South Korea lost to Algeria 4-2 on Sunday in Group H, a loss that left the Asian side in last place among four teams with one point with the final group match versus Belgium set for Thursday.
Back at the South Korean base camp of Foz do Iguacu, winger Son Heung-min said the team sorely lacked leadership to keep the players calm and steady in the face of the Algerian onslaught.
“We have a young team and most of the players are in their first World Cup,” Son said.
|Korean winger Son Heung-min takes part in a press conference in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, Monday. (Yonhap)|
South Korea has fielded its youngest-ever World Cup team with an average age of just over 26, and only five of the 23 players have previously been on a World Cup squad. Son is the team’s youngest player at 21.
“It’s true that I felt we needed (an on-field leader),” Son added. “But we can’t always have such players. Ultimately, we have to overcome the problems on our own. The loss is already in the past and it’s important that we get ready for the next one.”
Son scored his team’s first goal in the 50th minute. His goal appeared to rejuvenate the listless offense before Algeria went back up by one 12 minutes later.
Son blamed the loss on the team’s collective loss of concentration.
“We made mistakes that we never should have,” he said. “A game like that should never happen again and hopefully we all learned something from this.”
The Bayer Leverkusen winger was named the Man of the Match in South Korea’s 1-1 draw with Russia for a solid performance on both ends, even though he didn’t score a goal.
Against Algeria, Son scored South Korea’s first goal early in the second half to cut the deficit to 3-1 and to instill much-needed life into the offense.
South Korea must beat Belgium to have a chance to reach the knockout stage on a tiebreaker with either Russia or Algeria.
Son admitted it was difficult to change the team’s mood and morale after just one day. But with such a crucial match on the horizon, he said it was important to forget quickly about Sunday’s loss.
“I hope that we don’t have such a regrettable game that we had against Algeria,” Son said. “I hope we can do everything we’ve set out to do and we can enjoy ourselves. Then the results will follow.
“I know a lot of fans are watching us closely, but I think overcoming pressure is part of being an athlete.”
Han ready for challenge
So upset with the loss to Algeria, midfielder Han Kook-young was choked up with emotion on Monday.
After composing himself, Han vowed that he will put everything on the line against Belgium when the two countries meet for their Group H finale on Thursday.
Following practice at the team’s base camp about 24 hours after the deflating defeat, Han said he was so ashamed of himself after Sunday’s debacle that he could barely sleep.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played such a terrible match in my football career,” the 24-year-old said.
“I was so angry at myself for having played so poorly.”
The defensive midfielder was one of South Korea’s top players in the team’s 1-1 draw against Russia last Tuesday.
Facing Algeria, Han wasn’t nearly as active or aggressive as he had been against Russia, as the African side picked apart the South Korean defense with three first-half goals in a 12-minute stretch.
South Korea is mired in last place in Group H with one point after two matches but still has a chance to reach the knockout stage.
The team must defeat Belgium, which has already qualified for the Round of 16, for a chance to advance on a tiebreaker over either Algeria or Russia.
Han, who has endeared himself to fans with his workmanlike approach, said he doesn’t want to leave Brazil on a sour note. “It’d be so devastating if we were to go back home like this,” Han said, his voice trembling.
“I don’t really care if I get injured against Belgium and if it ends up being the last game of my career. I want to give everything I have until the final whistle.”
Han said he and his players might have lost some mental edge when playing Algeria and the team might not have been as desperate as it had been versus Russia.
Han said he isn’t taking the opportunity to play in the World Cup for granted.
“It’s an honor for me to be at the World Cup, given my average skills,” he said. “This could also be my last World Cup and I don’t want to have any regrets.”