‘AG Gold Runner-up’ Ko Young-joon “I’m not a good enough player to be in that group”
Ko Young-jun (22-Pohang Steelers), the ace of the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games (AG) soccer team led by Hwang Sun-hong, was surprised to hear that he had been named the tournament’s “jonjal” (very handsome) player. “Surprised” was his reaction.
He recently sat down with us to reflect on his successful AG. In a more lighthearted interview, he talked about his mindset during the tournament and his story.
He was trusted by coach Hwang Sun-hong before the tournament and showed his skills at the AG. He alternated starts and substitutions with Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain) throughout the tournament, scoring one goal and providing four assists to help South Korea win its third straight AG title.
“It was hard to wear the gold medal around my neck because it was so much heavier than I thought it would be,” said Ko. “At first, I was more worried than confident (about winning), but as I played, I realized that I was getting along well with my teammates, so I became more and more confident.”
The highlight of the grueling schedule of seven games in about three weeks was the final against arch-rivals Japan. “I can’t remember the last time I screamed and fidgeted so much on the bench, and I was so desperate that when it was over, I thought, ‘I was that desperate,'” he recalls. He was surprised to see his normally reserved self enthusiastically boosting the team’s morale.
Ko, who plays primarily as an attacking midfielder, was compared to Lee before the tournament. Born in 2001, the two were mostly substitutes for each other before sharing the pitch together for the first time in the final against Japan. “I realized that Lee Kang-in is not a fast (senior), so we were just friends,” said Ko, who was worried about “clearing up the genealogy” before the tournament because Lee was born in February (Ko was born in July). “We didn’t become close, but we played on the same team, so it’s not like we don’t know each other. Go Young-jun and Lee Kang-in became Instagram friends through the tournament. 스포츠토토
Although Ko has already made a name for himself in the K League, the AG is the first time he has received national attention. During the tournament, he was voted as the “best player in the AG” by an Instagram channel with about 510,000 followers.
Unaware of the news, he asked, “Me? Who was selected?” and when told that three soccer players were selected, including himself, he guessed, “(I think the other two are) (Baek) Seung-ho and (Seol) Young-woo”. Go Young Joon said, “I don’t think I’m good enough to be included. I don’t think I deserve it,” but he also expressed humility, saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever been told that I’m ugly. I think I’m just tolerable.”
As AG ended with a ‘happy ending’, fans’ attention turned to the players’ ‘overseas career’. Ko Young-jun, who has already been labeled as a promising player in the K League, is considered a strong candidate to go overseas. It is said that it has become easier for him to go to the big time while solving his military problems.
He said, “I wanted to go overseas regardless of the military issue. I think my chances are better now that I’ve had a good opportunity to resolve the military issue.” “My final goal is to challenge the top five leagues. It would be great to go straight away, but I think it would be better to prove myself and go to the top five leagues.”
For now, of course, he is focused on his club, Pohang. Currently, Pohang (58 points) is in second place in the K League 1, behind Ulsan Hyundai (67 points). “We’re second in the league, and we still have the FA Cup and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL). It’s going to be tough physically, but I hope we can overcome it and create good chances.”