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Back to grind for stars of U-20 World Cup

Sports 17:55 June 20, 2019

SEOUL, June 20 (Yonhap) -- They were feted by hundreds of fans. They were invited to the presidential office for a special dinner. They gave a passionate football nation something to cheer about for the past month or so.

And now, it's back to the grind for members of the South Korean men's under-20 football team.

Of 21 players who helped South Korea finish runners-up at the FIFA U-20 World Cup earlier this month, 15 ply their trade in the domestic leagues: nine in the top-flight K League 1 and six in the second division K League 2.

Since returning home from Poland on Monday, they've had a whirlwind of a week, which included a dinner with President Moon Jae-in at Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday.

Members of the South Korean national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup pose for photos wearing their K League club uniforms during a press conference at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul on June 20, 2019. From left are Cho Young-wook of FC Seoul, Jeon Se-jin of Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Oh Se-hun of Asan Mugunghwa, Hwang Tae-hyeon of Ansan Greeners and Um Won-sang of Gwangju FC. (Yonhap)

They'll rejoin their clubs starting this weekend, but most of them have been reserves and will have to battle for playing time.

FC Seoul forward Cho Young-wook took part in a 100-minute morning practice before joining four of his U-20 teammates at the press conference at the Korea Football Association (KFA) House in the afternoon. Cho said it was an intense session, but he enjoyed being back with the club, currently in third place in the K League 1.

"The team has been doing so well without me, and I want to take the team to the next level," said Cho, who tied for the team lead with two goals at the U-20 World Cup. "We have a tough schedule coming up. As long as the team wins, I'd be satisfied. It's always better to win than to score a goal and lose."

Suwon Samsung Bluewings' Jeon Se-jin had a rough tournament, one season after being named the country's top young player by the KFA. He said he'll try to learn from his experience at the World Cup.

"I learned a great deal both in terms of the technical and psychological side of the game, and I think it will help me the rest of my career," Jeon said. "I'll try to keep getting better and better and put smiles on our fans' faces."

Oh Se-hun, who tied Cho with two goals at the tournament, said he understands nothing will be given to him on his K League 2 club, Asan Mugunghwa.

Members of the South Korean national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, dressed in their K League club uniforms, share a laugh during a press conference at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul on June 20, 2019. From left are Cho Young-wook of FC Seoul, Jeon Se-jin of Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Oh Se-hun of Asan Mugunghwa, Hwang Tae-hyeon of Ansan Greeners and Um Won-sang of Gwangju FC. (Yonhap)

"I have to survive the competition, and I know I have to earn every bit of my opportunity," Oh said. "And I have to be even better than I have been so far."

With his Gwangju FC sitting atop the K League 2 table with an undefeated record of nine wins and six draws, forward Um Won-sang said he'll try not to mess with the success.

"Every player would rather start than come off the bench," he said. "There's going to be a lot of pressure to win the internal competition, but it's something I have to overcome to get better."

U-20 national team captain Hwang Tae-hyeon has only played three matches for his Ansan Greeners club since last year. He said he's come back from the U-20 World Cup a better player and wants to prove it in the K League 2.

"I am proud of having been a part of this World Cup team," Hwang said. "And hopefully, I'll be able to carry that pride to my club and start playing with more confidence."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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