Football Features

Five things we learned as Ukraine beat South Korea to claim first U20 World Cup

By Harry Edwards

Published: 19:04, 15 June 2019 | Updated: 15:16, 12 February 2020

Ukraine won the U20 World Cup final thanks to a 3-1 win over South Korea.

South Korea took the lead after just five minutes, with Lee Kang-in opening the scoring from the penalty spot.

But Ukraine equalised just after the half-hour mark through Vladyslav Supriaha, who then put his side ahead in the second half.

Heorhii Tsitaishvili then completed the win in the final stages, breaking South Korean hearts.

But what did we learn?

1. Ukraine squad write their names in history books

The 2019 U20 World Cup was just the fourth time Ukraine had been participating in this age-group’s biggest tournament since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In their previous three tournaments Ukraine had not managed to go further than the last-16, reaching that stage in 2001, 2005 and 2015. But 2019 was different.

Ukraine topped their group with wins over United States and Qatar, and a draw with Nigeria, earning them a favourable tie against Panama in the last-16. The Central American nation were brushed aside, before Ukraine edged past Colombia and Italy to reach the final for the first ever time.

Not content on just a silver medal, and showing character to not be affected by South Korea’s early goal, this Ukraine team fought hard for their manager and country to win the second piece of silverware in the nation’s history – after the 2009 under-19 European Championships.

2. Korea Republic make history despite defeat

Before a ball had even been kicked in Saturday’s U20 World Cup final, South Korea were destined to make history.

In beating Ecuador in the semi-finals, Chung Jung-yong’s side became the first men’s team for South Korea to reach a global final, with the senior squad’s successes coming in the Asian Cup. Naturally, it also saw South Korea beat their best-ever U20 World Cup finish, previously reaching fourth place in 1983.

And after just five minutes, they had written themselves into the history books once more. Kang-in’s converted penalty saw South Korea become the first ever Asian team to score in an U20 World Cup final, at the third attempt. In 1981, Qatar were beaten 4-0 by West Germany while 18 years later Japan lost to Spain by the same score.

But that would be where the history-making would end for South Korea, as they became the third Asian team to finish as U20 World Cup runners-up, with the continent still awaiting its first winners.

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3. Supriaha justifies his selection

When the starting XIs were announced an hour before kick-off, there was a slightly surprise exclusion in the Ukraine line up.

Ukraine‘s top scorer for the tournament, Danylo Sikan – who has four goals – was left on the bench for the final, with Vladyslav Supriaha – yet to score – leading the line.

In the early stages of the game it looked like a poor decision, with the forward being marked well by the South Korean defence. But the Dynamo Kyiv teenager stepped up when his side needed him in each half, sending them on their way to glory.

There was a hint of good fortune about Supriaha’s first goal, with the ball rebounding to his path inside the penalty area, but the 19-year-old turned well to equalise for Ukraine.

Supriaha’s second was also slightly fortunate in the way the ball came into Ukraine‘s possession, but this was more about the finish, as he latched onto a pass inside the area and coolly finished low past Lee Gwang-yeon.

There would be no hat-trick, however, with Supriaha succumbing to a shoulder injury and being replaced by Sikan, but the forward certainly justified his selection.

4. Lee Kang-in shows promise with Real Madrid lurking

While Ukraine will be celebrating their victory, this young South Korean side should not be overlooked for the way in which they were able to dominate parts of the game.

Their biggest star on day was Lee Kang-in, who scored their opening goal from the penalty spot, though his performance was much more than that.

The Valencia product has been South Korea’s chief creator in the tournament, having a relatively free role in the attacking third. Against Ukraine, he dropped slightly deeper to be more in line with South Korea’s midfielders, looking to supply to Oh Se-hun rather than scoring himself.

On his individual showing, it’s clear to see why Real Madrid are being linked with the 18-year-old, who gave up the opportunity to play in Valencia’s Copa del Rey final win over Barcelona to link up with the South Korea squad early. Though Lee would not come cheap, reportedly having an €80m release clause.

5. VAR plays its role

There is always going to be drama in a World Cup final, no matter what age group it is. But not many would have expected VAR-related drama just two minutes into Saturday’s match.

It was a fast start for South Korea as they looked to put early pressure on their opponents, focusing attacks down their right flank. With Hwang Tae-hyeon making his way into the area for a cross, the 20-year-old was upended by Danylo Beskorovainyi.

Referee Ismail Elfath thought nothing of it and waved play on. But once the ball went out of play, the decision was reviewed by the video assistant referee.

Replays showed there had been some contact between the pair, though there was still some contention, with Elfath going over to the pitch-side screen for his own second look.

Moments later a penalty was awarded with the foul happening on the line of the area, and South Korea took the lead two minutes after the initial non-decision.

This had already been a tournament full of VAR-aided decisions and controversies, so it was only right for there to be one final one in the showpiece.