Young forward proves caliber, helps Korea qualify for World Cup
Published : Sep 6, 2017 - 09:57
Updated : Sep 6, 2017 - 09:57
Hwang, who plays with Austrian side FC Red Bull Salzburg, played full time as the lone striker in South Korea's 4-2-3-1 system in the national team's showdown against Uzbekistan at Bunyodkor Stadium in Tashkent. This was their last match in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Despite ending in a scoreless draw, South Korea clinched their ninth consecutive World Cup appearance with some luck. Syria, who started just two points off South Korea, played to a 2-2 draw with Iran and failed to overcome the deficit.
South Korean forward Hwang Hee-chan (C) takes a shot against Uzbekistan in the teams` World Cup qualifying match at Bunyodkor Stadium in Tashkent on Sept. 5, 2017. (Yonhap)
Hwang was the hottest South Korean attacker coming into the last two World Cup qualifiers, having scored seven goals in 11 matches for Red Bull Salzburg. He couldn't find the back of the net against Iran last Thursday and Uzbekistan in this one, but the 21-year-old attacker showed he is in fine form.
Hwang, the second youngest player on the roster, was on target from the start as his left-footed shot hit the bar just two minutes after the kickoff.
Flanked by seniors like Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min and Lee Keun-ho, former Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year, Hwang infiltrated space with his speed. He was also an effective helper on offense.
While the national team was struggling to get on target, Hwang set up Son in extra minutes of the first half, but the Spurs winger's right-footed attempt hit the post.
In the 58th, Hwang found Lee Keun-ho, who was in the left side of box and struck a curling right-footed shot that just went inches wide of the net.
In the 67th, Hwang tried to put his name on the score sheet with left-footed effort, but couldn't find the back of the net. He also struck a right-footed shot in the 88th, but hit the left side of the net.
The very next minute, Hwang threaded a pass to Lee Dong-gook to set up a one-on-one chance, but goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov came up with a huge save.
After the final whistle, Hwang kneeled and wept on the pitch, while his teammates consoled the young forward.
Hwang now has just one goal in nine international matches, a record that isn't quite impressive for a striker but also isn't indicative of his contributions in other areas. The latest match served as proof.
Hwang was banged up for these last two matches. He'd injured his right knee during practice for Salzburg and missed two matches for his Austrian side before arriving in South Korea.
After Tuesday's match, Hwang, overcome with emotions, said Salzburg would actually have preferred to see him on the bench.
"These were really important matches, and I desperately wanted to play," the teary forward said. "I spoke to head coach Shin Tae-yong about this, and went ahead and played."
Hwang said the memories of overcoming adversity with most of the current coaching staff came flooding back to him after the final whistle. Hwang previously played for Shin at last year's Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
"I'd love to score a lot of goals at the World Cup," Hwang added. (Yonhap)