Koreans impress on opening day of action

BANDUNG (Indonesia) • Son Heung-min may have made all the headlines this week with his hopes of avoiding a call-up for military service resting on South Korea winning the football gold medal at the Asian Games, but his fellow overaged team-mates are also facing the same predicament.

World Cup goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, 26, and striker Hwang Ui-jo, 25, along with Son, 26, are the three wild cards that the Taeguk Warriors have opted to take to Indonesia along with the rest of the Under-23 team.

And Son would have been a relieved man watching from the bench, with Hwang scoring a hat-trick and Jo keeping a clean sheet as South Korea tore apart Bahrain 6-0 yesterday.

The Tottenham Hotspur forward, who joined the squad only this week, cheered on the defending champions as Kim Jin-ya, Na Sang-ho and Hwang Hee-chan also netted in their opening Group E game.

In the earlier group game, Malaysia overcame Kyrgyzstan 3-1 with goals from Muhammad Akhyar and Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad, and a penalty from Muhammad Safawi Rasid after Ernist Batyrkanov had equalised for the Central Asian nation.

South Korea got off to a rapid start as Hwang quickly took the game away from the outclassed Bahrainis with a first-half treble.

The prolific Gamba Osaka forward hammered the opening goal from close range on 17 minutes, before Kim grabbed their second off a rebound six minutes later.

Hwang's turn and shot made it 3-0 in the 36th minute, and two minutes before half-time, he brought up his hat-trick with a fine finish from a tight angle.

Bahrain saw more of the ball as South Korea eased off in the second half, but they were unable to find a way past Jo and Hee-chan's goal in added time was the icing on the cake for the favourites.

Football was also not the only exhibition of fine teamwork after a joint Korean women's basketball team marked their Games debut yesterday by pulverising hosts Indonesia 108-40, roared on by giddy fans waving their unified Korean flags.

North Korean Ro Suk Yong, one of three Pyongyang-based players in the away team, top-scored with 22 points for the sharp-shooting visitors while countrywoman Kim Hye Yon added 14 in a lopsided Group A opener in Jakarta.

Around 100 Korean fans in white T-shirts bearing a blue unified Korean flag with the slogan, "One dream, one Korea", were in full voice to drown out the partisan home support.

And while there was a stark contrast in terms of fashion - the South Korean players sported dyed hair and trendy bobs unlike the prim and proper haircuts of their northern neighbours - the harmony demonstrated on the court has suggested that they will be medal contenders.

"We haven't had a lot of time to work on our team chemistry, but we speak the same language and we are all on the same page," said Korean coach Lee Moon-kyu.

"North or South Korean, we all have the same desire to win."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2018, with the headline 'Koreans impress on opening day of action'. Print Edition | Subscribe