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S. Korea defeat France to open FIFA U-20 World Cup

By Yonhap

Published : May 23, 2023 - 09:22

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South Korean players and coaches celebrate their 2-1 victory over France in a Group F match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza, Argentina, on Monday. (Korea Football Association) South Korean players and coaches celebrate their 2-1 victory over France in a Group F match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza, Argentina, on Monday. (Korea Football Association)

South Korea upset France 2-1 to kick off their FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina, a winning start to the tournament that few had envisioned.

Captain Lee Seung-won had a goal and an assist in the narrow victory in Group F action at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza, western Argentina, on Monday.

South Korea are eyeing their third consecutive trip to the knockout stage, after reaching the round of 16 in 2017 and finishing runners-up to Ukraine in 2019. The 2021 tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are six groups of four in Argentina. The top two teams from each, plus the four best third-place teams, will qualify for the round of 16.

Coached by Kim Eun-jung, South Korea put themselves in a great position to advance to the knockouts by beating what many had regarded as the Group F favorites.

France won the ball possession battle 57-30, and had 23 shot attempts to South Korea's nine. But South Korea made their few chances count, including on the opening goal by Lee in a counterattack.

After clearing a French corner, Kim Yong-hak secured the ball in the midfield and sprinted into the opposing zone down the left wing. He then sent a cross toward the middle to the wide-open Lee, who only had goalkeeper Thimothee Lo-Tutala in front of him.

Lee drove toward the center of the box and beat Lo-Tutala to the bottom left corner.

With France pushing hard for an equalizer, South Korea dodged a major bullet in the 50th minute. Midfielder Park Hyeon-bin nearly headed a French cross into his own net, and goalkeeper Kim Joon-hong had to make a brilliant punching save on the friendly fire.

France ratcheted up their offensive pressure, but South Korea doubled their lead in the 64th minute, when Lee Young-jun deftly redirected home a Lee Seung-won free kick with his head.

France cut the deficit in half thanks to Alan Virginius' penalty, awarded after Kim collided with Malamine Efekele after charging out of the goal to meet a cross.

South Korea held on for dear life the rest of the way, which included eight minutes of added time.

South Korea will next face Honduras at 6 p.m. Thursday in Mendoza, or 6 a.m. Friday in Seoul. Honduras were to play Gambia later Monday, also in Mendoza. (Yonhap)