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Korea beats Japan to win EAFF E-1 Championship

Taeguk Warriors have now won tournament a record five times
Dec 20,2019
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The Korean men’s national football team celebrates after winning the EAFF E-1 Football Championship at Busan Asiad Main Stadium in Busan on Wednesday. [NEWS1]
The Korean men’s football team successfully defended their title at the EAFF E-1 Football Championship by picking up a 1-0 victory against Japan at Busan Asiad Main Stadium in Busan on Wednesday.

Korea got off to a quick start with defensive back Kim Min-jae. Only nine minutes into the match, he just missed out on the chance for a goal by hitting the crossbar with a header. Hwang In-beom finally broke the deadlock with the only goal of the match in the 28th minute. Assisted by Ju Se-jong, Hwang scored right into the bottom left corner of the goal with his left foot.

As the two teams struggled and failed to up the score in the remaining time, Korea won the title for the third straight EAFF E-1 Football Championship. Korea finished this year’s tournament with an undefeated record of three wins, totaling nine points.

Although this could be considered as a small regional tournament between four countries in Asia, Korea made quite an achievement as they’ve become the first team to win the EAFF title as host since the tournament first started in 2003.

Not only was this the Taeguk Warriors’ third consecutive victory of the overall tournament, it also marked their fifth overall, the most number of wins among participating countries. Aside from the final score, a win also allowed Korea to extend their all-time head-to-head record against Japan to 42 wins, 23 draws and 14 losses.

“It was only the name of the tournament that was different,” Hwang said. “When I look back at my football career, we always had to win a match against Japan, and I went into the match thinking that we would never lose. Our defenders and goalkeeper stayed strong and our offensive players pressured [the opponent] and sacrificed themselves.”

Following the match, Hwang was named MVP of the tournament. It was a redemption for Hwang as he’s been harshly criticized by football fans since midfielder Ki Sung-yueng announced his retirement from the Korean national football team in January.

Following Ki’s retirement, Hwang was mentioned as the player to fill Ki’s absence on the field, but his development has been slow.

Despite not living up to expectations, head coach Paulo Bento continued to include Hwang, leading the fans to further criticism.

However, the tough atmosphere appears to have spurred Hwang to fight on, and he finally proved to Bento that his trust in him was not a mistake. Hwang scored a goal during Korea’s opening match against Hong Kong and scored the winner against Japan.

“My duty is to perform [for the fans], and the fans’ role is to evaluate,” Hwang said. “I want to see good results at the second round of the World Cup qualifier and reach the final qualifier. I have the confidence to do it. I hope the fans encourage us.”

As the EAFF tournament wasn’t a part of the FIFA International match calendar, none of the players playing in Europe or the Middle East were able to join Bento’s roster as they had club commitments. Also, Bento didn’t select any players that can compete on the U-22 squad so they can solely focus on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. During the EAFF E-1 Football Championship, the U-22 football team, led by head coach Kim Hak-bum, was scheduled to train for the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship, which serves as a regional qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

While Korea’s roster included a large number of K League players, Japan’s roster mostly comprised of players on the U-23 team, in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Before Korea and Japan faced off Wednesday, Busan also hosted one of the tournament’s most hostile matches between China and Hong Kong. To prevent potential clashes, a total of 640 security guards were hired for the match, 80 more than usual, as well as an increased number in police force. Fans entering the stadium were also subjected to thorough security checks.

As expected, when the Chinese anthem was played before kickoff, about 200 fans from Hong Kong turned their backs from the pitch and booed.

Tensions aside, China picked up a 1-0 win against Hong Kong. With a win, China ended up finishing the tournament third at one win, two losses, totaling three points. Hong Kong lost all three matches.

BY PARK RIN [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]