Cho Gue-sung becomes South Korea’s breakout World Cup heartthrob

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SEOUL — As South Korea advanced to the knockout rounds of the World Cup for the first time since 2010, one player in particular was getting attention — and not just for his football skills.

Cho Gue-sung, a 24-year-old striker for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, has become famous for his looks.

World Cup group stage and knockout matches

Cho’s Instagram followers swelled from 20,000 before the World Cup to more than 2.1 million on Sunday, and social media was flooded with messages of admiration, with some asking him to marry him. He reportedly had to turn off his phone after receiving too many messages from suitors.

Hundreds of compilations of Cho standing, sitting, running or just blinking have stunned TikTok users. Videos tagged “choguesung” have been viewed more than 317 million times. One user made a “photo card” of Cho, a token usually reserved for K-pop idols.

It appears his team is aware of the player’s newfound fame – Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC posted four videos of Cho in a row on the team’s TikTok account. “They know what we want,” one user commented.

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Joe scored two headers against Ghana last week before receiving more attention on Friday for his apparently contentious encounter with Cristiano Ronaldo, who said Joe sent him off the pitch quickly. The melee sparked rumors that Cho had learned Portuguese to more effectively taunt Portuguese players. According to ESPN, despite the rumors being widely circulated on social media, Portugal coach Fernando Santos said Joe made the comments about Ronaldo in English. Still, the skirmish further boosted Cho’s profile, pushing his Instagram followers past the 2 million mark over the weekend.

David Tizzard, an assistant professor of Korean studies at Seoul Women’s University, said that while other soccer players gain national attention in South Korea — a country where people “always fawn over whoever is in the spotlight, whether it’s a soccer player , Idol or Actor” – Notably, Cho has received international acclaim. “We’re seeing this desire popping up all over the world right now,” he said.

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Social media and Korea’s recent increase in notoriety and popularity have contributed to Cho’s meteoric rise, and Cho is “essentially the complete package,” Tizzard said. He added that the football star “has performed well on the world stage, breaking the stereotypes that Asian footballers should have, and his strong performance and confidence can stand up to a world star like Ronaldo.”

The sudden fame has sparked discussions about how Cho is cashing in on his newfound following. (He’s listed as a Nike athlete on the company’s website and touts Nike in his empty Instagram bio.) Multiple teams outside of South Korea are reportedly interested in the transfer.

For now, fans of Cho will have the chance to see him in action on Monday, when South Korea takes on Brazil in the round of 16.

Qatar World Cup

Newest: The knockout stages of the World Cup continued on Saturday, with Argentina beating Australia 2-1 in the round of 16. Argentina’s global star Lionel Messi, in his final World Cup, was one of the favorites to win the title despite a shock first-game loss to Saudi Arabia. The first place in Group C advances to the quarter-finals.

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United States Marine Corps: The U.S. men’s national team lost 3-1 to the Netherlands in their opening game of the round of 16 on Saturday. Group A champions Netherlands finished the group stage without conceding a goal. Its winning streak continues while the U.S. rally is over.

Knockout schedule: The World Cup group stage, full of shocking upsets and dramatic twists, will now give way to the knockout stage which promises more surprises.

Today’s world view: Ishaan Tharoor, foreign columnist for The Washington Post, chronicles his week at the World Cup in Qatar.

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