Tag Archives: Soccer

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Lee Seung-Woo Held By NKorea, But Still Wins Tournament MVP And Scoring Title

by STEVE HAN

There wasn’t much South Korean soccer prodigy Lee Seung-woo could’ve done. Three or more North Korean defenders surrounded the 16-year-old forward just about every time he got near the ball. Outnumbered upfront, he was kicked, pushed and harassed as North Korea scraped its way to an upset by beating South Korea 2-1 in the 2014 Asian Under-16 Championship final.

Despite the loss, South Korea still advances to next year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Chile after its runners-up finish. Lee, who plays his club soccer at Spain’s renowned FC Barcelona, finished the tournament with both the Most Valuable Player and top scorer honors with five goals and four assists in five games.

“The important thing was to win,” said Lee, who joined Barcelona’s youth academy in 2011 after impressing its scouts at an international tournament in South Africa. “We lost, so I’m not happy about the MVP or the top scorer award. I was only able to play well because of the teachings from our coach and help from my teammates. I’m still young and have a lot to learn.”

Lee added, “Our next goal is to win the Under-17 World Cup next year. We have the ability to do it. We’ll do everything to win.”

South Korea had the lead at halftime after Choi Jae-young headed home Lee Sang-heon’s corner kick in the 33rd minute. Lee, spearheading South Korea’s attack, fought his way through traffic and created scoring chances on two occasions in the first half, but couldn’t beat North Korea’s goalkeeper Ri Chol-song. In the 15th minute, he dribbled past the North Korean defense from the left wing, but his shot was stopped by Ri. About three minutes later, he made a weaving run into the right side of the penalty area and drilled a strong shot that went straight to the shot stopper.

North Korea tied the game just four minutes into the second half when Han Kwang-song broke free of South Korea’s inattentive defending on a long ball into the box and scored an easy tap in. After 14 minutes, North Korea completed its comeback as Choe Song-hyok launched a strong shot into the top left corner near the right side of the box after South Korean wing-back Park Myeong-soo failed to clear the ball.

Before Choe’s game-winning goal for North Korea, Lee had a chance to put South Korea back on top as he made his trademark solo run into the attacking half and had only the goalkeeper to beat before Kim Wi-song grabbed him by the shoulder and brought him down. Lee pleaded to the referee for a red card, but the North Korean defender escaped with a yellow card.

The Asian U-16 Championships, which rarely gets much attention in South Korea, had become immensely popular this time around because of Lee’s impressive performances. Until the tournament, South Korean soccer fans had to settle for YouTube videos to see Lee displaying flashes of brilliance for Barcelona, but the teenager achieved something of a stardom by not only scoring goals, but by showcasing his ability to single-handedly dominate games with individual skills and an edgy demeanor.

When asked about what he thought of his nickname “Korean Lionel Messi” after the game, Lee answered, “It’s not up to me to determine if I play like Messi. To be called the ‘Little Messi’ or the ‘Korean Messi’ is an honor. But personally, I want to be the very first Lee Seung-woo.”

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Lee Seung-Woo Scores, Dances, Gets Mad And Then Dishes 4 Assists

by STEVE HAN

South Korean soccer’s whiz kid Lee Seung-woo did it again. The 16-year-old scored and dished out four assists, giving his country an emphatic 7-1 win over Syria in the semifinal of the 2014 Asian Under-16 Championships on Wednesday. To add to the drama, next up for South Korea is North Korea in the final. The two Koreas will battle for the continental championship.

Against Syria, South Korea’s head coach Choi Jin-cheul played Lee, who scored four goals in three games going into the semifinal, as the team’s playmaker after using him as a primary goalscorer in the previous games. His decision was presumably based on the probability that the Syrians could focus on defending Lee which Japan did moderately well for much of the first half in the quarterfinal game. Lee, who plays for worldly renowned FC Barcelona’s youth team in Spain, had already become something of a star in this tournament with his sensational goals and Cristiano Ronaldo-esque swagger.

Choi’s tactical change sparked Korea’s offense as Lee dropped into midfield from his lone forward position and played telling passes to his teammates. Jang Gyeol-hee, another one of Korea’s Barcelona-based forwards, scored the go-ahead goal in the fifth minute of the game. Then, just before the halftime whistle, Lee converted a penalty kick and extended Korea’s lead, which he celebrated with a bizarre dance (see below video at around 0:45).

See the rest of the above video for Lee’s four assists, which displays his passing skills in and around the final third of the field.

But perhaps the moment that best captured the teenager’s edgy, competitive personality was when he missed a clear scoring opportunity at the start of the second half. Frustrated by his miss, Lee kicked the goal post, snatched the opposing goalkeeper’s towel from the net and tossed it into the ground out of anger.

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The final versus North Korea will be Lee’s last game for South Korea before returning to Barcelona. He will represent Korea again next summer at the 2015 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Chile.

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After Calling Japan “Easy,” Korean Soccer’s Whiz Kid Keeps His Word

by STEVE HAN

Days before the quarterfinal game against Japan, South Korean soccer’s 16-year-old prodigy Lee Seung-woo said that the rival team is “easily beatable” because he said he felt that “a team at the level of Japan” couldn’t be all that difficult to topple.

In the pivotal game in which a berth in next year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup was at stake, Lee kept his word by lifting Korea’s under-16 national team past Japan with a 2-0 win. The stylish teenager, who scored both goals for Korea, demolished Japan’s defense with his individual skills and no shortage of swagger. After the game, even Lee’s opponents admitted that he was simply unplayable.

“It felt like we were outnumbered [when Lee had the ball],” said Tomiyasu Takehiro, Japan’s defender who was tasked with marking Lee during the game. “The only way to stop him was to commit the worst fouls possible. Our defense just couldn’t react.”

Japan began the game by playing its traditional short passing, possession soccer which kept Lee quietly isolated for much of the first half. But in the 42nd minute, Lee played a cheeky give-and-go pass with Kim Jung-min before scoring easily to give Korea the lead.

But it was Lee’s second goal of the game that showed just why he is touted by fans and media alike as Korea’s brightest ever prospect and perhaps also why the Spanish giants FC Barcelona signed the youngster three years ago when he was just 13 years old.

Lee collected the ball deep in South Korea’s defensive half, but in a matter of seconds, he left five Japanese defenders in dust and even dribbled past the goalkeeper to score on an open net at the other end of the field.

“Our tactic was to defend and then attack because we have a genius player in Lee Seung-woo,” Korean head coach Choi Jin-cheul said, according to Asian Football Confederation’s official website. “When he plays and trains all the other players look at him and follow him so he enhances our playing style as he is good for the other players.”

Since 2011, Lee has been dazzling in the youth ranks of Barcelona, Spain’s iconic professional soccer team. Over the years, Barcelona has produced some of the world’s best players, including Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, through its renowned youth academy, famously named La Masia, which literally translates to “farmhouse” in Spanish. Barcelona signed Lee after spotting him in an international youth tournament in South Africa in 2010.

In Europe, it is the professional sports teams that progressively develop young athletes by operating youth teams for different age groups, unlike in the U.S., where student-athletes represent their respective academic institutions until they’re old and talented enough to play professionally. Although the European system is comparable to Major League Baseball’s farm system in the U.S., the age group for youth soccer teams in Europe start from children as young as 4 or 5 years old.

At Barcelona’s youth academy at which Lee is considered as one of the best up-and-coming talents, only a few players who graduate the development program eventually make its senior team. But although some graduates may not make the cut at the senior level for Barcelona, many who show enough talent to graduate its academy have gone on to other top teams in Europe to establish respectable careers. Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta couldn’t find a place in Barcelona’s senior team after graduating from La Masia in 2001, but he now plays for Arsenal, one of the best teams in Europe and England.

Photo courtesy of Asian Football Confederation

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Korean Soccer Prodigy Lee Seung-Woo Scores A Cracker, Calls Japan “Easily Beatable”

by STEVE HAN

In February of last year, we blogged about South Korean soccer’s prodigy Lee Seung-woo as the Spanish media began tipping the teenager as the “second coming of Lionel Messi.” The comparison made sense at least from a geographical standpoint as Lee is also developing through the youth ranks of FC Barcelona, one of the biggest professional soccer clubs in the world, just as Messi did.

To say that Lee will replicate Messi’s success is still something of a pipe dream. Lee, 16, has shown enough promise at Barcelona to play for its under-18 team after the club advised him to bypass the under-16 team altogether, but Messi was already playing for Barcelona’s senior team by the time he was Lee’s age. The Argentine then went on to score over 350 goals and won 21 championship trophies.

But at the very least, Lee is on track to become Korean soccer’s brightest star after more than 18 months since KoreAm introduced him to our readers. Playing for South Korea’s under-16 national team this summer, Lee is in a class of his own as he’s leading his country at the 2014 Asian Under-16 Championships. The videos of his two goals at the tournament so far has gone viral among soccer fans around the world let alone Korea. British newspapers the Daily Mail and the Mirror posted the videos and dubbed him a “wonderkid.”

Lee’s game-winning goal versus Thailand, which sets Korea up against Japan in the quarterfinals, was perhaps the best showcase for his talent. Running at full speed towards the opposing goal, Lee flicked a pass from his teammate on his first touch and bunny hopped over two slide-tackling defenders in a split second before firing a shot past the goalkeeper to give Korea the lead just before the halftime mark.

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Aside from the goal, Lee also won over the hearts of even more Korean fans during his post-game interview. When asked about the upcoming quarterfinals game against longstanding rival Japan in which the winning team would earn a berth at next year’s Under-17 World Cup, Lee smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “As long as we play our game, beating a team at the level of Japan will be easy.”

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PIC OF THE DAY: SKorea’s Mascot Comically Feigns Injury During Friendly Against Uruguay

by REERA YOO

South Korea may have lost the international friendly match against Uruguay 1-0, but it had its shining moment when their tiger mascot, Baekho, dramatically feigned injury after a misplaced pass struck him.

South Korea's tiger mascot feigns injury

After the ball ricocheted into his face, Baekho pretended to collapse while clutching his face with his large paws. Not many spectators seemed fazed by the act, except maybe the one photographer nearby who looks back with a hint of concern.

While the simulation has been called shameful and accused of seeking sympathy from the referee, you have to admit, it’s pretty hilarious.

Photo via Metro UK

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5 Things You Should Know About Uli Stielike, SKorea’s New Soccer Coach

by STEVE HAN

When the Korea Football Association (KFA) unveiled Uli Stielike from Germany as head coach of South Korea’s national team for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the fans and media alike began asking the same question: “Who?!”

Here are five things you should know about the 59-year-old man who will lead South Korean soccer’s quest for the World Cup in 2018 after its massive failure in Brazil this past summer.

Stielike was easily one of the world’s best players in his generation.

A playmaking central defender, Stielike played for Borussia Monchengladbach–a German powerhouse in the 70s–from 1972 to 1977, winning three German league titles. He then moved to Europe’s winningest club of all-time, Real Madrid of Spain, where he won three Spanish league titles. The deep-lying playmaker, known for his high “soccer IQ,” was also the centerpiece of the German national team that won the 1980 European Championship. To this day, Stielike remains as one of very few players who’ve played in the finals of the World Cup, European Championship and European Cup (now known as the Champions League).

Unfortunately, Stielike has little to no competitive coaching experience.

He started his coaching career in 1989 as the head coach of the Swiss national team, but left two years later with no notable accomplishments. He then bounced around the second divisions of German and Spanish leagues before becoming an assistant coach for the German national team from 1998 to 2000, a period known as the “dark age” for German soccer. Between 2001 to 2006, he coached Germany’s youth national teams of various age groups. Since then, he coached briefly in Switzerland before working with two different professional teams in Qatar over three years. He has been out of coaching since 2012. Stielike doesn’t possess any notable winning pedigree as a coach and has no experience in coaching a team in a competitive environment, such as the World Cup. That’s a concern for Korea, as its ultimate goal is to redeem itself four years later from this past summer’s disastrous World Cup campaign.

“Stielike’s only coaching experience was in Qatar over the last six years,” said Hyunmin Kim, Goal.com Korea‘s German soccer columnist. “He has been away from European soccer for a long time, so it’s hard to determine how well he has kept up with the rapid pace of modern soccer’s development in recent years.”

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But Stielike has firsthand experience in revamping and developing Germany’s modern national team program, which today is considered as the best in the world.

German soccer’s rise over the last decade began when the German Football Association (DFB) decided to plow through its youth development model for all ages to re-brand German soccer’s image. Until then, the Germans were notorious for their rigid, physical style of play, which evidently hit a dead end when the national team crashed out of the first round at the 2000 European Championships. Stielike was hired to oversee youngsters who could potentially represent Germany in the future. His job over the next six years entailed coaching Germany’s under-19, under-20 and under-21 national teams. Some players who played under Stielike’s guidance during his six year stint include Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, all of whom were part of Germany’s World Cup winning side in Brazil this year.

“Stielike took over Germany’s youth teams while the national team was struggling,” said Goal.com’s Kim, who lived in Germany during the early and mid-2000s and followed Stielike’s teams. “He served as the coach who bridged the gap between a struggling team and talented young players, like Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Mertesacker and Podolski. Those are the players that opened the floodgate and started Germany’s golden generation.”

Stielike had his chance to coach at the World Cup in 2010, but his dreams were shattered when his son abruptly died two years before the tournament.

The closest Stielike came to coaching a national team at the World Cup came in 2006 when he became the head coach of Ivory Coast, a juggernaut of a team from Africa led by Didier Drogba, who was one of the best forwards in the world at the time. Stielike may have dreamed of leading the team of talented young players to the 2010 World Cup, but sadly, he left the team in January 2008 when his son, Michael, became ill with a respiratory disease and died a month later. Stielike returned to Ivory Coast in March, but he soon left the team after his contract wasn’t renewed.

It was Stielike’s willingness to commit to the growth of South Korean soccer at all levels that convinced the KFA to hire him.

Many qualified coaches around the league expressed their interest in coaching the Korean national team, but the challenge for the KFA was to find a coach who’s committed to helping Korean soccer grow at all levels, not exclusive to producing results at the World Cup four years later. Bert van Marwijk, a renowned Dutch coach, was in pole position to land the job last month, but the deal fell through when he demanded a two-year contract instead of four and that he maintains his residence in Holland throughout the term. On the other hand, Stielike promised to re-locate to Korea with his wife. He also agreed to expand his role beyond coaching the national team and lead seminars for coaches around the country and hold clinics for young soccer players over the next four years.

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Haters Back Home Throw Yeot Candy at Korean World Cup Team, A Gesture That Means ‘Eat Sh-t’

by STEVE HAN

For some people, blasting a group of young men on blogs, Twitter and among friends isn’t enough.

When the South Korean national soccer team traveled home from Brazil, where they were eliminated in the first round of the World Cup without a single win for the first time in 16 years, players were greeted by two men holding up a sign that read, “Korean soccer is dead!!” at the Incheon Airport.

They were there to represent the online community group “We Lost Because of You,” recently formed to promote hatred towards the team. The group now has more than 4,000 members.

As the players walked through the airport gate, the two men threw yeot candy at them. In Korea, throwing the country’s traditional pine-nut candy at someone is a vulgar gesture that equates to the saying “eat sh-t.”

“They made the Korean people eat yeot with their performance at the World Cup,” said one of the men, a 41-year-old only identified by his last name Cho. “So we’re here to return their yeot.”

Since getting eliminated last Thursday with a loss to Belgium, the Korean players have been under heavy public scrutiny.

The animosity reached its peak when Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong tweeted a picture of himself just before the team departed Brazil with a brief message to thank those who supported the team. The message was removed after many people hurled jabs at Jung, saying he should have a time for “self-reflection” instead for bringing “shame” to the country.

Son Heung-min, Korea’s star forward, told reporters: “Should I eat these? I’m really sad. I feel a responsibility for not succeeding at the World Cup as a player who represents Korea. We all feel that way.”

Photo via Yonhap

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KoreAm Video: World Cup Watch Party in Koreatown LA

by JOANNE LEE

KoreAm was at Koreatown L.A.’s World Cup viewing party this past Sunday when Team Korea took on Algeria in its pivotal second group stage match, which ended with heartbreak.

The viewing party was hosted in front of the lawn at the Radio Korea building on Wilshire. Watch the video to see interviews of Korean American fans who came out to support the Korean team!