S. Korean players return home after knockout appearance in Qatar

INCHEON– After competing in the knockout stage at a FIFA World Cup for the first time in a dozen years, the South Korean men’s national football team returned home to a hero’s welcome on Wednesday.

Captain Son Heung-min and 22 other players from the 26-man squad, along with the coaching staff, arrived at Incheon International Airport, just west of Seoul, early Wednesday evening. At the ongoing World Cup in Qatar, the Taegeuk Warriors advanced to the round of 16 but suffered a 4-1 loss to world No. 1 Brazil on Monday night in Doha, or early Tuesday in South Korea.
The Korea Football Association (KFA) said goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu and midfielder Jeong Woo-yeong returned to Saudi Arabia and Germany, home countries for their respective clubs. Another midfielder, Jung Woo-young, stayed put in Qatar, where he plays for the local club Al Sadd.

The returning players and coaches were greeted by an estimated thousand fans at Incheon International Airport, while hundreds of airport employees and airline workers stationed at the airport also wielded their smartphone cameras as the players stepped off the plane and went through customs.

Fans showed up holding signs for their favorite players, and the players in return gladly obliged their supporters requesting selfies or autographs.

Head coach Paulo Bento announced immediately after the Brazil match that he will not return as South Korea boss, ending a record-long tenure that had begun in August 2018. Bento will make a stop in South Korea before moving back to his native Portugal.

Bento led South Korea to only their third knockout appearance. The country had previously reached the semifinals in 2002 and the round of 16 in 2010.

South Korea opened the group stage in Qatar with a goalless draw with Uruguay. They then lost to Ghana 3-2 but upset world No. 9 Portugal in the final group match to book a ticket to the knockout round.

Brazil proved too powerful for South Korea, though, as they scored all four of their goals in the first half. Second-half substitute Paik Seung-ho had the lone South Korean goal.

President Yoon Suk-yeol hopes to host a luncheon for the national team as early as Thursday, his office said Tuesday.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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