Young S. Korean strikers not shying away from pressure to score

SEOUL-- As strikers on the South Korean men's Olympic football team, Oh Se-hun and Cho Gue-sung face constant pressure from opposing defenders. Then there's pressure that they put on themselves to deliver goals for the team.

And it's something they readily embrace.

"As a striker I am supposed to score goals, no matter what happens on the field," Oh said in an online interview Thursday from Jeju Island, where the Olympic squad has been training for a pair of friendly matches against Ghana. "I'll try to give our fans something to cheer about."

The first of the two matches is 7 p.m. Saturday, followed by the one at 8 p.m. next Tuesday. Both will be at Jeju World Cup Stadium.

Oh, 22, has been able to rise to the occasion in his burgeoning international career. He scored twice during South Korea's run to the final at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. In 13 matches at the U-23 level, Oh already has five goals. Two of those came at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship, which doubled as the continental Olympic qualifying tournament. South Korea won the tournament to book a ticket to Tokyo

Cho, a frequent teammate of Oh's on the U-23 national squad, also had two goals at the Olympic qualifying event. He said he has benefited from working in Jeju with the senior assistant coach Kim Eun-jung, fourth on the all-time K League scoring list with 123.

"He helps us with finer points of offense," Cho, 23, said. "And obviously, it's up to me to go out there and score goals. I'd love to score against Ghana."

Usually, only players 23 or younger are eligible for the Olympic men's football tournament, but the cap has been raised to 24 for the Tokyo Games, which were postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oh and Cho would be easy choices at forward spots, except that countries can each name up to three players over the age limit. Head coach Kim Hak-bum may select over-24 strikers for Tokyo, which would then make either Oh or Cho, or even both, expendable.

Oh, the tallest among seven forwards at camp at 193 centimeters, said he can be an effective target man, someone who can win aerial batters and open up space for teammates by drawing extra attention from defenders.

And that is where Cho comes in because he's best known for his ability to exploit extra space and create chances with his speed.

If they both survive the final cuts and make the 18-man Tokyo roster, they will be able to complement each other's game.

"First and foremost, I want to make the team first," Oh said. "Every team will chase the gold medal, and that's our ultimate objective, too. I am ready to make sacrifices for the team. I think we can all grow as football players by competing at the Olympics."

Cho said he doesn't want to look too far ahead.

"I want to take it one step at a time," he said. "First, I want to be on the team. And then I want to get into matches. Then I'll try to score goals and help us get past the group stage. And if we keep clearing one hurdle after another, we'll grab the gold medal in the end."

The two players are also teammates on the second division military club, Gimcheon Sangmu. Oh is scheduled to be discharged on June 23, and Cho only began his 18-month army service in March this year.

An Olympic medal of any color grants male athletes exemptions from the military service. For athletes such as Cho, who are currently serving in the armed force, an Olympic medal means an early discharge.

"I've only dreamed about that possibility," Cho said with a smile. "I'll work hard to make it a reality. I want to help the team any way I can."

Source: Yonhap News Agency