Sep 7, 2017
South Korea's national football team head coach Shin Tae-yong (left from center) shakes hands with Korea Football Association President Chung Mong-gyu at Incheon International Airport in Incheon on Sept. 7, 2017. (Yonhap)
's national football team returned home to a warm welcome on Thursday after earning a FIFA World Cup spot.
The men's national football team, led by head coach Shin Tae-yong, returned home from Tashkent, where they confirmed a spot for the 2018 FIFA World Cup after playing to a scoreless draw against Uzbekistan.
Although the draw wasn't really satisfying to many fans, South Korea achieved nine consecutive appearances by finishing second in Group A in the final Asian qualifying round. In Asia, the top two teams from each group advance directly to the World Cup in Russia, while third-placed teams need to go through playoffs to earn a berth.
South Korean men's national football players celebrate with a banner after qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup following a scoreless draw against Uzbekistan at Bunyodkor Stdium in Tashkent on Sept. 5, 2017. (Yonhap)
"Because of fans' support, we're able to earn a World Cup berth," Shin said at Incheon International Airport after returning from Tashkent. "We promise that we'll show a better performance at the World Cup finals."
Among Shin's 26 players, only 16 returned to South Korea as the others flew to join their respective clubs in Europe and other Asian countries.
Midfielder Yeom Ki-hun, who is with the K League Classic club Suwon Samsung Bluewings, said he knows that some fans might not be satisfied with South Korea's performance in recent matches, but it's fortunate that they returned home with a ticket to Russia.
"I know some fans are disappointed, but we got the result," he said. "As a player who performs in the K League, I think it's really fortunate for us to reach the World Cup."
Yeom, 34, was the second-oldest player on the roster. When asked about whether he can play at the World Cup next year, the left-footed winger said he will be ready.
"I think I can go (to the World Cup) if I'm fit," he said. "Shin told us age doesn't matter, and his words give me motivation."
Yeom said South Korea will be a better team next year at the World Cup.
"It's true that South Korea are currently not in the same level with top-class European football teams," he said. "But we'll be more organized and play better football at the World Cup."
Defender Kim Min-jae said he also wants to represent the country at the World Cup. The 20-year-old center back was the youngest player on Shin's squad, but started South Korea's last two World qualifiers against Iran and Uzbekistan.
"If you're a footballer, it's obvious that you want to play at the World Cup," he said. "I will try my best to be selected on the final roster."
Kim, who plays for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, said he learned a lot from his senior teammates during the qualifiers.
"It was an honor to play alongside with the players that I watched on television before," he said. "I really learned a lot."