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Korea fails but shows promise

Under-20 team’s dream run halted by Spain on penalty kicks

The U20 World Cup is the stage where promising young players get together to show whether they are destined for success. And the South Korean U20 team did show some potential for a bright future at this year’s tournament in Colombia.

On Wednesday, manager Lee Kwang-jong’s side put on a solid display against European Champions Spain, but ultimately lost on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the last 16 of the World Cup.

After the goalless full time and 30 minutes of extra time, the game went straight to penalties. Both sides were successful until their second kicker.

But Spain’s Koke missed the spot kick and the Koreans were suddenly looking almost certain to reach the quarter finals. Korea, however, missed the opportunity after Lee Ki-je’s shot was blocked by the Spanish goalkeeper.

Kim Kyung-jung missed the deciding penalty, firing over the crossbar to give the Spanish side a winning 7-6 margin.

“We were up against a very good team, but we played very well,” manager Lee said after the game.

Playing against the world’s top team, which scored 11 goals in their three group matches, the Koreans showed great energy and commitment throughout the game.

Korea had its first chance after 15 minutes. Striker Lee Yong-jae, who plays with the French side FC Nantes, received the ball inside the box, but his dull touch allowed the defender to clear the ball.

Midfielder Kim Young-uk’s powerful long-range shot in the 20th minute forced a leaping save from the keeper, and Lee tested the goalkeeper again just a minute later with a close-range effort.

In the second half, although Spain dominated the ball possession and made about half a dozen attempts on goal, Korea also fired back with fast counter-attacks.

Korea had its best chance in extra time when FC Nantes striker Lee broke the defense to find the ball inside the area, only to miscue his shot off target.

After the hard-fought game Spanish manager Julen Lopetegui praised the Korean side’s performance, saying: “They played an excellent game, and they gave us a really tough match.”

“They have very fast players who run all day, and this made it difficult for us,” he added.

Before facing Spain, Korea defeated Mali 2-0, but lost against France 3-1 and to the host Colombia 1-0 in their group ties.

By Oh Kyu-wook (
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Korea Herald daum