The young Taegeuk Warriors of South Korea will be looking for a third consecutive ‘four-peat’ at the U-20 World Cup.
The South Korean U-20 World Cup team, led by head coach Kim Eun-joong, will face Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023 at the Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, on June 5 (ET). The South Korean U-20s, who finished runners-up at the 2019 tournament, will be looking to reach the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup for only the third time in their history, joining Mexico in 1983 and Poland in 2019.
Nigeria advanced to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory over Argentina, last year’s World Cup winners and hosts of the tournament, in the round of 16. Nigeria is also a very strong team at the age group level, with two U-20 World Cup runner-up finishes and one third-place finish. However, the defending runners-up and back-to-back quarterfinalists, South Korea, are also in high spirits, so the quarterfinal matchup between these two teams should be an entertaining one.
Korea and Nigeria have met twice at the U-20 World Cup
Nigeria is actually no stranger to South Korea. They have met five times in A matches, with a clear advantage of three wins and two draws, and the Olympic team has given Nigeria nightmares with four straight wins. The U-20 national teams have met four times, with a 2-2 draw, and the two sides have also met twice in the U-20 World Cup finals. Therefore, this matchup will be a test of the dominance of the two national U-20 teams.
South Korea and Nigeria were drawn in the same group with Brazil and Switzerland at the 2005 tournament in the Netherlands. At the time, South Korea had reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, so expectations were high for the age-group squad. In fact, Park Sung-hwa had a number of talented prospects, including Park Joo-young (Ulsan Hyundai Playing Coach), who was dubbed a “soccer genius,” Baek Ji-hoon (Bluebird), Shin Young-rok (Young-rok Bar), and others, and the team was expected to do well.
After losing 1-2 to Switzerland in the first match of the group stage, South Korea needed to catch Nigeria in the second match. After conceding an early goal to Nigeria in the 18th minute of the first half, Korea was looking increasingly disheartened as they didn’t score a goal until the 40th minute of the second half. However, Korea equalized in the 44th minute with an exquisite right-footed free kick from Park Joo-young, before Baek Ji-hoon scored a dramatic left-footed finish in stoppage time to complete the 2-1 comeback.
After giving their all against Nigeria, South Korea fell short of advancing to the round of 16 three days later, losing 0-2 to Brazil in their third group game. Nigeria regrouped and finished second in Group F to advance to the round of 16, then went on to defeat Ukraine, the Netherlands, and Morocco in the tournament to reach the final. However, they had to settle for runners-up in the final, losing 1-2 to Argentina, a team led by the “monster” Lionel Messi.
South Korea and Nigeria were drawn in the same group for the first time in eight years at the 2013 tournament in Turkey. After a 2-1 win over Cuba and a 2-2 draw with Portugal, South Korea went 1-1 before losing 0-1 to Nigeria in their third group game. After finishing third in the group and advancing to the round of 16, South Korea defeated Colombia on penalties in the round of 16 to reach the quarterfinals, where they met fellow Asian nation Iraq in the quarterfinals and lost 4-5 on penalties, ending their first quarterfinal appearance in 20 years.
Who will be the Korean hero in the quarterfinals?
Nigeria hasn’t made much of a mark at the World Cup, with three round of 16 appearances being their best ever. At last year’s World Cup in Qatar, they didn’t 먹튀검증 even make it to the knockout stages after losing to Ghana on ‘away goals’ in the final qualifying round. But the U-20 World Cup is a different story. Nigeria has consistently performed well at the tournament, starting with a third-place finish in the USSR in 1985, followed by runner-up finishes in Saudi Arabia in 1989 and the Netherlands in 2005.
This time around, Nigeria was drawn in the same group as traditional soccer powers like Brazil and Italy. A 0-2 loss to Brazil in their final group game dropped them to third place, but they defeated the Dominican Republic and Italy in their previous two games to earn six points and advance to the round of 16. In the round of 16, they avenged an 18-year-old defeat with a 2-0 victory over host Argentina, who had upset Nigeria in the final of the tournament in the Netherlands, to advance to the quarterfinals.
South Korea also scored three goals in the Round of 16, but they are considered the underdogs in the quarterfinals, along with Israel, compared to teams that exploded for multiple goals in the Round of 16, such as the United States, which beat New Zealand 4-0, Brazil, which dominated Tunisia 4-1, and Colombia, which thrashed Slovakia 5-1. Furthermore, their quarterfinal opponent is Nigeria, a perennial U-20 World Cup powerhouse that is coming off a tough loss to Argentina.
This time around, South Korea doesn’t have a clear-cut ace to lead the team like they did in the last tournament when they had Lee Kang-in (RCD Mallorca), but the entire squad is performing well and new heroes are emerging in every game, especially Bae Joon-ho (Daejeon Hana Citizens), who didn’t show much in the group stage, but emerged as a new hero in the Round of 16 with one goal and one assist. If the new players continue to play well in the quarterfinals, they could have a good chance against Nigeria.
However, the fitness of the players will be a concern for South Korea in the quarterfinals. South Korea, who played the round of 16 in two days, actually had one less rest day than Nigeria, who played the round of 16 in one day. However, with a young squad of players under the age of 20, they may be able to overcome the fitness disadvantage with their ambition and energy. Let’s hope that the young Taeguk Warriors, who are continuing their great challenge in Argentina on the other side of the world, will defeat Nigeria and give soccer fans the news of ‘two consecutive quarterfinals’.