Incheon 29 June 2018 (Yonhap)
The South Korean World Cup team returned home to a warm welcome on Friday, its two early losses long forgotten after a stunning win over Germany.
South Korea shocked the football world by blanking the world No. 1 and defending World Cup champions 2-0 on Wednesday to close out Group F play at the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Though the Taeguk Warriors still missed out on the round of 16, they were widely lauded for the valiant effort in pulling off the monumental upset against the European giants. Both South Korean goals came in second-half stoppage time.
Thanks to one of their biggest World Cup victories ever, South Korea finished third in the group with three points, behind Sweden and Mexico. Germany also had three points but lost out to South Korea in goal difference tiebreaker.
The improbable win helped turn the tide of public opinion on South Korea, which had taken a beating from a notoriously fickle and demanding fan base after losing to Sweden and Mexico.
The reception that this year’s team received at Incheon International Airport contrasted sharply with what the 2014 World Cup squad faced upon its return. South Korea managed one draw and two losses in Brazil four years ago, and fans greeted then-coach Hong Myung-bo and his players with toffees — an insult in Korean culture — and shouted slurs at them.
But on this day, toffees were replaced with flowers, insults with accolades and shouts of encouragement from a few hundred fans, who were also busy taking pictures with the cell phones and trying to get a glimpse of their favorite football heroes.
There were still a few disgruntled fans who threw eggs and toffee-shaped pillows toward the players before the start of the welcoming ceremony. But they were easily outnumbered by the team’s supporters, who shouted at the malcontents to stop throwing objects.
Head coach Shin Tae-yong thanked the crowd gathered at the airport, saying their support helped carry his team through the ups and downs of the World Cup.
“I didn’t want to come home until July (with the knockout stage in play), and it’s disappointing to be back home in June,” Shin said. “I’d like to thank our fans for their love and support. Without our fans, we wouldn’t have been able to create the miracle that we did.”
From the 23-man roster, all but captain Ki Sung-yueng arrived back home. Ki flew to England for what the Korea Football Association (KFA) said were “personal reasons.”
Ki did not play in the Germany match due to injury, and forward Son Heung-min wore the captain’s armband in Ki’s stead. He said he’ll cherish his second World Cup experience.
“I am sorry to our fans that we didn’t live up to our promise of reaching the knockout stage,” Son said. “But I think we all saw some hope from the win over Germany. But we won’t be drunk with that bit of success, and we’ll continue to work hard.”