NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia -- South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo made an impressive World Cup debut on Monday, although his team fell to Sweden 1-0 in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F opener.
Jo was South Korea's starting goalkeeper at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, which was somewhat of a surprise decision by head coach Shin Tae-yong.
Jo has been competing with Kim Seung-gyu for the starting job in Russia but was thought to be a backup. While Kim had 33 caps and appeared at the 2014 World Cup, Jo had only played six matches for South Korea prior to Monday. But against all odds, Jo was the man in net against Sweden, and he proved his worth as the starting goalkeeper.
His performance was so impressive it even led Sweden's head coach Janne Andersson to call him "South Korea's best player today."
With the stadium's stands mostly occupied by Sweden's yellow jersey, Jo could well have felt the pressure. But instead, he showed a stable performance from the start.
"I did have some nerves," Jo said after the match. "But my teammates gave me lots of energy, and I wasn't afraid. I just wanted to play without regret."
Jo must have etched his name into the minds of world football fans in the 21st minute, when he denied Marcus Berg's close-range effort with his thigh. Jo, who plays with Daegu FC in the top-flight K League 1, is nicknamed "Dae Gea," which combines the name of his club, Daegu, and Spain's star goalkeeper David De Gea. It was a moment when he lived up to his nickname.
"I didn't think I would be able to block his shot, but I had to try my best," he said. "I didn't want to give up and just wanted to overcome and get through that situation."
Sweden kept sending crosses into the box, hoping to take advantage of their physical edge, but Jo, who is listed at 189 centimeters, was also steady in the air.
In the second half, Jo started with a denial on Ola Toivonen's header in the 56th. But Jo wasn't unbreakable on this day.
Sweden earned a penalty kick in the 62nd after video review, and Andreas Granqvist sent a low shot opposite of Jo's diving direction to end the scoreless deadlock in the 65th.
"I knew he (Granqvist) would kick the ball after checking the direction, but it didn't go well as I planned," he said. "I think I just performed like I've been preparing for this match."
Although South Korea failed to get a promising result in the end, it was Jo who at least the kept the game a one-goal affair. Sweden made 15 attempts toward South Korea's net, with four on target.
South Korea's next opponents are Mexico, who beat defending champions Germany 1-0 in their Group F opener. South Korea and Mexico will meet in Rostov-on-Don on Saturday.
"Mexico have good counterattacks, but you never know what will happen in the end," he said. "I think we should reorganize to have a better team atmosphere. Since we now have one loss, we must play more aggressively." (Yonhap)