Asian hockey needed a big lift in the backdrop of hosts India’s shocking crossover stage exit from the 15th Men’s Hockey World Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar – Pakistan – the team with most World Cup wins (4 wins) did not make the cut for the 2023 World Cup and had finished last in the 2018 edition, and was not part of the 2014 edition. South Korea did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup and had settled for a 10th place finish in the 2014 edition.
Given this background South Korea’s thrilling shootout win over 2016 Rio Olympic champions Argentina in the crossover phase is huge for Asian hockey and the Koreans deserved every bit of the copious praise showered on them. The world number 11th ranked side were forced on the backfoot by a Maico Casella first-quarter goal but they roared into contention with two goals in two minutes via Kim Sunghyun and a Jeong Junwoo off a PC routine.
Argentina were undaunted by the Korean riposte as they struck twice in a span of three minutes via a Nicolas Keenan and a short corner conversion by Nicolas Della Torre to stay ahead by the skin of their teeth at half-time. The Shin Seok Kyo-coached Koreans needed a big push in the second half – they further spiced up the contest in the closing stages of the third quarter when Jang Jong-Hyun fired home a shortie to even things up but it was a match where fortunes fluctuated wildy. Nicolas Della Torre ensured Los Leonas pulled ahead going into the final quarter. Argentina literally had the match in their bag when Nicolas Keenan provided them a two-goal cushion early in the final quarter.
Trailing 3-5, South Korea went for broke – they reduced the deficit when Jang Jong-Hyun profited from a penalty corner and with four minutes left for the final hooter, skipper Lee Nam Yong playing in his 299th international, whipped home a shortie to stretch the match into a shootout where goalkeeper Kim Jaehyeon emerged as the hero as the Asia’s ‘lone saving face’ set up a quarterfinal meeting with the Netherlands with a 3-2 shootout win.