Cho Hyun-woo, who returned, saved Korean soccer from the brink. After drawing 1-1 until overtime in the round of 16 of the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup against Saudi Arabia at Education City Stadium in Alayyan, Qatar, on Jan. 31 (Korea time), the Korean national soccer team succeeded in advancing to the quarterfinals with a dramatic 4-2 victory with goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo’s defense in the penalty shootout.꽁머니
South Korea was heavily defeated after giving up the first goal to Saudi Arabia in the first minute of the second half. However, Cho Kyu-sung’s dramatic headed equalizer in the second half of extra time with about 1 minute and 30 seconds left in the end, bringing the game back to square one. Cho, who failed to score a goal due to his poor performance in the group stage, suffered from being excluded from the starting list in the match against Saudi Arabia, but he was replaced in the 19th minute of the second half when Korea was being dragged away and revived as a hero who saved the team from elimination at a critical moment.
It was Cho Hyun-woo who took over the spark of hope that Cho Kyu-sung saved and made it burn with a torch. The two teams eventually entered overtime without being able to decide the match within the regular time. South Korea led the game in overtime and launched a wave of wave strikes, but failed to open the Saudi goal any more despite numerous chances. Rather, the Saudi Arabian counterattack at the end of the second half of the extra time faced a fatal risk of losing a point, but Cho Hyun-woo saved the crisis.
Both teams eventually entered the penalty shootout. The atmosphere still seemed to have Saudi Arabia’s advantage. Although Korea tied the game while being dragged, it was burdensome to miss the opportunity to end the match with Saudi goalkeeper Al-Qasar’s amazing save throughout the game. Even as Korea’s offensive intensified, Saudi Arabia expressed its intention to lead the game to a penalty shootout by playing blatant bed soccer. Saudi Arabia took the initiative in the penalty shootout, which was more likely to be advantageous.
However, Korea had Cho Hyun-woo. Korea and Saudi Arabia continued their tight race of 2-2 in the shootout, with the first and second kickers succeeding side by side. It was Saudi Arabia’s No. 3 kicker Sami Al-Naji’s turn that the balance was broken. Cho Hyun-woo accurately predicted the direction and blocked a low shot targeting the left side of the goal with his body.
South Korea, which brought the atmosphere in an instant, took the lead with 3-2 as Cho Kyu-sung, who played as the No. 3 kicker after Son Heung-min and Kim Young-kwon, calmly scored a goal. Cho Hyun-woo then blew himself once again and made two consecutive saves after Saudi’s No. 4 kicker Garib’s shot flew to the left of the same goal. Confident of winning, Cho Hyun-woo roared toward the stands, clutching his two fists.
On the Saudi bench, where the momentum had been dampened, there was even an absurd scene. As if the Saudi coach Roberto Mancini had a sense of defeat, the broadcasting screen captured him turning his back and entering the locker room even before the game was decided.
Even Hwang Hee-chan, who played as the last 4 kicker, calmly scored a shot to determine the match. Korea had all four kickers in the net without a miss. When the miraculous come-from-behind victory was completed, all of our players ran out, hugged and cheered. Coach Klinsmann, who came up to the heaven again after reaching the threshold of hell, breathed a sigh of relief.
It was a brilliant moment for Cho Hyun-woo to overcome the sadness of the second-in-command and shine again in six years as a national team member. Cho Hyun-woo is a top-class goalkeeper in Korea who started his professional career with Daegu FC in the K-League in 2013 and has been playing for Ulsan Hyundai since 2019. He began to be selected from the national team in 2015 under Coach Uli Stielike, but made his A-match official debut two years later, in an exhibition match against Serbia on November 14, 2017, under coach Shin Tae-yong.
Cho Hyun-woo’s rise to stardom was in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. At that time, Cho Hyun-woo was a player who played in the second division of the K League until only 2-3 years ago, and he was close to unknown in the national team by age group, where he did not have much opportunity to play due to being pushed out of the main competition. It was a surprising event that Cho Hyun-woo was proudly included in the final entry, and even coach Shin Tae-yong made an unconventional decision to use Cho Hyun-woo as the main player, beating both Kim Seung-gyu, who had experiences in the World Cup, and Kim Jin-hyun, who was the main goalkeeper at the Asian Cup in Russia.
Many people were puzzled at the time, but Cho proved his true value with his skills on the big stage of the World Cup. Although Korea was eliminated from the group stage, Cho made his name around the world by showing brilliant saves throughout the tournament. Korea recorded the lowest number of goals lost in the history of the World Cup by Korean soccer, with only three goals conceded in three games, and Cho’s stake was absolute.
In particular, in the final group match against Germany, Korea became the main character of the “Miracle of Kazan” in which Korea sank the defending champion of the previous tournament 2-0 by preventing Germany’s countless shooting attacks despite overwhelming inferiority.
In addition, Cho Hyun-woo played as a wild card at the Palembang Asian Games in Jakarta in the same year, contributing greatly to South Korea’s winning two consecutive gold medals along with Son Heung-min and Kim Min-jae. 2018 was a year when Cho Hyun-woo established himself as the nation’s top goalkeeper in name and reality.
However, Cho Hyun-woo’s national team career, which seemed to be smooth, changed its fate again with the establishment of a foreign coach system. Bento, who valued build-up and possession-oriented football, used Kim Seung-gyu, who had better foot skills, as the main goalkeeper, and Cho Hyun-woo was pushed to two options.