JAKARTA, Indonesia -- After winning a gold medal at the Asian Games, South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo has unveiled his next goal going forward: playing with European clubs.
South Korea took the gold medal in men's football at the 18th Asian Games after edging Japan 2-1 in extra time at Pakansari Stadium in Cibinong, Indonesia, on Saturday. For Jo, the gold medal has opened the door for him to Europe.
Jo, who is now with South Korean club Daegu FC, rose to international stardom through the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Defying the odds, he served as South Korea's No. 1 goalkeeper and showed acrobatic saves that surprised world football fans. In South Korea's historic 2-0 win over Germany, he was even named the Man of the Match.
With World Cup success, Jo reportedly received offers from foreign clubs but couldn't land any contract since he also had to deal with the military service issue.
All healthy South Korean men have to be conscripted and serve about two years in the military, and Jo, who turns 26 later this month, had to look for an exemption. Those who earn an Asiad gold medal or an Olympic medal of any color can be excused, and with South Korea's latest run at the Asian Games, Jo can now receive the benefit.
"I know lots of fans had big expectations for me," Jo said Saturday after winning the gold medal. "I will try to show fans that I can play in Europe, so I hope I can get some fan support."
Jo joined the under-23 team as a wild-card member. Men's football at the Asian Games is open to those who are aged 23 or under, but teams can field up to three players who are over the age limit. In South Korea, Jo, Son Heung-min and Hwang Ui-jo were such members.
Jo conceded two goals in five matches that he played at the Asian Games. His backup, Song Bum-keun, was the starting goalkeeper in South Korea's 2-1 shocking loss to Malaysia and a thrilling 4-3 extra time win over Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals.
Jo couldn't play in the last eight due to an injury that he sustained against Iran in the round of 16. Jo said it was Song who he would like to thank the most.
"Song really had a difficult time after we lost to Malaysia," he said. "But he set his mind straight and analyzed the opponents together with me. We also came this far because he defended well against Uzbekistan. I hope we can work together."
After conceding his first goal of the competition in South Korea's 3-1 win over Vietnam in the semifinals, Jo said he would try to win the final with a clean sheet. Jo failed to keep his promise but still he made decisive saves to help South Korea's gold medal run.
Both goals that Jo conceded in this competition were set pieces. Against Vietnam, he failed to stop the opponent's free kick, while in the final, Jo failed to stop a header following a corner kick.
"I'm sure many fans had a hard time after I conceded a goal in the final," he said. "But it's fortunate that we didn't go to a penalty shootout in the final. Even if we had to enter one, I was ready for it."
Jo will not have much time to rest and celebrate his Asiad gold medal. He'll now move his Asiad form to international friendly matches later this week. South Korea are scheduled to take on Costa Rica on Friday and welcome Chile four days later.
"I'm just too happy right now," he said. "I will also do my job 100 percent with the senior national team." (Yonhap)