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[World Cup] Korean World Cup team returns home after early exit

By Korea Herald

Published : June 30, 2014 - 19:15

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INCHEON (Yonhap) ― The South Korean men’s soccer team returned home early Monday following an early exit from the FIFA World Cup in Brazil with a winless record.

The 23-man squad, coached by Hong Myung-bo, arrived at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, from Sao Paulo via Los Angeles a little before 5 a.m. to little fanfare.

South Korea, which had set out to reach the knockout phase in South America, finished last among four nations in Group H with one draw and two losses. It opened the tournament with a 1-1 draw with Russia, but lost to Algeria 4-2 and then to Belgium 1-0.

Belgium and Algeria reached the knockout stage from the group.
The Korean national soccer team poses for photos at Incheon International Airport on Monday. (Yonhap) The Korean national soccer team poses for photos at Incheon International Airport on Monday. (Yonhap)

This was South Korea’s first winless World Cup since the 1998 tournament in France, when the Asians also had one draw and two losses.

Prior to the tournament, South Korea had lost two consecutive friendlies by a combined score of 5-0.

The hard-fought draw with Russia appeared to improve the team morale for the South Koreans, but Algeria crushed them with three first-half goals in an easy victory.

South Korea then faced a must-win situation against Belgium, which, with a spot in the Round of 16 already clinched, rested a handful of regulars.

Belgium also went down a man when midfielder Steven Defour received a red card near the end of the first half, but South Korea failed to capitalize on the man advantage, as Jan Vertonghen netted the 78th minute winner.

Head coach Hong Myung-bo and his players alike were apologetic after their poor performance, as frustrated fans at the airport threw candies in their direction.

Captain Koo Ja-cheol told reporters the young team couldn’t handle the pressure of the World Cup. South Korea fielded its youngest-ever World Cup squad, with an average age of about 26 years old.

“We did our best, but we found it difficult to play the way we wanted once the tournament began,” Koo said. “We gained valuable experience, but it’s still quite disappointing.”

Koo said the players will still have to put in their work to make the most of their experience.

“I don’t think having played in this year’s World Cup will guarantee better results at the next World Cup in Russia (in 2018),” Koo said. “We all feel that we have to show something four years later.”

Son Heung-min, easily the best player for South Korea in the group stage, said he wants to put the bad memories behind him quickly.

“I am so devastated, and as a member of this team, I feel responsible for the poor results,” said Son, who was named the Man of the Match against Russia and scored one of Korea’s two goals against Algeria.

“It was more humid in Brazil than we’d anticipated,” Son said, when asked if conditioning had been an issue for the team. “But there’s no room for excuses. We didn’t prepare well enough, and that’s why we didn’t reach the knockout stage.”