(World Cup) S. Korean players thank departing coach for 4 memorable years
By Yoo Jee-ho
DOHA, Dec. 6 (Yonhap) -- For everything Paulo Bento has done for South Korean football, Son Heung-min, captain of the men's national team, said he can't thank him enough.
Bento, the Portuguese tactician who'd led South Korea to the knockout stage at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, announced Tuesday he was stepping down. Bento's four-year contract expired following South Korea's 4-1 loss to Brazil in the round of 16 at Stadium 974 in Doha on Monday night. At the postmatch press conference held just past midnight here, Bento said he had turned down an earlier offer from the Korea Football Association and he had decided in September to leave South Korea after the World Cup.
Son, who was elevated to captaincy on Bento's watch, said he learned a great deal from Bento over the past four years.
"I never once had any doubt about the style of football he pursued," Son said. "A lot of people had reservations about it, but they all cheered for us when we played well at the World Cup here. We were able to execute things we'd worked on for the last four years."
Bento said he will go back to his native Portugal to rest and think about his future after South Korea.
"It's really sad to see him go," Son said. "But I wish him all the best in his future endeavors."
Midfielder Hwang In-beom, who made his international debut in Bento's first match with South Korea in September 2018, became emotional while discussing his time with Bento.
"I am so thankful. He's the reason why I've become the player that I am today," Hwang said. "I know people often questioned his decision to play me. They wondered if he had some sort of special connection with me. But he always believed in me. All thanks to him, I could start dreaming bigger dreams."
Hwang's club career took off after Bento gave him an opportunity to play internationally. He spent time in Canada and Russia and, following a brief stop in South Korea due to Russia' invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, Hwang has settled down in Greece with Olympiacos FC.
Jung Woo-young, another midfielder who had consistent opportunities under Bento, said the coach had been a rock for the team through thick and thin.
"Not every moment was perfect over these four years. There were times when we played poorly," Jung said. "But the coach was the stabilizing force for us and held us together."
Winger Hwang Hee-chan said he was proud to have been a member of Bento's team over the years. Fighting back tears, Hwang said, "I think we showed promise for a better future."
Forward Cho Gue-sung, one of the gems unearthed by Bento in recent years, said Bento was always upbeat and positive in the locker room with the players.
"He shook hands with every player. I had tears in my eyes in that moment," Cho said. "I wouldn't be here today without him and the rest of the coaching staff. He said he was proud of his four years with us."
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