Antonio Puche: We Were There Fighting as Men

In the quarter-final of U20 Asian Cup, China lost to S. Korea 1-3 after taking a surprising lead at the beginning of the second half. A controversial penalty drew South Korea level and an exhausted China, who played last game a day later than their opponent and made no rotation in the game, was defeated in extra time. After the game, China’s Head Coach Antonio Puche Vicente, was interviewed by media.


Q: First of all, please comment on the match between China and Korea.

Puche: This game was supposed to be the best game played by our team in four games and it was also a very exciting game. We fought against the Korean team in our own way, fighting like men on the field, actually it was team against team, it is really man against man. The team actually achieved a very good result, just a step away from the goal, just a little bit away.


The penalty in the second half was probably a turning point in the whole game.

Puche: Indeed, it was a very hard moment. The team was very good defensively and very organized, and the other team didn’t create any good scoring chances. Then, we were awarded a penalty kick, which was really controversial. In fact, the whole performance of our team was good, and after conceding the penalty, the players didn’t give up and kept on fighting. We actually gave everything we could in the whole game, including the extra time.


When we got to extra time , were we physically exhausted and couldn’t hold on any longer?

Puche: Actually, counting the four games in the group stage, we played very hard in each game and gave our best. Also, Korea had one more day of rest than us, that is, they had four days of rest before this game, while we only had three days of rest. Moreover, we expected the game to be decided in less than 90 minutes, which is the time period in which we had to take the game. Playing the extra time was not good for us. We are actually very, very close to our goal. The players were already giving their all, and indeed, the game was played very hard. At that time, we were actually waiting for a chance to counterattack and take it, then we would have hope. Or we could have a penalty shootout at the end. Indeed, the whole game was quite difficult.


During the game, you were sent off for two yellow cards. At that time, what were you arguing about, was it a referee’s call?

Puche: As a manager, in all my experience, it was the first time I was sent off and I never give the referee a problem to create. It was a very anxious situation, a very tense situation. Also, before I was shown the second yellow card, I was not talking to the referee, but to the players on the field, shouting to the players on the field. Then, the referee misunderstood and thought he was talking to him, so he came and let me out. But now that it has happened, that’s the way it has to be.

As a coach, it is a long career and there is definitely the possibility of being sent off. But in fact, the most regrettable thing is that the players were so close, so close to their goals, almost within reach, but in the end, they didn’t get it. Or, you could say that they almost touched it, but in the end, they didn’t get it. At this time, on the other hand, I was a bit sad and heartbroken because we were on the battlefield today, on the green, and all the players were fighting with our honor, and this was shown throughout the game.


When you went back to the locker room, were you consoling the players?

Puche: After the game, when we entered the locker room, the players came in with crying faces, but, as usual, I motivated them and encouraged them to just keep moving forward and keep improving. In this final stage of the tournament, we actually still got a very good result and the team performed very well. The most important thing is that we have given hope to Chinese soccer, not because we are the ones who are within reach and can almost touch (the World Youth Championship ticket), but one thing more important than this kind of achievement and result is that we give hope to people, which is actually priceless. That’s the most important thing I’ve gotten from this tournament.


What did you say to the players?

Puche: What was said in the locker room, mainly to keep them calm and get back to normal. Some people will cry, some will shout, and some may just stay silent, each one has a different way of expressing themselves. I am also proud of their performance as a coach. In fact, they are all fighters on the field, real fighters.