Tag Archives: football

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Korean Soccer Whiz Kid Eying to Win FIFA Ballon d’Or

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
stevehan35@gmail.com

South Korean soccer prodigy Lee Seung-woo, who plays for the youth developmental team of worldly renowned Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona, is never shy about making bold statements. Last September, the then 16-year-old sparked controversy after saying that “beating a team at the level of Japan will be easy” ahead of Korea’s quarterfinals match against its arch rival at the Asian Under-16 Championships. He then kept his word by scoring two goals, one of which was a stunning solo effort, in Korea’s convincing 2-0 win.

This time around, Lee has set a far loftier goal. He now wants to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or, an annual award given by international soccer’s governing body to a player who’s been voted by journalists, national team coaches and captains. Since 2008, the prestigious award has been monopolized by superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who are considered to be in a class of their own even among the world’s very best. Although Lee hasn’t yet played in a professional match due to age restrictions, the media in Europe have touted Lee, now 17, as the “Korean Messi” because of his undeniable potential.

“It’s an honor to be called the Korean Messi,” Lee said in a press conference at the Incheon Airport on Wednesday after he arrived from Spain to join Korea’s under-18 team for the upcoming international tournament in Suwon. “I want to be the best just like Messi. Just like Messi, my goal is to win the Ballon d’Or.”

Lee is eligible to sign a professional contract with Barcelona when he turns 18 in January of next year. If that were to happen, Lee will likely play alongside Messi at Barcelona. Messi, already among soccer’s all-time greats at age 27, won four straight Ballon d’Ors from 2009 to 2012, during which he won three Spanish league titles and two European Champions League trophies. Last January, Lee tweeted a photo he took with Messi at Barcelona’s training center and expressed his dream to one day play next to his idol.

Additionally, Lee also said that he aims to become Korea’s youngest ever player to represent the country at senior level. The current record is held by Kim Pan-keun, who made his international debut at just 17 years and 241 days old in 1983. Lee turned 17 on Jan. 6 last year, and he would have to be selected to Korean men’s national team before September to break Kim’s record. South Korea has six matches scheduled between now and September.

“Playing for the senior national team has been my dream since I was a little kid,” Lee said. “I want to be my country’s youngest player in history.”

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France Chosen Over South Korea to Host FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

FIFA announced earlier today that France will host the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup instead of South Korea.

South Korea, France, England, New Zealand and South Africa initially expressed their interest in hosting the two events. However, the candidates were narrowed down to two countries last October, when France and South Korea submitted their official bid documents to FIFA.

Following a unanimous decision, the FIFA executive committee awarded the hosting rights to France, bringing the tournament back to Europe after Germany served as host in 2007.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is considered the most important international competition in women’s soccer, and it is the biggest single-sport event played by women. The championship has been held every four years since 1991, when its inaugural tournament took place in Guandong, China.

Canada will be hosting the 2015 championship from June 6 to July 5, 2015, with 24 teams competing.

Japan is the current champion of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and was the first Asian team to achieve this feat. There have been six tournaments so far, with Germany and the U.S. being two-time champions.

You can watch the host country announcement below:

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Uli Stielike Questions Korean Education Over Players’ Lack of Creativity

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Uli Stielike, the head coach of South Korea’s national soccer team, has placed doubts on the Korean education system, suggesting that his team’s bland playing style during games may stem from the country’s rigid teaching model in childhood education.

German coach Stielike, who recently won overwhelming plaudits from the Korean public for taking the national team to its first Asian Cup final in 27 years, told Spain’s daily newspaper AS that he has been taken aback by the players’ tendency to relentlessly follow directions without improvising what they’ve been taught to do on the field.

“I’ve never worked in an Asian country before,” said Stielike, who took charge of the Korean team last October with the mission of revamping the soccer landscape in the country. “In terms of team discipline, a coach couldn’t ask for more from these players. Their willingness to work hard is impressive. What they lack, due to the education of players, is greater creativity.”

Stielike has praised his team in the past for its ability to play with togetherness, highlighting its gritty efforts when defending, but he also expressed frustration over the passive attitude of the players as they are often reluctant to take risks and create innovative plays when attacking. Likewise, Korean players combined for just five runs into the opponent’s penalty box in three games at last year’s World Cup. Ivory Coast, which was also eliminated after three games, had 18 runs into the area.

The 60-year-old coach was a legendary midfielder and defender during his playing career, having played for European powerhouses, such as Borussia Monchengladbach and Real Madrid, throughout the 1970s and 80s in addition to winning the European Championship with the German national team in 1980.

In Spain, where he played for Real Madrid from 1977 to 1985, Stielike still remains as one of the most beloved foreign players to have played for the club that boasts the highest number of Spanish and European titles. He was well-known for his elegant and imaginative style of play, often acting as the playmaker for his teams.

“I want to see moments of surprise from the Korean players,” Stielike said. “But it is a little curious … I remember the first time I asked a player during practice what he thought about my instructions. He looked at me as if I were treating him like he was someone from Mars.”

For decades, schools in South Korea have produced students who score among the highest in standardized tests in comparison with students from other OECD countries. However, the so-called “K-12 education” in Korea is so ruthlessly focused on exams, most notably the annual college entrance exam, that an average schoolchild works up to 13 hours a day, while an average high school student only sleeps 5.5 hours a night because of schoolwork, according to an article by The New York Times last year.

The rigid school system has allegedly made South Korea the world’s top producer of unhappy and even suicidal teenagers. Taking a step further, Stielike said that such an extreme culture has deprived Korea’s athletes of creativity and inventiveness, which are critical elements in soccer as there’s only so much a coach can do during a 90-minute game that only has one 15-minute break at halftime, unlike basketball, which allows multiple timeouts for coaches to use during games to give instructions to the players.

For years, top tier professional soccer players in Korea have been testing their abilities in Europe, where the quality of the games is known to be higher than that of their country’s domestic K League. Korean national team captain Ki Sung-yueng is a key figure at Swansea of the English Premier League, while the country’s 22-year-old star goalscorer Son Heung-min has been playing in Germany since he was just 16.

However, the K League still serves as the “farm system” for the national team as even players who later move to Europe must develop through the youth academies of South Korea’s professional teams. Ultimately, the K League must develop more competitive players who can create plays for themselves rather than ones who simply adhere to what their coaches say, Stielike said.

“The Korean League, truthfully, is not very strong,” the coach continued. “By contrast, the fans’ expectations on their national team is immense. We have four players playing in Germany, two in England and the vast majority are playing in Asia. I doubt that the level of such leagues allow us to raise the level of the national team.”

But Stielike, who is under contract until 2018, is still confident that his experience could steer Korean soccer back on the map of world soccer.

“Provided that we qualify for the next World Cup, I’m contracted until 2018,” he said. “The aim is to pass the group stage of the World Cup [which the team failed to do in 2014].”

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Featured image via SMH

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Korean Soccer Chief to Run for FIFA Executive Committee

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Korea Football Association (KFA) president Chung Mong-gyu has declared his candidacy for a seat on the FIFA Exeuctive Committee, making him eligible to become South Korea’s second executive of the international soccer’s governing body.

Chung Mong-gyu, 53, is apparently hoping to follow in the footsteps of his cousin Chung Mong-joon, a former KFA president who served on the FIFA Executive Committee from 1994 to 2010 as the vice president.

Chung Mong-gyu, registered for his candidacy with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Tuesday, according to the KFA. The deadline for registration is reportedly Feb. 28.

The president of the AFC is automatically given a seat on the FIFA Executive Committee as FIFA’s vice president, which leaves only three additional seats for potential candidates from Asia. The candidates will be chosen during the AFC Congress in Bahrain on April 30.

Chung may be running against Kozo Tashima, Japan Football Association’s vice president, Worawi Majudi of Thailand Football Association, Malaysian football association’s Tengku Abdulla and Saud Al Mohannadi of the Qatar Football Association, according to Yonhap.

Although Chung, who also serves as Hyundai Development Co.’s chief, became the KFA’s president in 2013, he has been involved in Korean soccer for more than two decades as the owner of three different teams in the K League, South Korea’s professional soccer league. He also perviously served as the K League’s commissioner in 2011.

Since becoming the KFA president, Chung helped South Korea win its bid to host the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Last October, he expressed his interest in running for the FIFA Executive Committee seat, saying he intends to “explore more ways to enhance the level and marketability of Asian football.”

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Featured image via KFA

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UAE’s Deputy Prime Minister to Invest in Korean Soccer League

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Emirati billionaire Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, commonly known as Sheikh Mansour, is holding talks with a South Korean conglomerate in an effort to expand his investments in professional soccer to the Korean peninsula, according to South Korean daily Segye Ilbo.

Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is often referred to as the richest man in world soccer. He currently owns Manchester City, the English Premier League team, and has overseen its tremendous transformation into one of the world’s wealthiest teams since he purchased the club in 2008.

Now, Sheikh Mansour has reportedly been discussing a possibility in claiming a stake in a team included in the K League, South Korea’s professional soccer league. According to the Segye Ilbo, the 44-year-old petroleum tycoon has sent officials from Manchester City to South Korea to meet with Kang Ho-chan, the president of Nexen Tire, with the hopes of owning a majority share of a K League team.

The details of Sheikh Mansour’s possible investment is still under wraps, but Segye Ilbo‘s report hints that the ongoing discussions entail a potential partnership between Manchester City and Nexen Tire that would then purchase a share of an existing K League team.

The K League team Sheikh Mansour plans to purchase could be be his fifth venture in professional soccer. Manchester City has won two Premier League titles ever since Sheikh Mansour’s acquired ownership of the once struggling English team seven years ago. After seeing his investment pay off, the deputy prime minister of the UAE has since purchased 80 percent of the New York City FC and Australia’s Melbourne City FC, respectively, as well as 20 percent of Japan’s Yokohama Mariners.

If Sheikh Mansour’s deal to acquire a K League team comes to fruition, it’s possible that he could invest millions of dollars in a league that is currently deprived of financial resources to keep its star players. Many of South Korea’s key players on its national team have been signed by the more glamorous European clubs over the last decade. In recent years, even wealthier teams in neighboring China and oil-rich Middle Eastern teams have poached K League’s premier talents.

Case in point, only six players from South Korea’s 23-man roster at last year’s World Cup was playing in the domestic K League. One of those six players, forward Lee Keun-ho, who notched one goal and one assist in three games at the World Cup, has signed a lucrative deal with El Jaish in Qatar after the tournament.

It is believed that the motivation behind Sheikh Mansour’s strategy to tackle the Korean market stems from the substantial economic and marketing benefits Manchester City’s rival Manchester United reaped between 2005 and 2012. During those years, Manchester United won four English titles and two European championships with South Korean midfielder Park Ji-sung playing an integral part of the team’s success, scoring 27 goals in more than 200 games. Off the field, Manchester United capitalized on Park’s marketability in Korea with television rights, merchandise sales and also by allowing him to host a tour game in 2009 in Seoul.

Sheikh Mansour is the half brother of UAE’s current president, Sheikh Khalifa, and is the minister of presidential affairs and the chairman of private equity firm Abu Dhabi United Group.

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Korean Soccer Coach Steps Down After Leukemia Diagnosis

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Lee Kwang-jong, the head coach of the South Korean men’s under-23 national soccer team, has stepped down from his position after he was diagnosed with leukemia, according to reports on Thursday.

Lee, 49, was set to lead Korea’s under-23 team to next year’s Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Last October, he also guided the team to its first gold medal finish at the Asian Games for the first time in 28 years.

Before the diagnoses, Lee was in Thailand as his team was preparing to take part in the 2015 King’s Cup, an international exhibition tournament. However, Lee flew home just before Korea’s first match against Uzbekistan on Feb. 1 with what was initially thought to be a fever. It was later revealed that he was keeping his diagnosis a secret to prevent it from becoming a distraction to his players during the tournament.

A plethora of Korea’s premier soccer talents have rose to stardom under Lee’s guidance, including the likes of Son Heung-min, who at age 22 has already become the country’s superstar athlete.

Lee is considered a rare breed in that he was never a star player during his playing career unlike many prominent soccer coaches in Korea who enjoyed success as players. Between 1988 and 1997, he played in just over 200 matches in the K League and has never played for the national team.

Even after retiring, Lee distanced himself from the spotlight of more glamorous and higher-paying coaching jobs in Korea’s professional soccer league and devoted himself to nurturing young players at the youth level. Since 2003, he coached youth national teams in all age groups, including under-15, under-17 and under-20, before becoming the under-23 side’s head coach last year.

Lee’s first notable coaching accomplishment came in 2009 when he led South Korea to the quarterfinals of the U-17 World Cup after beating Uruguay, Algeria and Mexico. Son and Kim Jin-su, who spearheaded Korea to its best ever showing at the tournament, have since then developed into key players for today’s senior national team.

Since 2009, Lee has won the Under-19 Asian Championship title and qualified to the Under-2o World Cup twice, in which Korea advanced to the knockout stage both times. After Lee helped the Under-23 team win the Asian Games gold medal last year, some even considered him as a potential long-term candidate to replace German head coach Uli Stielike after the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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Featured image courtesy of Seoul Shinmun

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Uzbekistan’s Soccer Player Punches Korean Opponent

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Korean soccer fans couldn’t believe what they had just seen on TV. During a match between South Korea and Uzbekistan’s national under-22 teams, a player from Uzbekistan inexplicably began hurling punches at Korea’s rightback Sim Sang-min.

The incident took place at the King’s Cup, which was held in Thailand this year. The game nearly turned into a one-sided bout when Sim put in a fair challenge on Tohirjon Shamshitdinov while the Uzbekistani was on the ground trying to protect the ball. After Sim made contact, Shamshitdinov suddenly jumped up and punched the Korean player in the face three times. Obviously, Shamshitdinov was sent off with a straight red card.

In addition, another Uzbekistani player, Jaloliddin Masharipov, received a red card in the first half of the game after launching a studs-first “kung-fu kick” into the chest of South Korea’s Kang Sang-woo.

The Korean Soccer Association has since filed an official complaint to international soccer’s governing body, FIFA, to impose further sanctions on Shamshitdinov and his team. The game ended in a 1-0 win for South Korea.

Uzbekistan’s soccer association also issued an apology on the following day, saying that it has “reprimanded the national team and the coaching staff” and that “there will be repercussions” on the team for its behavior.

Since the incident, Shamshitdinov has reportedly been dropped from the national team and returned to Uzbekistan after visiting the South Korean team’s camp to apologize to Sim, according to OSEN.

You can watch the two outrageous assaults below:

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Team Korea Receives Hero’s Welcome Even After Asian Cup Final Loss

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Fans were pronouncing death for South Korean football only seven months ago when their national team returned home after failing to win a single game at the 2014 FIFA World Cup last summer.

Despite falling short of achieving their goal at the Asian Cup from this past weekend, Team Korea received a warm reception when they returned home from Sydney, Australia after finishing runner-up in the tournament, a stark contrast to last July when soccer fans hurled a barrage of yeot candy at them in response to their poor performance at last year’s World Cup. Hundreds of fans greeted Korea’s national team players at the Incheon International Airport, recognizing the team’s gritty efforts that led them to the Asian Cup final for the first time in 27 years.

South Korea’s German head coach Uli Stielike, who took charge only three months before the Asian Cup, expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome, but insisted that his team will strive to improve after its heartbreaking loss to host Australia in the final match of the Asian Cup.

“I didn’t promise that we would win the Asian Cup, but I did promise that we would give it our best shot for the Korean people,” Stielike said at the press conference held inside the airport. “Our players showed that the Korean people could be proud of their players.”

While the Korean team gained precious experience from the Asian Cup, Stielike added, they will not remain content with the result of the tournament and will continue to strive for better results.

Star forward Son Heung-min, who scored a dramatic game-tying goal in the dying seconds of regulation in the final, also thanked the fans for the reception, but admitted that losing the title decider in extra time is lingering in his mind.

“We went to Australia to win,” Son said. “I feel honored that the fans are happy with our efforts, but I still would’ve preferred winning the title.”

Captain Ki Sung-yueng also admired his teammates and promised that the team will continue to stay focused on achieving its dream of winning the Asian Cup title, which it hasn’t won since 1960.

“We gave it our best shot,” said Ki. “We will try to get even better and win the tournament next time.”

The next Asian Cup is scheduled to be held in Iran or UAE in 2019.

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Featured image courtesy of Yonhap News Agency

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