Koreans 'feel like heroes' after 22-2 world water polo thumping

Gwangju (South Korea) (AFP) –


Rarely does a 22-2 defeat seem like a watershed moment -- but for South Korea's female water polo team their final world championship group game Thursday felt like a moral victory.

Having lost their first two Group B matches by a record-breaking aggregate of 94-1, the tournament hosts were overpowered by Canada in Gwangju but two fourth-quarter goals from Kyung Da-seul and Lee Jung-eun triggered emotional scenes at the final buzzer.

"It feels amazing," Ryan Hanna Yoon told AFP. "It feels like we won because we've been working so hard. We've come a long way. I feel a little bit like a hero in the water for Korea."

South Korea suffered a record 64-0 defeat by Hungary in the opening game at the weekend before being demolished 30-1 by the 2017 bronze medallists Russia on Tuesday.

But they scrapped like tigers against Canada under a golden sunset, holding out for over a minute in the first quarter before their beefier opponents found the net.

Kyung, who scored Korea's first-ever world championship goal against Russia, hit the crossbar before the left-hander fizzed one into the top corner to reduce the deficit to 17-1 and spark wild celebrations.

When Lee looped in the home side's second less than a minute later, pandemonium erupted and had the unashamedly partisan venue announcer wondering if the "comeback was on".

South Korea only rustled up a team a month before the start of the competition, calling on former swimmers, with all but captain Oh Hee-ji still in their teens.

Their pluck and refusal to give in has evoked shades of pint-sized Equatorial Guinean swimmer Eric "The Eel" Moussambani, who clung to the lane rope at the 2000 Sydney Olympics before barely making it to the wall as the crowd roared him home.

However, the Koreans have yet to have a catchy nickname bestowed upon them like the women's national curling team, who were christened the "Garlic Girls" by local media after melting hearts at last year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Asked if she had any preference for something a little less pungent, Yoon grinned: "I don't know, I haven't thought about that -- but anything would be fine."

Despite losing their three preliminary games by an aggregate of 116-3, Yoon admitted she was struggling to cope with all the sudden attention.

"I feel it's a lot of pressure really," she said. "But we started from zero -- we lost 64-0 -- so we've really tried hard to improve so it feels great."