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Goalkeeper Lee Gwang-yeon’s performance shines at U-20 World Cup

Goalkeeper Lee Gwang-yeon’s performance shines at U-20 World Cup

Posted June. 19, 2019 07:32,   

Updated June. 19, 2019 07:32


The animal-like reflexes to shoot up and block a ball with lightning speed and charisma to enthusiastically encourage defenders to focus harder. These are the impressions left by South Korean goalkeeper Lee Gwang-yeon, nicknamed “Light Gwang-yeon” for his dazzling defense, who led the Korean national team to the second place in the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

However, there were hidden challenges and fears on the other side of his eye-catching defense. “I often feels lonely standing alone at a goalpost. I told myself that I was doing well despite the loneliness I felt and I should keep on doing well. I feel over joyous that our team showcased great performance and I personally obtained a nickname, Light Gwang-yeon,” said the South Korean goalkeeper during an interview with the Dong-A Ilbo and Channel A on Tuesday.

The young goalkeeper has even come up with a ritual to stand against the heavy pressure to minimize goals to be conceded. “I pray to a goalpost saying, ‘please look after me today and please block shots,’ while holding it before the first half and the second half of a match. It blocked shots missed by me and saved me many times.” There was one time that Lee missed his usual prayer. “I did not make a prayer for a goalpost before the second half of the final match against Ukraine (1-3 loss for South Korea). The goalpost failed to help in that game,” he said in a disappointed voice.

The South Korean team did not win the championship this time, but their outstanding performance has laid a foundation for Lee to grow as the next-generation national goalkeeper. Although he struggled with many concerns, the South Korean goalkeeper handsomely played his roles as a goalkeeper on the field along with his team members and against the opposing teams.

Lee points the penalty shootout in the quarterfinal against Senegal as one of the most memorable moments in the 2019 U-20 World Cup. He helped the South Korean team advance to the semifinal (3-2 penalty shootout win for South Korea) by jumping to block the shot by the fourth Senegalese kicker. “I stood near the ball as long as possible before a shootout. Once told by a referee to walk to the goalpost, I walked slowly and stopped to turn back and give a fierce look to the opposing team’s kicker before resuming back. That was how I tried to disrupt kickers’ psychological rhythm.”

Yun-Cheol Jeong trigger@donga.com