“It’s a testament to the greatness of the team.”
As the South Korean Under-20 soccer team looks to reach its second consecutive U-20 World Cup final in the semifinals against Italy, there’s one senior who’s been in the spotlight for the team’s history at this age group, rattling the Italian goalposts and delivering a thrilling victory.
That would be former Incheon United powerhouse Lee Chung-soo, who led South Korea to a 1-0 victory in the final of the tournament in Japan 23 years ago. The tournament was held in January 2000 and featured South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Paraguay, with South Korea defeating Paraguay 4-1 and facing off against Italy in the final, who also defeated Japan 4-1.
Lee, then a senior at Bupyeong High School, capitalized on an opponent’s mistake in the 37th minute of the Italian game with a quick left-footed shot from the right side of the penalty area that proved to be the game-winner, giving Korea a 1-0 victory. Following his multi-goal performance against Paraguay, Lee scored the game-winner against Italy, earning him the nickname “Millennium Express” for his performance at the tournament. Not to mention, he established himself as the next big thing in Korean soccer.
After 23 years without a win at the U-20 level, South Korea and Italy would meet in the final of the U-20 World Cup. 안전놀이터
The Italians won a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Brazil in the group stage, then went on to defeat the likes of England in the round of 16 and Colombia in the quarterfinals. With 11 goals in five games, their offense has been spectacular. However, South Korea is also the only unbeaten team in the tournament, having beaten the likes of France, Ecuador, and Nigeria, so all eyes will be on them.
Lee, who turned Italy’s nose up at the tournament, is confident that they can punch their ticket to the final if they can carry on the swagger of their seniors from 23 years ago.
“We were a team that didn’t get a lot of attention because we didn’t have star players like Lee Seung-woo and Lee Kang-in, but the current U-20 team is showing how great a team can be in football,” he told Xinhua on Monday. “The quarterfinal against Nigeria was won on a penalty kick, but it made me realize how well we can endure a difficult game and move forward.” He praised the youngsters.