By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, June 29 (Yonhap) -- After scoring the biggest goal of his football career at the FIFA World Cup earlier this week, South Korean defender Kim Young-gwon has gone from scapegoat to national hero.
After returning home from the tournament Friday, Kim said he'd like nothing more than to stay in fans' good graces.
Kim scored South Korea's first goal in the team's stunning 2-0 victory over Germany on Wednesday, sending the defending champions home in disgrace. Though South Korea, too, failed to reach the knockout stage, at least the Taeguk Warriors ended the tournament on a high note after losing their first two Group F matches.
And they received a warm welcome from hundreds of fans at Incheon International Airport, in stark contrast to the frosty reception from four years ago after South Korea got knocked out of group play with a draw and two losses in Brazil.
Kim was on that team in 2014, and he said he was happy to see so many supportive fans on Friday.
"I've often been criticized for my play, and looking back, I thought I deserved much of that because I wasn't playing well," Kim said. "But after the win over Germany, I think some of the criticism has turned into accolades. I will continue to do my best so that I keep hearing praise from the fans."
Kim's goal, which came after a botched German clearance following a corner kick, was initially disallowed because Kim was ruled offside. But upon further review, video assistant referees (VARs) determined that it was a good goal.
Kim said he lost track of the ball as the play developed, and when the ball landed at his feet, he had the presence of mind to slow things down a bit before poking it into the net.
"The ball came at me slowly," Kim said. "In that brief moment, I had to decide whether to shoot it right away or to settle it down first. I felt I would have enough time to first control the ball."
South Korean football defender Kim Young-gwon speaks in an interview at Incheon International Airport after arriving back from the FIFA World Cup in Russia on June 29, 2018. (Yonhap)