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Korean players thank departing coach for 4 memorable years

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Korea head coach Paulo Bento, center, consoles his players after their 4-1 loss to Brazil in the round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup at Stadium 974 in Doha, Dec. 5. Yonhap
Korea head coach Paulo Bento, center, consoles his players after their 4-1 loss to Brazil in the round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup at Stadium 974 in Doha, Dec. 5. Yonhap

For everything Paulo Bento has done for Korean football, Son Heung-min, captain of the men's national team, said he can't thank him enough.

Bento, the Portuguese tactician who'd led Korea to the knockout stage at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, announced Tuesday he was stepping down. Bento's four-year contract expired following Korea's 4-1 loss to Brazil in the round of 16 at Stadium 974 in Doha on Monday night. At the post-match press conference held just past midnight here, Bento said he had turned down an earlier offer from the Korea Football Association and he had decided in September to leave Korea after the World Cup.

Son, who was elevated to the captaincy on Bento's watch, said he learned a great deal from Bento over the past four years.

"I never once had any doubt about the style of football he pursued," Son said. "A lot of people had reservations about it, but they all cheered for us when we played well at the World Cup here. We were able to execute things we'd worked on for the last four years."

Korea head coach Paulo Bento, left, consoles his players after their 4-1 loss to Brazil in the round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup at Stadium 974 in Doha, Dec. 5. Yonhap
Korea head coach Paulo Bento, left, consoles his players after their 4-1 loss to Brazil in the round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup at Stadium 974 in Doha, Dec. 5. Yonhap

Bento said he will go back to his native Portugal to rest and think about his future after Korea.

"It's really sad to see him go," Son said. "But I wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

Midfielder Hwang In-beom, who made his international debut in Bento's first match with Korea in September 2018, became emotional while discussing his time with Bento.

"I am so thankful. He's the reason why I've become the player that I am today," Hwang said. "I know people often questioned his decision to play me. They wondered if he had some sort of special connection with me. But he always believed in me. All thanks to him, I could start dreaming bigger dreams."

Hwang's club career took off after Bento gave him an opportunity to play internationally. He spent time in Canada and Russia and following a brief stop in Korea, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, Hwang has now settled down in Greece with Olympiacos F.C.

Jung Woo-young, another midfielder who had consistent opportunities under Bento, said the coach had been a rock for the team through thick and thin.

Korea's head coach Paulo Bento looks on during the World Cup round of 16 match between Brazil and Korea, at Stadium 974 Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 5. AP-Yonhap
Korea's head coach Paulo Bento looks on during the World Cup round of 16 match between Brazil and Korea, at Stadium 974 Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 5. AP-Yonhap

"Not every moment was perfect over these four years. There were times when we played poorly," Jung said. "But the coach was the stabilizing force for us and held us together."

Winger Hwang Hee-chan said he was proud to have been a member of Bento's team over the years. Fighting back tears, Hwang said, "I think we showed promise for a better future."

Forward Cho Gue-sung, one of the gems unearthed by Bento in recent years, said Bento was always upbeat and positive in the locker room with the players.

"He shook hands with every player. I had tears in my eyes at that moment," Cho said. "I wouldn't be here today without him and the rest of the coaching staff. He said he was proud of his four years with us." (Yonhap)




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