With his team headed to the knockout phase of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina, South Korea head coach Kim Eun-jung wants to see just how far the country can go.
South Korea, as runners-up of Group F, will take on Ecuador in the round of 16 in Santiago del Estero at 6 p.m. Thursday local time, or 6 a.m. Friday in Seoul time.
South Korea played Gambia to a goalless draw to close out the group stage Sunday in Mendoza, and ended up with five points from a win and two draws. Gambia won the group with seven points.
"Now that we'll have one-and-done games coming up, we have to be careful," Kim said in a televised interview after the draw against Gambia. "We'll try to prepare ourselves the best we can to get good results."
South Korea opened the tournament with a 2-1 upset win over France and then had a 2-2 draw against Honduras. The young Taegeuk Warriors secured a knockout berth on Saturday, even before playing their final group match, when Israel beat Japan 2-1 in Group C. That result ensured South Korea could at least grab a spot in the round of 16 as one of the four-best No. 3 seeds.
With the knockout ticket in his pocket, Kim made several changes to the starting lineup against Gambia, compared with the one that played Honduras on Thursday.
"I sent out players who hadn't seen much action before today. I wanted to keep some other players fresh and help them conserve energy," the coach said. "I brought a few players off the bench in the second half so that they could stay sharp for the next game."
Defender Hwang In-taek made his first start of the tournament after being subbed in for the previous two matches. He helped keep the game scoreless even with South Korea losing the possession battle and getting outshot against Gambia.
"I am not entirely satisfied with my performance, but I was able to stay focused to keep Gambia off the board," Hwang said. "The key now is to recover in time for the knockout match. We will try to maintain our confidence without getting too cocky, and keep marching on to the quarterfinals and the semifinals." (Yonhap)