The Republic of Korea U-23 Olympic soccer team will participate in the ‘fateful match between Korea and Japan’. While Lee Young-jun (21, Gimcheon Managing Director) is showing off his advanced scoring sense, other strikers who have completed their warm-up must also burst forth in order to not only qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics but also head to the top of Asia.

The Olympic soccer team, led by coach Hwang Seon-hong, will clash with Japan in the final match of Group B of the 2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup group stage held at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, at 10 p.m. (Korean time) on the 22nd.

Both Korea and Japan confirmed their advancement to the quarterfinals. They are tied for first place in points (6), goal difference (+3), and most goals (3 goals). This match will determine 1st and 2nd place in the group. If a winner cannot be decided during regular time, the final ranking will be determined through a penalty shootout. The team that wins the Korea-Japan match will meet Indonesia, second place in Group A, and the losing team will meet Qatar, first place in Group A and the host country, in the quarterfinals.

The solution for Hwang Seon-hong in this competition is definitely Lee Young-jun. Following his winning goal against the United Arab Emirates (UAE), he scored multiple goals against China. Lee Young-jun, the top scorer, was responsible for all three goals scored by Hwang Seon-hong in this tournament. He is scoring amazing goals, including powerful headers and right-foot and left-foot shots.

However, it is somewhat disappointing that other strikers other than Lee Young-jun did not score goals. If lone top player Lee Young-jun is on the rise and other second-line strikers can also add strength, Hwang Seon-hong-ho’s momentum can continue to grow even steeper.

Everyone had just finished warming up. Hong Yun-sang (22, Pohang Steelers) is a representative example. Hong Yun-sang is improving his performance by appearing as a substitute in both the UAE and China matches. Although his playing time was short in the game against China as he was only used in extra time, he played in two consecutive games. Ahead of this tournament, he made fans laugh by writing “Coach, I’m in good condition” on the ‘Tell me in 10 words’ list of players published by the Korea Football Association. It also means that you are overflowing with confidence.

Jeong Sang-bin (22, Minnesota United), the only overseas striker, is also improving his condition. He joined late due to his team’s schedule, took a break in the last game against UAE, and came on as a substitute in the game against China and played 30 extra minutes. Coincidentally, Hong Yoon-sang and Jeong Sang-bin scored the winning goal together in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifier against Kyrgyzstan held in September last year.

Kang Seong-jin (21, FC Seoul), who plays between the side and center, and Um Ji-seong (22, Gwangju FC), who started as a left-wing striker for two consecutive games, are also resources that can score goals at any time. The same goes for Hong Si-hoo (23, Incheon United), who was selected as a replacement for Yang Hyun-jun (Celtic) due to his failure to be selected, and Ahn Jae-jun (23, Bucheon FC), who is competing at the forefront with Lee Young-jun.

The reason why not only Lee Young-jun but also other strikers need to work harder is because as the game progresses, the opponent’s concentration on Lee Young-jun is bound to become more severe. Ahead of this Korea-Japan match, the focus of Japanese local media is on the containment of Lee Young-jun. The same will inevitably apply to the opponents they meet after the quarterfinals tournament.

What eases the burden on Lee Young-jun is the explosion of the second-line attackers, including the flanks. Then, not only Lee Young-Jun but also other strikers can gain strength one after another. Of course, Hwang Seon-hong’s quest for ‘winner’ beyond the qualification for the Paris Olympics, which is given to the top 3rd place in the competition, can also accelerate further.

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