Hong writes new history
Before the Sunday’s match (KST), Korea manager Hong Myung-bo had said that anything could happen in football.
That “anything” happened, and what tipped the balance in Team Korea’s favor was the players’ mentality, the 43-year-old said.
“Our players had physical issues and I had expected a tense game but they held up better than I expected. I think our players were able to win because they were mentally stronger than the British.”
The game was a memorable one for the star player-turned-manager. Hong was captain of the Korean World Cup team that went on to a historic semifinal at the 2002 World Cup Games, jointly hosted by Korea and Japan and quite possibly the best defender to ever hail from Asia. Now as head coach, he has achieved yet another feat in the history of Korean football by leading his side to the semifinal.
Football watchers assessed that Hong’s strategy worked on the day.
He boldly fielded striker Ji Dong-won of Sunderland in the starting lineup instead of Kim Bo-kyung who recently joined Cardiff City, a move that worked like magic.
“Ji has played in the Premier League for the past year, and he has experienced ups and downs. However, I believed he had something more to show.”
On his choice to replace defender Kim Chang-soo, injured early in the game, he said, “I put in Baek Sung-dong because I needed a player who would not lose the ball as well as run aggressively in both offense and defense.”
Of the two penalties Korea conceded in the first half, he said the players were a little excited. “But thanks to Jung blocking the second one, we were able to end regulation time with a draw.”
Hong, who scored as the fifth shooter in the quarterfinals against Spain at the 2002 World Cup, shared his experience with the squad.
Hong won a Korean record 136 caps for his country and scored 10 international goals as well as winning the Bronze Ball at the 2002 World Cup, the only Asian player to receive this honor. After graduating from Korea University he went on to play for the Pohang Steelers, J-League clubs Shonan Bellmare and Kasiwa Reysol and Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy.
On ending his playing career, he assisted head coach Dick Advocaat with the national side at the 2006 Germany World Cup and he was part of the coaching team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
He took on full leadership in 2009 with the Under-20 team, leading it to the quarterfinals at the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, a first for the country, and to a bronze medal at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
The usually taciturn Hong is also known as a charismatic leader who is at times both strict yet engaging, like a big brother, when the situation calls for it. Another bold move was to include Arsenal forward Park Chu-young as a wild card pick for the U-23 team. He gave his full support to the 27-year-old forward, who ended up warming the bench at Arsenal for almost the entirety of last season while facing criticism over his 10-year postponement of his mandatory national service. Hong declared at a press conference that he himself will complete the military duties should Park not do so.