Nine is a lucky number for Korea Republic midfielder and Suwon Bluewings trainee Joo Hwimin, who wears the No9 jersey in a team that racked up a tournament-record 9-0 victory over Vanuatu at the Boys’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament in Nanjing. Perhaps more important to Joo is the fact that his idol, Taeguk Warriors frontman Son Heungmin, dons the exact same shirt for the senior side.
"[Son Heungmin] is the Korean player I admire most," said Joo Hwimin in an interview with FIFA.com. "When he was very young he joined a club in the German Bundesliga. I hope I can turn professional and play in Europe one day, just like him."
The athletic teenager is the South Koreans’ joint-second top scorer at the Nanjing Youth Olympics with three goals, the same as forward Lee Jiyong. However, Joo bagged his three strikes in two substitute appearances over the space of 78 minutes, so his efficiency in front of goal is second to none.
In the opener against Cape Verde Islands, Joo Hwimin entered the fray ten minutes before the end of the first half and scored with virtually his first touch to put the east Asians 3-0 ahead, before sealing a 5-0 win with a second strike 11 minutes from full time. He made his next appearance early in the second period of an exceptionally tough semi-final showdown against Iceland, when he came off the bench to equalise with a deft header just three minutes after the north Europeans had taken the lead. In the ensuing penalty shootout, the cool-headed Korean stroked home a spot-kick to help the young Taeguk Warriors prevail 3-1.
"It was a very tough match," said Joo with a coy smile. "But we’d been preparing for this game and everyone worked very hard, which is why we came out on top in the end."
Coincidentally, Joo’s hero Son Heungmin was also instrumental as a supersub in Korea Republic’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ Asian zone qualifier against Qatar. Son took to the field in the 81st minute with both sides deadlocked at 1-1 and the South Koreans on the verge of dropping vital points at home, before netting the winner in injury time. Following his own match-winning cameo against Iceland, Joo Hwimin was clearly riding on cloud nine.
"I'm delighted to have scored three goals [during the tournament]," said the midfield hotshot. "To be competing with the national team at the Youth Olympics is so exciting."
Having fired his team into the final, the next target in the youngster’s sights was an Olympic gold medal. "We haven’t watched our opponents play yet,” said Joo before the title-decider, “so we don’t know a lot about them. But I don’t think that there’s a big difference in strength between us and Peru, so it should be quite a closely-contested game. If we can continue to play to our level, we should be in with a chance of victory. "
Having had his first taste of international action, the teenager is raring to realise the next objective on his list of big ambitions. "My favourite foreign player is Cristiano Ronaldo, because the club I long to play for most is Real Madrid," revealed the Korean whiz kid.