DOHA, Qatar — South Korea lost in the round of 16 of the World Cup and then lost its coach.
The team was beaten by five-time champion Brazil 4-1 on Monday. After the match, South Korea coach Paulo Bento announced that he was stepping down to end his four-year stint. The Portuguese coach said he made the decision several months ago.
EXPECTATION VS. PERFORMANCE
South Korea was knocked out of the 2019 Asian Cup in the quarterfinals, so reaching the last 16 in Qatar can be seen as a positive. South Korea was appearing in its 10th straight World Cup, and its 11th overall.
This was the third time South Korea has reached the knockout round. It’s best performance was in 2002 when it co-hosted the event with Japan and reached the semifinals.
A key figure missing will be Bento. However, the current group of players is arguably the best that South Korea has assembled, and most are relatively young.
One of the older players is 30-year-old Son Heung-min, the star midfielder at English club Tottenham. Son failed to score in this World Cup after getting goals in the last two.
He did get a beautiful assist on Hwang-Hee-chan’s goal, which gave South Korea a 2-1 victory over Portugal and a place in the last 16.
Son played in the tournament wearing a black facemask to protect a broken left eye socket picked up in a Champions League game on Nov. 2.
After the loss, Son pointed out who he thinks will be the next players to lead South Korea. He singled out to Lee Kang-in and Paik Seung-ho. Paik came in and scored as a substitute against Brazil in his first World Cup action.
“I am grateful that our young players showed what they are capable of doing on this stage and also the potential for what they could do in the future,” Son said. “I hope they get even better.”
Son also took center stage to apologize for the Brazil loss.
“I am really sorry for our people, for soccer fans who supported us,” Son said. “It turned out to be an extremely difficult match.”
South Korea has qualified for the Asian Cup, but will receive tough competition from Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia — all World Cup qualifiers. The event, scheduled for January 2024, was moved to Qatar after China withdrew, citing COVID-19.