Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in, the most famous South Korean football player at this year's Asian Games, began the team's quarterfinals match against China on Sunday on the bench. And head coach Hwang Sun-hong said it was all by design -- not an indictment on Lee but proof of the team's depth of attacking options.
Lee came off the bench around the hour mark during South Korea's 2-0 win over the host country of the Asiad in Hangzhou. South Korea had scored both of the goals in the first half, and Lee failed to add to that total, despite some promising forays into the attacking zone.
Hwang cited tactical reasons for benching Lee and a couple of other talented attackers: Jeong Woo-yeong of VfB Stuttgart and Um Won-sang of Ulsan Hyundai FC.
"It was all part of my calculation. We needed our forwards and attackers to press up high and expend a ton of energy," Hwang said. "That's why barely anyone up front played the full 90 minutes. And everyone has been in such great form that it doesn't matter who is starting and who is being benched. They're all getting the job done, and it's encouraging to see them all stay sharp."
The South Korean players emerged victorious from a hostile environment at Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium in Hangzhou, with tens of thousands of boisterous fans booing the South Korean anthem during the pregame ceremony and then jeering South Korean players every time they touched the ball.
Hwang acknowledged it was not an easy situation in which to play, but many of his players have enough experience to be able to thrive in such a setting.
"Personally, I think players should learn how to enjoy this type of atmosphere to grow and reach the next level," Hwang added. "That was my hope, and the players were aware of that. I think my players toed the fine line between playing with composure, and playing with passion and fire. I believe this was an opportunity for us to grow together as a team."
Next up for South Korea in their quest for a third straight gold medal will be Uzbekistan in the semifinals.
"Uzbekistan play direct and powerful football, and their players have a lot of energy," Hwang said. "If we try to match them strength for strength, it could be a difficult match for us. We have to prepare well tactically.
"I think our biggest enemy is inside all of us," the coach continued. "We must not let our guard down. We should be confident, but at the same time, we have to approach this match carefully. We have two more matches to win in order to capture the gold medal, and we'll keep marching forward."
Source: Yonhap News Agency