S. Korea falls to Italy in FIFA U-20 World Cup semifinals


Simone Pafundi of Italy (L) celebrating his goal with his teammates during FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023 Semi Finals match between Italy and Korea Republic at Estadio La Plata on June 8, 2023 in La Plata, Argentina.

South Korea lost to Italy 2-1 in the semifinals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup on Thursday, as they fell one win shy of a second straight trip to the championship match.

Simone Pafundi scored a free kick goal to break the deadlock in the 86th minute at La Plata Stadium in La Plata, eastern Argentina. South Korean captain Lee Seung-won had the team’s lone goal on a first-half penalty.

Coached by Kim Eun-jung, South Korea will take on Israel in the third-place match, back in La Plata, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday local time, or 2:30 a.m. Monday in Seoul.

This was South Korea’s second straight appearance in the last four at the U-20 World Cup. They finished as runners-up to Ukraine in the 2019 tournament, and the 2021 competition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Korea have never won a FIFA men’s tournament. The country captured the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup title in 2010.

The teams traded a goal apiece in the first half.

Italy opened the scoring in the 14th minute, capitalizing on a South Korean turnover deep in the defensive zone. Midfielder Park Hyun-bin was pushed into the left corner of his own zone, and his clearing attempt went off Lee Seung-won’s leg and bounced toward Riccardo Turicchia.

The Italian defender then teed it up for Cesare Casadei, who ripped his one-timer past goalkeeper Kim Joon-hong for a 1-0 Italy lead. It was Casedei’s tournament-leading seventh goal.

South Korea was awarded a penalty in the 21st minute following a video review, as Mattia Zanotti was called for a foul inside the box for stepping on Bae Jun-ho’s foot.

Captain Lee Seung-won stepped up and beat goalkeeper Sebastiano Desplanches to the left to even the score at 1-1.

Italy nearly reclaimed their lead when Samuel Giovane’s low shot, set up by Francesco Esposito in a give-and-go, rolled just wide of the left post in the 33rd minute.

South Korea survived a scare in the 58th minute, when Matteo Prati appeared to have headed home a Tommaso Baldanzi corner for a 2-1 Italy lead. But Kim Joon-hong made the desperation stop just before the ball cross the goal line, and a video review confirmed the save.

South Korea pushed back five minutes later with Lee Seung-won seeking his second goal of the match, only to be foiled by the diving Desplanches.

Italy broke the deadlock in the 86th minute, after Korean midfielder Park Hyun-bin committed a costly foul just outside the box.

Simone Pafundi then took a curling free kick that froze Kim Joon-hong in the South Korean net, giving Italy the lead that they did not relinquish.

With his goal in the losing cause, Lee Seung-won has two goals and four assists in the tournament – matching the total by Lee Kang-in from the 2019 competition when he was named the Golden Ball winner as the tournament MVP.

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