The U-23 Korean national team thrashed Myanmar 3-0 in the final Group B match of the 2024 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers on Tuesday, securing a spot in the Asian Cup as Group B winners and a chance to earn a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Korea was off to a smooth start in the match at Changwon Football Center in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, with Paik Sang-hoon opening the scoring inside five minutes with a header.
The young Taeguk Warriors dominated through the end of the first half, managing multiple shots on target, although their second goal did not follow until Jeon Byung-kwan found the back of the net in the 85th minute.
Oh Jae-hyeok then scored No. 3 in the 92nd minute to lock in the 3-0 victory.
The group stage was not all plain sailing. The U-23 team seemed to lack decisiveness in the first qualifier match against Qatar on Sept. 6, losing the match 2-0 despite recording 10 shots.
The team grabbed a 1-0 win against Kyrgyzstan on Saturday, but the result was still disappointing as they only managed one goal out of 10 shots and made multiple errors with passes during the match.
“The most difficult thing is to improve our decisiveness,” Hwang said after Tuesday’s match. “We saw a lack of decisiveness despite the amount of chances and attacks we had during this tournament. We will improve it as stronger opponents await us in the Asian Cup.”
The Asian Cup is set to kick off on April with 16 teams joining the competition. Korea will have to finish the event in third place to book a spot in the Paris Olympics in July, as only the top three teams qualify for the Games.
The Asian Cup is biennial and Korea has won the tournament once in 2020 and finished as runners-up in 2016. If Korea wins it next year, they will become the first-ever country to claim the title twice.
While Hwang’s duty of qualifying for the Asian Cup is over, he now has a more challenging task ahead of him: Winning a gold medal in the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games with the U-24 squad.
Hwang also coaches the U-24 Asiad Squad — originally the U-23 squad but changed to U-24 due to the one-year postponement of the Asian Games caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
That tournament is hugely important to the players, as Korean footballers who win a gold in the Asiad are exempt from the mandatory military service that would otherwise interfere with their careers.
Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur and Kim Min-jae of Bayern Munich both earned exemptions at the 2018 Asiad.
This year’s U-24 squad includes the likes of Jeong Woo-yeong of VfB Stuttgart and Hong Hyun-seok of KAA Gent, who need military service exemption to purse their careers overseas uninterrupted.
Lee Kang-in of Paris Saint-Germain is in the same boat, but whether he will play in the Asiad remains to be seen as the French club is yet to confirm as of press time Tuesday if he is fit to compete.
The U-24 team will play their first Asiad game against Kuwait on Sept. 19.
BY PAIK JI-HWAN [email@example.com]