Hwang led South Korea to World Cup quarterfinals as a player, now a ‘gold medal coach’

Hwang Sun-hong, 55, dubbed a “legend” for leading South Korean soccer’s attack as a player, has reached a new milestone in his coaching career with an Asian Games gold medal under his belt.

Hwang, who coached South Korea to a gold medal in men’s soccer at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games on July 7, is a veteran striker who scored 50 goals in 103 A-match appearances for the national team as a player.

His 50 A-match goals are the second most by a South Korean male player, behind former national team coach Cha Bum-geun (58).

Since making his A-match debut in December 1988 against Japan in a group stage match at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, where he scored his debut goal in a 2-0 win, Hwang has been a consistent starter for the national team.

In the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, he scored the winning goal in the first group game against Poland to give South Korea its first-ever victory (2-0) at the World Cup and contributed greatly to the ‘Fourth Place Myth’.

After becoming the J-League’s top scorer in 1998 with 24 goals in a season while playing for Cerezo Osaka in Japan, Hwang parted ways with the Taegeuk Mark in a friendly against Brazil in November 2002 and retired from the game the following February to pursue a coaching career.

After coaching his last team as a player, the Jeonnam Dragons, Hwang made his managerial debut in December 2007 with Busan I-Park and enjoyed success with the Pohang Steelers, where he was in charge from November 2010 to 2015.

In 2012, he won his first title with the club in the Korean Football Association (FA) Cup, and in 2013, he had his best season as a coach, winning both the K League 1 and FA Cup, playing sophisticated passing soccer without foreign players and earning nicknames like “Steel Taka” and “Hwang Sun Daewongun.

After leaving Pohang, he returned to professional coaching in mid-2016, taking the helm of FC Seoul, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

He won his second K League 1 title with Seoul in 2016, but was forced to resign after the team finished mid-table in 2017 and slipped to the bottom of the table early in 2018.

Hwang was hired by China’s Yanbian Fooder in late 2018, but the team was disbanded.

After a hiatus, he tried to redeem himself in 2020 as the first head coach of the K League 2 Daejeon Hana Citizens, a corporate club, but was effectively sacked after less than a year when the promotion-hungry team remained in mid-table after the midseason.

With nothing to show for his time in charge after Pohang, the U-23 national team job, which he took up in September 2021, could be his “last chance” as a coach.

While there were some who argued that it was a “step backwards” for a coach who had already achieved success in the professional ranks to move to the U-23s, Hwang reaffirmed his goal of becoming an “A-team coach” and vowed to prove it at the Asian Games and Olympics.

Despite the ambitious start, the first gateway, the Asian Games, has been a thorny one.

The Asian Games were postponed for a year due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the team was criticized for its 0-3 quarterfinal loss to Japan at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup in June last year.

The two away trials against China in June this year, just days before the postponed Asian Games, were also a crisis for Hwang.

A 0-1 defeat in the second game amid injuries to his players further raised doubts about his ability to lead the team to a third consecutive Asian Games title.

The controversy over the inclusion of Lee Sang-min (Seongnam) in the final roster after he was suspended for drunk driving, the injury of Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain) and the timing of his arrival were just some of the bad news.

The tournament was preceded by the start of the Paris Olympic qualifiers, which meant that the team had to manage two similar but different age groups at the same time.

In men’s soccer at the Asian Games, the prospect of winning a gold medal could also have been seen as a burden, but Hwang bounced back by proving his leadership with a ‘sweep’.

During the tournament, he used a variety of players, pushing hard when he needed to and not hesitating to make pragmatic choices, such as leaving Lee Kang-in and Jung Woo-young (Stuttgart) out of the starting lineup for the quarterfinal against tough hosts China.

He also stood out for his use of keywords such as “pabu chimjoo” (破釜沈舟-‘breaking the pot to cook rice and sinking the ship to return home’) during the departure and “the best enemy is within us” (a phrase that caught the team off guard after the quarterfinal victory over China) during the tournament.

Hwang was due to be evaluated by the Football Association on whether to extend his contract through to the Paris Olympics following the Asian Games, but he has now achieved his goal of a third consecutive title. 슬롯게이밍

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