The South Korean under-20 soccer team has crossed the eighth-place ridge into the round of 16 at the U-20 World Cup. However, the absence of key players for the final group game could prove to be a worrying factor in the round of 16.
South Korea drew 2-2 with Honduras in their second Group F match of the U-20 World Cup 2023 at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza, Argentina, on June 26 (KST). South Korea held a numerical advantage until the sending off of David Ochoa, who scored the game’s first goal, in the dying minutes of the match, but trailed 0-2 before late goals from Kim Yong-hak (Portimonense) and Park Seung-ho (Incheon United) tied the game.
Despite not coming away with the win, South Korea is absolutely certain to advance to the Round of 16. With one win and one draw, South Korea has four points, good for second place in the group behind The Gambia (2 W, 6 P), who beat France 2-1 earlier in the day. A draw against the Gambia on Sept. 29 will see them advance to the round of 16 as second in the group. If they beat the Gambia, they will finish first in the group.
If South Korea loses to the Gambia, Honduras ties or loses to France, South Korea will clinch second place in the group. If Honduras beats France, they still have a good chance of finishing second. South Korea and Honduras would be tied on four points, but South Korea would have the advantage in goals for and goals against as they have four goals and three conceded, while Honduras has three goals and four conceded through two games.
The worst-case scenario is that South Korea loses to the Gambia and Honduras, who beat France, is ahead in goals against and goals for, and South Korea drops to third place in the group. In that case, they would need to finish in the top four against the other six third-place teams. In the last five U-20 World Cups, only once has a third-place team with four points failed to advance to the round of 16, so South Korea’s chances of reaching the round of 16 remain high, but there’s nothing to be optimistic about. At the 2019 tournament, Portugal was knocked out of the group stage due to a poor goal differential (-1) and goal difference (2) against the other Group 3 teams. This means that South Korea will need to score a lot of goals and concede the least amount of goals against the Gambia in order to be in a safe position to advance to the round of 16.
However, South Korea will be without a number of key players for the final match and will not be able to face the Gambia at full strength. Starting goalkeeper Kim Jun-hong (Gimcheon Commerce) received a yellow card for stalling during a goal kick in second-half stoppage time. Kim Jun-hong also received a yellow card in the first match against France, so he will miss the next match. Central defender Choi Seok-hyun (Dankook University) was sent off for accumulated cautions after receiving two yellow cards, one in the 36th minute for contesting an aerial ball and another in stoppage time. He will also miss the next game. 안전놀이터
Park Seung-ho, who scored the equalizer against Honduras, is also questionable for the final match with an ankle injury. The injury was so serious that Park had to be taken off just 12 minutes after coming on as a substitute in the 53rd minute. The utilization of Moon Hyun-ho (Chungnam Asan), Lee Chan-wook (Gyeongnam FC), and Park Hyun-bin (Incheon) will be the deciding factor in the final match.
“We have other resources, so we will focus on preparing for the next game,” said Kim Eun-joong, head coach of the U-20 national team. “We need to give more than 100 percent (against the Gambia). We will recover well over the next two days and prepare with the best of our abilities.”