Seoul, June 17 (IANS) The South Korea U-20 male football team was on Monday accorded a hero’s welcome on its return from Poland where it finished runner-up in the U-20 FIFA World Cup, the country’s best ever result in the men’s section in any category at the world stage.
Hundreds of thousands of fans received the players at the Incheon International Airport in western Seoul, despite a 1-3 defeat to Ukraine in the final in Lodz on Saturday, Efe news reported.
The Reds, nickname of the South Korean team owing to their red jersey, were then welcomed in a ceremony attended by the public and the media.
The spotlight was on midfielder Lee Kang-in, who plays for Valencia FC in Spain’s La Liga, who was awarded the Golden Ball after being judged player of the tournament.
Lee, 18, played a pivotal role in his team’s campaign, scoring two goals, including one in the final, and providing four assists.
The team’s coach, Chung Jung-yong, told reporters that he has asked Lee to try and win the next U-20 World Cup in 2021, which he would still be eligible to play.
The South Korean team was the revelation of the tournament, emerging from a group stage where it was lumped with favorites such as Portugal and Argentina, and defeating Japan, Senegal and Ecuador enroute the final.
Against Ukraine, South Korea took the lead in the fifth minute, thanks to a penalty scored by Lee, but were outfought by the Ukrainians as Vladyslav Supriaha scored two goals and Heorhii Tsitaishvili added a third to take home the winners’ trophy.
The best results by the men’s team at a World Cup until now had been a fourth-place finish in the senior World Cup in 2002, and in the U-20 category in 1983 in Mexico.
Only the women’s team has achieved World Cup glory, winning in the U-17 category in 2010.
The frenzy surrounding the team’s performance in Poland has led some to send online petitions to the South Korean government to exempt the current U-20 players from conscription or compulsory military service in the country.