he could play as many games as possible. After he got into the university team, it didn’t take that long before he was called up for a Korea youth team for the first time.

By 2010 when the Korea U19 team was in preparation for the UAE friendly tournament, Jo was named in the squad alongside Kim Kyung-min (Jeju United) and Noh Dong-geun (Suwon Bluewings). However, this was merely a preliminary call up and, in the end, he wasn't chosen in the final squad. Afterwards, he was called up three more times including for the AFC U19 Finals in July 2010 where he earned two caps, both games ended as draws. After then, he was not given the chance to start a game and from 2011, he never appeared in any national team squad.

By the end of 2013, Jo reappeared in the Korea U22 team who were set to take part in the Incheon Asian Games in 2014 and, once again, he was named in the squad along with Kim Kyung-min and Noh Dong-geun. He was called up again for AFC U22 Championships which were held in early January 2014. However, Jo only played once and was his last appearance at that level. After the competition, he made a very crucial decision to have a knee surgery after he had seriously injured his knee in 2013 while playing in the league for Daegu. In the end, through gritted teeth, he had to watch on as his colleagues won gold medals in Incheon to earn them military exemption and a place in Korean football history.

 Cho Hyunwoo in 2013 (Image via DaeguFC) 

Early Professional Career

2013: professional debut for Daegu FC
2014: injury and recovery

Daegu FC announced the signing of Jo Hyun-woo as their first signing of the transfer window in mid-December in preparation for 2013 K League Classic season. In retrospect, he expressed that the reason for opting for Daegu was that he was looking for a team where he can play as many games as possible, similar to the situation at Soonmoon University. Around the time that Jo put pen to paper, the situation became somewhat favourtable as existing goalkeeper, Park Joon-hyuk, moved to Seongnam and so Daegu's number one spot was there for the taking.

Four games into the season, he was handed a surprise debut and kept a cleansheet in the process as Daegu earned themselves a point in a goalless draw against Seongnam with Jo making several notable interventions. However, it didn’t quite go to plan for him as he lost his place to the more experience Lee Yang-jong who was tasked with helping to plug Daegu’s extremely porous defense. Daegu ended up being relegated that year, dropping down to the newly established K League Challenge (now K League 2). In 2014, the situation wasn't much different at all; he spent the first half of year recovering from knee surgery and went on to make just 15 appearances.

Back Stronger

2015: One Step Up

After such a tediously difficult time, he proudly stood tall in the second division, being named as the best goalkeeper for the 2015 K League Challenge season. Unfortunately, Daegu failed to win promotion that season, despite his consistent performances. A bit of frustration and determination allowed Jo to have one more year to improve and really hone his skills as a promising young goalkeeper. That year was special for him in one sense though as he was called up for the senior national team as second choice goalkeeper under then-manager Uli Stilike. It was tremendous achievement for him, even though he had to remain seated on the bench.

2016: His Best Season Yet

It was an absolutely fantastic season, not only for Jo himself with such an unbelievable record (35 goals conceded from 39 appearances), but also for Daegu FC who successfully earned their ticket back to K League 1 by winning automatic promotion. Whenever Daegu were in danger, there was always Jo Hyun-woo to rely on and promotion wouldn’t have been possible without him. Additionally, he was awarded the named in the K League Challenge (K League 2) Best XI for the second year running.

Jo Hyun-woo receiving his award for best K League 2 goalkeeper 2015
Jo Hyun-woo receiving his award at the annual K League award ceremony (Image via K League)

2017: National Recognition

The news of an injury sustained during preseason put Daegu fans in a state of worry. However, the injury only made him miss the first three games in the K League 1 and so Jo was swiftly back to normal. As a newly-promoted side Daegu were the club touted as being the most likely to be relegated, but his astonishing performances saved Daegu again and again and helped to ensure that Daegu finished in eighth place with just 48 goals conceded from 35 appearances. Just a few weeks before he was named as the best goalkeeper for an incredible three years in a row, he made his international debut for Korea in a friendly against Serbia where he showed off his athleticism and ability as a goalkeeper.

2018: Concerns Turn To Pride

Ahead of 2018, most Daegu FC fans and even Jo Hyun-woo himself will have placed high expectations on him as he was believed to become first Daegu player to be called up to a World Cup squad in the club’s history. However, in the first half of this season, Daegu have struggled; a consistently poor disciplinary record with several red cards and poor performances from his teammates perhaps constricted him in a psychological way and may have played a part in his slight drop in form. But, despite the concerns about whether he could make it in to Shin Tae-yong's World Cup squad or not, he finally became the first Daegu player to play in a World Cup. And the rest of story is what you have seen in this World Cup. In the national team, he has cemented his place between the sticks with very strong performances and was the talk of social media during Korea's 2-0 win over reigning World Champions Germany. Jo produced save after save and kept Germany at bay for 90 minutes and beyond. In truth, in all of Korea's World Cup group games, Jo was their most consistent performer and deserves all the plaudits that come his way.

Jo Hyun-woo in action for Daegu FC Vs FC Seoul
Jo Hyun-woo makes a save during a K League 1 match against FC Seoul (Image via K League)

What Made Jo Hyun-woo Stronger?

He ought to be regarded as one the one of the fastest-growing players in the K League. So what has led him to this point so rapidly? You might think it must be his inherited gift or talent and whilst I don’t think this is wholly incorrect, it is what I have seen of him on and off the pitch which has made him as competitive as he is. It is widely believed that he is very professional, has a very good mentality and has a great attitude towards football and life in general.

He once went on record saying to Daegu fans that “our players, including myself, will stay committed to do their best even if there’s only one spectator behind the goal”. This single sentence is the strongest evidence showing his attitude as a professional footballer. Whenever he is asked to have an interview, he always either starts or ends an interview expressing huge gratitude to the fans. One would seldom come across any Daegu fan who have mixed opinions on him. As long as this attitude remains as same as it has been, I believe he will be loved even more by fans nationwide, as is already starting to indicate. He's the talk of the town, the talk of the country.

What Next?

These past couple of weeks must have been the moment he has been longing for since he first laced up a pair of football boots, but there are still some challenges lying ahead of him. First of all, in order to keep this momentum alive in the national team, he definitely has to improve his weaknesses. He stills needs to improve his footwork and reduce tiny mistakes in punching. Left back Kim Min-woo was massively blamed for the penalty against Sweden, but there was also a small error by Jo Hyun-woo in the lead up to the foul because he didn’t successfully punch the ball outside of penalty area.

Second, once he finishes his national duties, the top priority is to rescue Daegu from the bottom of the K League table. It would be very humiliating for him to end up with a direct relegation at the end of this season whether he transfers to another team or not.

Lastly, like every able-bodied Korean man, including Son Heung-min, he also needs to serve military duty. Articles came out a few days after his brilliant performances in this Russian World Cup campaign, claiming that he was given exemption from military duty because of cartilage damages but, a Daegu FC employee, who wants to remain anonymous, said that he needs to do the service regardless of his injury. Therefore, I personally hope he is named in the squad for Asian Games 2018 and has the chance to earn exemption, but it seems a bit unlikely as there are two other strong, competitive goalkeepers in, Kang Hyun-moo (Pohang Steelers) and Song Bum-keun (Jeonbuk Hyundai).

New Records for Daegu FC

-Is the goalkeeper to have made the most appearances for Daegu with 158
-The second most capped player for Daegu
-The first Daegu player to play in a World Cup
-Named in the K League Best XI three years in a row

Daegu FC Records

-2013: 22 goals conceded from 14 games, 1.571
-2014: 21 goals conceded from 15 games, 1.400
-2015: 49 goals conceded from 41 games, 1.195
-2016: 35 goals conceded from 39 games, 0.897
-2017: 48 goals conceded from 35 games, 1.371
175 goals conceded from 144 games in total

National Team Records

-U19 National team
-U20 National team (1 goals conceded from 2 appearances)
-U22 National team (4 goals conceded from 2 appearances)
-Senior National team (7 goals conceded from 9 appearances)

(as of 28th June, 2018)

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