Korea pulled through in extra time to beat Nigeria 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup on Sunday, advancing to the semifinals of the competition for the second consecutive tournament.
It was a nail-biter of a knockout game at Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, with both sides unable to break the deadlock throughout the regulation 90 minutes.
Korea’s chance finally came at the start of extra time, taking the lead in the 95th minute and holding on to it with bitter determination for the remaining 25 minutes of the match.
For the second game in a row, it was defender Choi Seok-hyun that provided the magic touch.
Choi headed in a Lee Seung-won corner in the 95th minute to secure the win, the exact same set piece that lifted the young Taeguk Warriors past Ecuador in the round of 16.
“I think Lee Seung-won put it up so well that I was easily able to get my head to it,” Choi said after the game. “Experiencing extra time for the first time today was a challenge physically. I’m happy to walk away with a win.”
As in previous games, Korea relied on precision and accuracy, maximizing their few chances while holding off the Nigerian onslaught. Nigeria controlled the vast majority of the game — with 61 percent of the possession and 21 shots to Korea’s four — but the young Taeguk Warriors trusted their defense to hold off the onslaught and capitalized on the opportunities they created.
The same approach was visible against Ecuador — who had 70 percent of the possession and 26 shots to Korea’s eight — and paid off then too, but may become increasingly difficult to maintain in the late stages of the tounrnament.
“It was difficult because both teams played careful games,” head coach Kim Eun-jung said after the game. “The most important thing was concentration. I want to thank the squad for holding out so long.”
With the win, Korea reach the final four for the second consecutive U-20 World Cup in a row. At the previous tournament in 2019, the young Taeguk Warriors finished second after losing to Ukraine in the final.
This marks the first time that any Korean football team at any level has reached back-to-back semifinals at a FIFA tournament.
Korea will now advance to face Italy — who beat Colombia 3-1 in the quarters — in the semifinals on Thursday, or at 6 a.m. on Friday morning in Korea.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]