The game that turned Son Heung-min around… Uzbekistan has never been easy.

I remember this picture: Son Heung-min is standing backwards, not looking at the goal. He’s got his hands covering his face, like, ‘I can’t see this either.

The ‘extra-time penalty kick’ that Son Heung-min couldn’t bear to see
In the 13th minute of extra time, Hwang Hee-chan stepped up to take the penalty kick. The score of 3-3 was an indicator of how the game was going and how intense it was. Hwang took the penalty kick and took off his top. Son Heung-min did the same, and the opponent was Uzbekistan. It was the quarterfinals of the 2018 Asian Games.

The 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games shocker
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the history of Asian Games soccer is the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games. The Asian Games were the first to field a full soccer team with no age restrictions (until the 1998 Asian Games, soccer players were not allowed to compete under the age of 23), making it practically an Asian Cup. The Korean team included Hwang Sun-Hong, Hong Myung-Bo, Yoo Sang-Cheol, Ha Seok-Joo, and Kim Jung-Woon. Korea overcame Miura-led Japan in the quarterfinals, and we thought we would easily win the gold medal at this rate. Our quarterfinal opponent was Uzbekistan. We dominated the game, with Ha Seok-joo’s shot hitting the post, but in the 20th minute, Abduraimov’s mid-range shot slipped through the goalkeeper’s side…. In the end, it was Uzbekistan who won the Asian Games gold medal 굿모닝토토.

The 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games were just as close.
The 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games weren’t easy either, as we faced Uzbekistan again in the quarterfinals. Led by Hong Myung-bo and spearheaded by Park Joo-young, South Korea had to fight to the death in extra time. Park Joo-young and Kim Bo-kyung scored goals in extra time to win the game, but the opposition was sticky.

Asian Games soccer at its most relaxed, but…
It’s the 2023 Asian Games again. In any international tournament, our football is always faced with a crisis, but this time we are riding the gentle breeze and moving forward with ease. We didn’t have a tough game until the quarterfinals. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen football at ease, because we’ve scored 23 goals and conceded one in five games, and we’ve shown what it’s like to take the initiative and dominate, to dominate for the full 90 minutes.

Why did they say “the best enemy is within”?
They face Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, they beat Saudi Arabia 2-1. Uzbekistan, at this age group, have performed well in recent international competitions. Perhaps that’s why coach Hwang Sun-hong injected a sense of urgency: “They’re quite straight and powerful,” he warned. “The best enemy is within us,” he said, urging them to be confident but not vigilant. For a moment, the nightmare of Hiroshima in 1994 may have come to mind.

“Football is about not being intimidated by strong teams and not underestimating weak teams”
At one point, Lee gave a definition of mental strength. He said that everyone uses the word “mental strength” but doesn’t really know what it means. “Not being intimidated by a strong opponent and not looking down on a weak opponent” is what he called ‘mental strength’. We need that ‘mental strength’ so that the Uzbekistan game, which was a painful experience, can become just a memory.

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