Kim Eun-joong’s U-20 team fell 1-3 in the third-place match of the U-20 World Cup against Israel at La Plata Stadium in La Plata, Argentina, at 2:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday. Kim Jung-ho finished the tournament in fourth place.

It was the third fourth-place finish in the history of South Korea’s men’s soccer program at a FIFA-organized tournament. It was the first fourth-place finish since the 1983 U-20 World Cup in Mexico and the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup.

What we learned from the tournament is that the future of Korean soccer is bright. Before the tournament, Kim Jung-ho hadn’t received much attention. The presence of Lee Seung-woo and Baek Seung-ho at the 2017 U-20 World Cup and Lee Kang-in at the 2019 U-20 World Cup drew attention before the tournament.

However, none of the players at the tournament had the stardom of Lee Seung-woo or Lee Kang-in. There was Bae Joon-ho, who was already recognized as a big prospect with Daejeon Hana Citizens, and Kim Ji-soo, who is being eyed by Brentford in the Premier League, but many more fans in Korea were unaware of their existence. This led to the underestimation of Kim as a member of the valley generation.

Despite the lack of external recognition, the players we saw at the tournament showed great potential. Suwon FC’s highly-anticipated striker Lee Young-joon, for example, showed that he is more than capable of playing in the K League.

His performance in the round of 16 was particularly reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp, who played for Arsenal and Holland in the past. Lee showed an unbelievable first touch on his goal, and his link-up play shone throughout the match. Despite his 6-foot-3 frame, his fluid footwork and fluid movement in space made us look forward to the birth of a new big striker.

With three goals and four assists, Lee surpassed Lee Kang-in’s 2019 World Cup performance, but Lee had yet to make his K League 안전놀이터1 debut for his original club, Gangwon FC. Despite being far from the age-group national team, coach Kim Eun-joong continued to show his trust in Lee.

Through this tournament, Lee proved that Kim was not wrong. Lee led the team to the quarterfinals as captain with a sincerity that comes from solid fundamentals. He also had the most offensive points with three goals and four assists. His feet were always a threat on set-pieces, one of Kim’s biggest weapons, and he’s now proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with at the senior level.

Choi Seok-hyun, a short 178cm center back, is the only university student in the Kim Eun-jong-ho squad. At Dankook University, Choi played as a flanker, but Kim Eun-joong trusted his athleticism and used him as a center back.

This paid off in the tournament. In both the round of 16 and quarterfinals, Choi scored headers that were worth their weight in gold, helping South Korea reach the quarterfinals. His presence was reminiscent of Fabio Cannavaro, the legendary short center back who played so well at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Still, they’re young players. There aren’t many players who have made a real impact on the professional stage. How they fulfill their potential once they return to their clubs is up to them. What’s clear is that this tournament has shown that there is a lot of promise in Korean soccer. With two consecutive top-four finishes, the future of Korean soccer is bright.

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