13 Mar. 2021
The Tokyo Handball Qualification 2020 – Men’s Tournament 1 represents a 25% chance – at least on paper – of each team qualifying through to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but no other team in contention in any of the tournaments are closer to Japan, literally.
Republic of Korea are a country neighbour and led by their captain, Ha Min Ho, they made it one win out of one, dispatching Chile yesterday 36:35, although it was a nervy affair as they nearly threw away a nine-goal second half lead, to scrape home by one.
“In the first half we had a big, big goal difference, but in the second half we made many mistakes,” said Ho to ihf.info. “At the start of the second half we had such a big difference but we just kept losing and losing the ball and that’s why we made many mistakes, and in our passing too, and that’s why Chile caught up with us.
“During the match we made many mistakes, but we only need to win by one, and we did. In the end we won but definitely we will make up our mistakes and learn from them.”
Today, they face a Brazilian side hurting from a 12-goal (32:20) loss to Norway and who will be doing everything they can to get some points on the board.
And while Chile had an almost identical average pre-tournament height average of 1.86m and weight of 90kg to Korea (1.86m/89kg) Brazil, at 1.91m and 97kg present a harder, physical challenge.
The Asian side, well-known for their fast-break goals, were able to score a number of breakthrough and six-metre goals against Chile but will find it hard against Brazil to get through the same way, despite Ho impressing with a number of left-handed nine-metre rockets against fellow South Americans Chile.
“Before the start of the match I had confidence for the nine-metre goals,” he said. “I felt a lot of confidence to score and, as captain, I wanted to show the players that we could get a win.
“As you know, Korea are usually scoring on the fast-break and we did focus on that against Chile. Against Brazil we will keep the variety [of scoring] and focus on scoring from the wings, but whoever we come against, we will do our best, in our own style – it will be the same for Brazil and it will be the same for Norway.”
Korea’s goalkeeper Jaeyong Park made 25 saves against Chile and he will need to be on that type of form against Brazil and then Norway in their third and final game, to give his side the very best chance of booking their golden ticket.
“Ahead of this tournament everyone took a look at the IHF website and the Korea team preview, like many others, had Park as one of our key players,” said right back Ho. “We are all together and trust him. He really helps us when he makes these big saves.
“We are all just keeping focused on the next match, against Brazil, but of course Norway is also important, we're here to win and get a ticket to Tokyo, so we will do our best.”
Park and Ho, like the entire Korea squad in Montenegro, were not present at the 2021 IHF Men’s World Championship in Egypt due to COVID-19 restrictions in place in the Asian country upon their return, which would have impacted the domestic league, so Korea sent their U23 side and for Ho, he is hopeful he and his senior squad can inspire the next generation.
“When we got this ticket for the World Championship, one year ago in Kuwait at the Asian Championship, we then had the difficult situation that under these COVID-19 circumstances, we had no chance to go” he explained.
“That’s why the young players played, but they must learn from that high, world level of handball performance at the World Championship and I think it's good for them. They must also look at the matches here, learn from them and compare both the World Championship and Olympic qualification tournaments and learn from that also.”
While Ho is hopeful the young players can learn from the Korea team in Montenegro, he is also learning himself in a new role – that of captain.
“To represent the Korea nation always makes not only me proud, but for all the players,” said the Incheon Metropolitan City Development Corporation player.
“It’s my first time representing as captain and I’m doing it to support the other players. I will keep supporting them every day until we get a ticket to Tokyo 2020. When I hear the anthem and see the flag at the pre-match line-up I think about my teammates, get emotional and get goosebumps.”