South Korea’s World Cup Journey; The Red Devils’ Illustrious Story Comes to a Close


South Korean Team Poses for a Picture in the World Cup. Creator: ODD ANDERSEN | Credit: AFP Copyright: AFP or licensors

Justin Kim, Brandon Cha, and Anthony Kang

The World Cup has never been just a “competition.” It is a story to be told, a story that unites nations, sheds tears, breaks hearts, and leaves a memory our spirits will never forget. Almost four weeks into the competition, the 2022 World Cup has already produced memorable moments, in which players proudly introduced and represented their countries to the world. Notably, South Korea’s story is one that deserves a prestigious mention. 

South Korea’s journey was always bound to be a tough one, as it faced many challenges. As the brackets were introduced, South Korea was placed in Group H,  matched up against Portugal, Ghana, and Uruguay. With crowd favorites Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal, Luis Suárez in Uruguay, and Mohammad Kudus in Ghana, the South Koreans knew they were faced with tough competition. 

This was not the only major concern for the nation. In November, South Korea’s star player Son-Heung Min suffered a fracture around his left eye socket during a match he had played for his club team, Tottenham Hotspur. With the World Cup just 19 days away, Son-Heung Min’s injury left the nation of South Korea worried that their star man might miss the World Cup. However, after undergoing successful surgery and medical rehabilitation, Son was able to return to the national team with a facial mask for protection. In an Instagram Post a few days prior to the World Cup, Son won the hearts of many fans as he wrote, “Playing for your country at the World Cup is the dream of so many children growing up, just as it was one of mine too. I won’t miss this for the world. I can’t wait to represent our beautiful country, see you soon.”

South Korea’s first challenge was a match against Uruguay, a country ranked third in South America, just behind Brazil and Argentina. Uruguay’s most recent World Cup victory was in 1950, compared to Korea, whose best result was fourth place during its heroic run in 2002. Commencing the 2022 World Cup, this game would pave a way for the rest of these countries’ journeys, and both were eager to win. Despite the desire of the two sides, both teams struggled to score, as the game ultimately concluded in a 0-0 draw. Reviewing the stats of the game, Uruguay attempted 10 shots, and Korea attempted 7. Uruguay maintained possession of the ball 56% of the time, while Korea maintained the ball 44% throughout the duration of the match via ESPN.

Son Heung-min takes a shot during the opening match for Group H at the FIFA World Cup. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)

South Korea played Ghana in its next game, one that unfortunately ended in a 3-2 loss after a spectacular performance from both sides. A notable headline maker was South Korea’s striker, Cho Geu-sung, who scored both of Korea’s two goals, making history as the first South Korean to score two goals in a World Cup match. Despite its commitments, South Korea had fallen just short of grabbing a win, but its hopes of reaching the Round of 16 were still intact, and it all came down to its final match against the group-leader Portugal. 

On Friday, December 2, the last of the qualifying matches in Group H were played, and the match that would determine whether or not South Korea’s hope for qualification for the Round of 16 was in vain. Son-Heung Min and the ROK team faced the Portuguese national team led by world-renowned player Cristiano Ronaldo. With Uruguay leading against Ghana 2-0 and needing just one more goal to qualify for the Round of 16, the pressure was immense for the underdog South Korean team. In the first five minutes of the match, it was looking grim for South Korea, as Ricardo Horta gave Portugal an early lead to make it 1-0. However, in the 27th minute, South Korean defender Kim Young Gwon equalized from a ball deflected off a corner, striking a powerful shot to the bottom-right corner to make it 1-1. 

As Uruguay continued to lead Ghana 2-0 and the match still tied 1-1, the South Korean team needed just one more goal to qualify through goal difference, and in the 90th minute, with 6 minutes of added time, South Korea’s hopes and prayers to qualify were answered. The ball was headed out of the box, right to the possession of Tottenham star Son Heung-Min, who began to make an incredible run across the field, eventually becoming consumed by a wave of Portuguese defenders. Looking for another player to make a pass through, Son sent the ball through the cluster of players to find the Wolves striker Hwang Hee-Chan, striking the ball easily through Portuguese goalkeeper Diogo Costa. South Korea had done the impossible—it went from the bottom of the table with just a mere point, to beat one of the top European teams. With the score now being 2-1 South Korea and the Ghana-Uruguay match ending in 2-0, South Korea had truly done the impossible: they had qualified for the knockout stage as the underdog of Group H.

South Korean players celebrate their win over Portugal. Creator: Alex Grimm
| Credit: Getty Images
Copyright: 2022 Getty Images

Unfortunately, South Korea’s run ended in the Round of 16 with a match that had always looked difficult. Facing Brazil, who is ranked first in the FIFA rankings, South Korea lost 4-1, ultimately putting an end to the illustrious story for the South Koreans. Nevertheless, the 2022 World Cup was surely one to remember for the South Koreans and one that will live long in the memories of future generations.