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After bitter defeat, S. Korean soccer coach blames himself, calls for overhaul

April 28, 2024 - 14:25 By Yoon Min-sik
Hwang Sun-hong, the head coach of the South Korean Olympic men's soccer team, addresses the media at a press conference at Incheon Airport, Saturday. (Yonhap)

Hwang Sun-hong, the head coach of the South Korean Olympic men's soccer team, said he shoulders the biggest share of the blame for the team's bitter defeat Friday at the hands of underdog Indonesia.

The 55-year-old also urged for an overhaul of the U-23 national team system, speaking at a press conference after returning home at Incheon Airport on Saturday. Hwang stressed the need for a four-year plan for the youth squad without the pressure of midterm reviews after South Korea was knocked out at the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Asian Cup.

"The responsibility for the quarterfinal loss falls solely on me as the head coach, and I accept it. Our players have a lot more room to grow, and I urge for a pat on the back (for the players)," he said.

Hwang went on to criticize the current system of the U-23 team, which requires the head coach to do well in the Asian Cup if he or she wishes to keep the job. "This may sound like an excuse, but such a system gives (the head coach) only a few months to prepare for the Olympics," he said.

Hwang took the helm of the squad for the Olympic Games in September of 2021 and is currently doubling as the interim head coach of the men's national soccer team in the run-up to the 2026 World Cup.

Criticism toward Hwang has been mounting after South Korea fell to Indonesia 11-10 on penalties at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha, which meant South Korea was eliminated from contention for the Paris Olympics. It means the young Taegeuk Warriors squad will not compete in the Olympic men's soccer tournament for the first time in four decades, with their appearance streak, maintained since 1988, being broken.

South Korean was widely expected to take the critical match against Indonesia, which has not played in the Olympics since 1956. The Indonesians were led by head coach Shin Tae-yong, a South Korean who said he had "mixed feelings" about his team's win over his native country.

In a post-game interview, South Korea's assistant coach Myung Jae-yong blamed the team's early exit on injuries and the absence of key players. Hwang had called up players currently playing in foreign leagues, but Celtic forward Yang Hyun-jun, Stoke City midfielder Bae Jun-ho and Brentford defender Kim Ji-soo were not permitted by their respective teams to join the U-23 team in Qatar.

With the team's lackluster performance in Qatar, South Korean soccer fans were left with another disappointment after the national team's semifinal loss at the AFC Asian Cup in February. This loss led to the dismissal of Juergen Klinsmann, for whom the Korea Football Association is still trying to find a formal replacement.

Chung Hae-sung, head of the National Teams Committee at the KFA, has said that 11 candidates are being reviewed for the spot.