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K League forward shines vs. Tottenham, coach touts Europe chances

Cho Gue-sung of Team K League celebrates his goal against Tottenham Hotspur during the teams' exhibition match at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Cho Gue-sung of Team K League celebrates his goal against Tottenham Hotspur during the teams' exhibition match at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Representing a team of South Korean league All-Stars, forward Cho Gue-sung netted an impressive goal against Tottenham Hotspur in their exhibition match Wednesday night.

And Cho's coach thinks the 24-year-old player is good enough to score against European clubs on a regular basis in games that count.

Cho headed in Team K League's first goal in their 6-3 loss to Spurs at Seoul World Cup Stadium. In the dying seconds of the first half, Aleksandar Palocevic found Cho with a picture-perfect cross, and the forward soared between two defenders to meet the ball and put it into the net.

"It was an honor to be able to score against a team like this," Cho said. "As soon as Palocevic had the ball, I found open space (in the box) and tried to put myself in position to score. Luckily, the ball found me and I just had to put my head to it."

Cho began his club career in the second-tier K League 2 with FC Anyang in 2019 and then joined the best team in the K League 1, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, in 2020. He is currently completing his mandatory military service as a member of Gimcheon Sangmu FC and is scheduled to be discharged and rejoin Jeonbuk in September. He is tied for second in the K League 1 with 12 goals this season, with the leader, Stefan Mugosa, having left Incheon United for Japan after scoring 14 goals.

It's not a matter of if, but when Cho will zip past Mugosa.

Jeonbuk's head coach, Kim Sang-sik, was in charge of Team K League for the exhibition. He said he can't wait to have Cho back with Jeonbuk.

"He played so well, and I think he will be competitive in Europe," Kim said before adding with a smile, "I just hope he doesn't leave for Europe right after his discharge."

Joking aside, Jeonbuk have probably never needed Cho more than they do now. In pursuit of a record sixth straight title, Jeonbuk trail Ulsan Hyundai FC by five points with 17 matches to go. Jeonbuk's recent championship seasons came on the strength of their fire-wagon offense, but they are only tied for seventh with 26 goals this season. They also recently lost forward Stanislav Iljutcenko, a proven scorer, to FC Seoul.

Before the start of his military service, Cho was already being groomed as a future star, someone who could succeed Jeonbuk legend Lee Dong-gook, who retired in 2020, as the big-time homegrown scorer.

And Cho has taken that proverbial next step while serving the country. He started lifting weights in earnest in the military and has added considerable upper body strength, which has helped him fend off defenders and win battles against them. With more strength came better finish around the net, too.

The reigning scoring champion, Joo Min-kyu of Jeju United, also has 12 goals this season, and three players, including Suwon FC's Lee Seung-woo, has nine goals apiece. With Mugosa out of the picture, the race is wide open.

"There are a lot of talented players, but I think I'll have a shot if I keep doing my best every match," Cho said.

Kim, the Jeonbuk coach, will be happy as long as Cho is doing his thing in Korea.

"We need Cho Gue-sung right now," Kim said. "I hope he'll score a lot of great goals for Jeonbuk in the future." (Yonhap)

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