|Korean footballer Cho Gue-sung celebrates after making his second goal in the match against Ghana, at the Qatar World Cup 2022, Nov. 28. Newsis|
By Park Ji-won
HONG KONG ― His team may have lost 3-2 to Ghana in Monday's group stage match at this year's World Cup, but South Korea's handsome forward, Cho Gue-sung, is enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity, highlighted by his skyrocketing number of Instagram followers.
As of Dec. 1, the 24-year-old's Instagram account with only five posts had more than 1.6 million followers. Before the World Cup, he had only 20,000.
After Korea's first World Cup game against Uruguay on Nov. 24, in which Cho played only 23 minutes during the second half, his number of followers soared to about 700,000.
After scoring his team's two goals against Ghana ― the first time a Korean player had scored two goals in a single World Cup game ― his number of followers spiked to nearly 1.5 million.
That's the second largest number of Instagram followers for a Korean footballer after Son Heung-min, captain of the Korean national team and a star at English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur, who has 9 million followers.
While praising Cho's two goals, Korean media also complimented his handsome looks, calling him a "face genius" in headlines ― a term often used in Korea to refer to good-looking people ― as well as "a man who came out of an illustration" and "the next Ahn Jung-hwan," a retired legendary Korea striker famous for his model-like looks.
"I don't want to be famous. I will be the same person anyway," Cho said after the match against Ghana, according to media reports. "I needed a victory rather than two goals. It is a shame that we didn't win."
European football teams already have their eye on him. Lee Young-pyo, vice-president of the Korea Football Association and a former soccer star, told a local radio program that he had received a call about Cho from a technical director at a well-known European team.
Turkey's Fenerbahce SK and France's Stade Rennais have also reportedly contacted Lee about Cho.
With the Hong Kong media already referring to Cho as the latest "man-god" from Korea, top commercial brands are sure to be going after him soon too, if not already.
Soccer statistics websites Whoscored.com and Sofascore both listed Cho on their teams of the World Cup second round, reflecting the round's top players.
Born on Jan. 25, 1998, Cho was considered too slim to be an attacker just two years ago; at 1.88 meters tall and 77kg (170lb) he was called "anchovy," a common nickname for skinny people in South Korea. But after joining the army, he added weight and now tips the scales at 82kg.
In 2020, he joined Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, which competes in K League 1, Korea's top tier of soccer. He was K League 1's joint top scorer in the 2022 season, which ended on Oct. 29, with 17 goals, sharing the title with Joo Min-kyu of Jeju United.
He is known for having a pre-game routine in which he listens to playlists featuring Japanese pianist Joe Hisaishi.