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(Yonhap Interview) S. Korean football chief hopes nat'l team can reach 2018 World Cup knockout stage

2017/12/28 10:59

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SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Yonhap) -- This year has been a roller coaster ride for South Korean football and its top administrator Chung Mong-gyu.

Although South Korea secured their ninth consecutive FIFA World Cup appearance, the men's national team went down a bumpy road. There were coaching changes in the middle of the qualification campaign, with some angry fans calling for an overhaul of the Korea Football Association (KFA).

In 2018, Chung, who heads the KFA, said he wants to see better performances from the national team. In particular, he hopes the Taeguk Warriors can reach the round of 16 at the upcoming World Cup, although they are in a difficult group. South Korea have so far reached the World Cup knockout stage only once on foreign soil.

"I hope we can join the last 16 at the World Cup," Chung said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Thursday. "Even if we fail, I think we have to show the power of our football. Since head coach Shin Tae-yong is working hard, I expect the national team to play a good game."

  

Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu speaks in an interview at the KFA House in Seoul on Dec. 28, 2017. (Yonhap) Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu speaks in an interview at the KFA House in Seoul on Dec. 28, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea are paired with defending champions Germany, Central American football powerhouses Mexico and European dark horses Sweden in Group F at the 2018 World Cup. Chung admitted that South Korea face a daunting task in Russia.

"There are no easy opponents," he said. "I think our football level will be evaluated accurately at this World Cup."

   Chung has achieved all four goals that the KFA planned for this year. With the men's team earning World Cup tickets, he saw the women's team qualifying for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women's Asian Cup next year, and South Korea successfully hosting the FIFA U-20 World Cup this summer. The 55-year-old also won a seat on the FIFA Council.

"My biggest concern was the men's team reaching the World Cup, but fortunately we were able to achieve that goal," he said. "But personally, it was a sad year for me because my club Busan IPark lost head coach Cho Jin-ho to a heart attack."

  

Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu speaks in an interview at the KFA House in Seoul on Dec. 28, 2017. (Yonhap) Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu speaks in an interview at the KFA House in Seoul on Dec. 28, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea wrapped up this year on a high note after the men's team won the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Football Championship by demolishing archrivals Japan 4-1. Chung said winning the regional title was important for the national players.

"Our biggest achievement from the tournament was that the K League-based players earned confidence," he said. "I think we can expect some good news at the World Cup if the national team can display good work like they did at the regional competition."

   Chung said he also expects good performances from overseas-based South Korean footballers, including Son Heung-min. The Tottenham Hotspur attacker has been in good form recently.

"Son probably was mad at himself when he couldn't show his hot club form with the national team," he said. "But in recent national team matches, he played well. I hope he can become a player who can surpass our football legend Cha Bum-kun."

  

In this photo taken by the Associated Press on Dec. 1, 2017, Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu (2nd from L) poses for a photo with South Korean national football team head coach Shin Tae-yong (C), assistant coach Kim Nam-il (L), Cha Bum-kun (2nd from R) and Park Ji-sung after the 2018 FIFA World Cup draw ceremony in Moscow. (Yonhap) In this photo taken by the Associated Press on Dec. 1, 2017, Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu (2nd from L) poses for a photo with South Korean national football team head coach Shin Tae-yong (C), assistant coach Kim Nam-il (L), Cha Bum-kun (2nd from R) and Park Ji-sung after the 2018 FIFA World Cup draw ceremony in Moscow. (Yonhap)

For the new year, Chung said the KFA will focus on expanding the sport's popularity and develop women's football.

"We need to collect good results at the World Cup, so that football can earn more popularity and draw more promising players," he said. "We also need to give a lot of energy to develop the women's football industry."

   Chung, former commissioner of the South Korean pro football league, said the KFA will also increase investments in young footballers, especially those in middle school.

"I think middle school football players are critical to South Korean football," he said. "High school players are already considered semipros. Our football's future depends on how much football players in middle school and elementary school can enjoy the sport. We'll keep working to provide the best environment for young and talented players."

   One of the KFA's organization restructuring and personnel reshuffles last month included South Korean football icon Park Ji-sung, who will now control the KFA's youth football programs. Chung said he has big expectations for the former Manchester United midfielder's new job.

"Park played for Manchester United that have one of the finest youth football systems in the world," he said. "Park also played in South Korea until college, so he understands both environments well. He'll help us find out what we need to improve and support for youth football."

  

Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu (L) hands a certificate of scholarship to a young football player during an event organized by the KFA and the Pony Chung Foundation in Seoul on Dec. 27, 2017. (Yonhap) Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu (L) hands a certificate of scholarship to a young football player during an event organized by the KFA and the Pony Chung Foundation in Seoul on Dec. 27, 2017. (Yonhap)

With Park, the KFA's personnel reshuffle is aimed at bringing young and fresh blood to the organization. South Korea's 2014 World Cup team head coach Hong Myung-bo was named the KFA General Secretary, while former Hong Kong national football team boss Kim Pan-gon took the job of handling the national team coach recruitments.

"They may be young, but they already have enough experience and good understanding of top level football," he said. "They also know how to work internationally and will facilitate communication."

   In 2018, Chung said he also wants to see South Korea win the bid to host the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. The result will be announced at the AFC Congress in May 2018.

"I think there's a 50-50 chance that we can win the bid against China," he said. "We haven't hosted the tournament since 1960, so we really want to win the bid. As we saw from the U-20 World Cup, hosting a major tournament can improve our football infrastructure and make people more interested in football. Our advantage is that we have better venue accessibility than China."

  

In this file photo taken on June 12, 2017, Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu (R) attends a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) and FIFA President Gianni Infantino at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken on June 12, 2017, Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu (R) attends a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) and FIFA President Gianni Infantino at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr

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