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Park Hang-seo’s miracle is still ongoing

Posted January. 25, 2018 08:02,   

Updated January. 25, 2018 08:28


Park Hang-seo, former South Korean football manager and currently the head coach of Vietnam’s national football team, used to be good-naturedly called by South Korean soccer fans a “boldie” midfielder. He became a member of South Korea’s national soccer team by overcoming his relatively short stature with his diligent activities. Forgotten after his 1988 retirement, he re-entered the spotlight during the 2002 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan, as the national team’s striker Hwang Sun-hong ran toward and hugged him after scoring the opening goal that South Korea’s first-ever World Cup victory in the first group match against Poland.

His career as a head coach was far from being glorious. After taking over the position of the national team’s head coach from Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, his squad won just a bronze medal in the 2002 Busan Asian Games. Nor did he win any first-division K-League championship as a professional team manager. He even spent jobless years after losing his position to a younger manager. He started building connections with the Vietnamese soccer association while managing the minor Changwon Football Club. In October last year, he took a shot at a new challenge.

At first, the people of Vietnam who are second to none in their fervent liking of soccer, did not welcome a South Korean manager from a minor league team. They strongly criticized Park’s sudden shift to a formation with three at the back from the previous four at the back. However, the South Korean manager used the tactics aimed at maximizing mobility and team work to advance Vietnam’s national under-23 football team to AFC U-23 Championship final.

Park has cited Vietnamese players’ strong will as the main engine for the strong performance. Vietnam won a war with the United States and stood up against China. The Vietnamese people’s strong will and diligence are also the major driving force behind the country’s rapid economic growth. South Korea is one of the largest investors in the Southeast Asian country. Vietnam is also one of the most popular Southeast Asian countries for Korean travelers. Park’s magic has fueled the Seoul-Hanoi ties that are becoming closer. Vietnam will have the AFC U-23 Championship final match against Uzbekistan. The miracle is still ongoing. Park is “still hungry,” as was Hiddink in 2002.

Sung-Won Joo swon@donga.com