The young Taeguk Warriors got off to a fast start at the Hangzhou Asian Games on Tuesday, beating Kuwait 9-0 in their opening game to jump straight to the top of Group E.
VfB Stuttgart’s Jeong Woo-yeong led the onslaught, locking in a hat-trick in just over half the game with goals in the third, 45th and 48th minute.
Gimcheon Sangmu’s Cho Young-woo added two of his own in the 19th and 74th minutes, with individual efforts from captain Paik Seung-ho of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the 43rd, Um Won-sang of Ulsan Hyundai in the 51st, Bak Jae-yong of Jeonbuk in the 80th and An Jae-jun of Bucheon FC 1995 in the 95th.
Kuwait were unable to land a single shot, playing with nine players deep within their own half to support goalkeeper Dhari Alotaibi.
The one-sided result is not entirely unusual in the Asian Games group stages, where the higher-ranked AFC teams are often pitched against significantly lower-ranked teams. Korea won their opening game of the 2018 Asiad 6-0, although they struggled later in the group stage before bouncing back to take gold.
Like the Olympics, the Asian Games men’s tournament is typically played with U-23 teams, although this year that limit has been raised to U-24 because the Asiad was delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The national team led by manager Hwang Sun-hong includes players mostly from the K League, in addition to a few Europe-based players: Jeong Woo-yeong of VfB Stuttgart, Hong Hyun-seok of KAA Gent, Park Kyu-hyun of SG Dynamo Dresden and Lee Jan-beom of FC Midtjylland.
Lee Kang-in of Paris Saint-Germain is perhaps the biggest name on the team, but is not set to fly to China until Wednesday.
Winning gold at the Asian Games is crucial for the Korean players, as it would give them exemption from mandatory military service that would otherwise interfere with their careers.
Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur and Kim Min-jae of Bayern Munich earned exemptions in the 2018 Asiad and were able to purse their careers uninterrupted.
Korea get just one day of rest before they’re back in action in Group E, facing Thailand on Thursday and Bahrain on Sunday. The two countries faced off in their opening group stage game earlier on Tuesday, drawing 1-1 to take a point each.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]