At the Nike Store in the City Center Doha Mall, one of the most important shopping centers in the capital of Qatar, World Cup team uniforms are on display and for sale. South Korea’s is not particularly noteworthy. It is among others manufactured by the sporting goods company.
The saleswoman, seeing a girl or boy examining her, is already waiting for the question.
“Is there one with the name of Cho Gue-sung?”
The answer is always negative. No, it doesn’t.
“Since the beginning of the Worlds, it’s been the same every day”, the employee says.
The number 9 of the South Korean national team, Brazil’s opponent in the round of 16 next Monday (5), at 4 pm (Brasília time), is the first footballer taken to stardom during the World Cup not only for his football. He became a social media phenomenon.
Before the start of the tournament, the 24-year-old striker for Jebonk Hyundai Motors from his home country had 20,000 followers on Instagram. Two weeks later he’s at 1.6 million. Fan-made videos of him go viral on TikTok. There are almost 200 million views.
Cho’s appeal is her beauty. Comments on their social media accounts have marriage proposals and messages of love from fans of k-pop, the Korean rhythm that has spread across the planet. With the most important football tournament in progress, the athlete became a star.
This is not just among the people of South Korea. They are posts from different nationalities. The same goes for those looking for the selection’s shirt with its name in shopping malls in Doha. They are girls and boys from different places who are in Qatar because of the World Cup.
In South Korea’s defeat by Ghana in the group stage, he was the first name from the country to score two goals in a tournament match. An Asian had never scored twice from the head in the same game.
“I grew up watching the World Cup, so anyone needs to be very lucky to participate in this competition,” he said in an interview with the national federation.
The entity does not confirm the information, disclosed by a Korean journalist, that Cho had to turn off his cell phone so that the volume of social media notifications did not become a distraction in the concentration.
The entity also does not want him to become an excessive attraction for reasons other than sports. Even more so now with the team classified for the knockout stage.
Against Brazil, South Korea has the chance to repeat the feat of the 2002 team, when it was host alongside Japan and reached the quarterfinals.
According to the coach of Portugal, Fernando Santos, there was a discussion involving the number 9 shirt and Cristiano Ronaldo after the victory that gave the Asians qualification for the round of 16. The Portuguese is also known, in addition to his goals, for his fame on social networks.
Only, for now, Cho has no way to compete with the top scorer who is leaving Manchester United. On Instagram, Cristiano has 507 million followers.
Santos’ version is that Cho said in Portuguese “get out of here”. That would have pissed him off.
“The South Korean player was insulting him, telling him to get out of there and that’s the reason why he [Cristiano] I was so angry. Everyone saw it. I saw the interaction with the Korean player and I have no doubt, if you see the images, what happened”, he explained, considering that saying to someone “get out of here” on the field is an offense.
That turned Cho’s last Instagram post, a photo of him draped in the South Korean flag and taken just after the 2-1 victory over the Europeans, to turn into a battle between his fans and those of Christian.
The sudden fame caused rumors to emerge in South Korea that he was dating model Ji Munju, one of the most famous in the country. The agency representing her denied the story.
Its trajectory and the power of engagement on internet platforms may become even greater depending on the result in front of Brazilians. Top scorer in the South Korean championship this year, he won the national cup titles in 2020 and 2022. He was also league champion in 2020.
Cho seems to know what to say to his fans, especially those in his homeland. Even after he scored two goals against Ghana, he gave the interview with a downcast expression and apologized to people in South Korea who stayed up late to watch the team lose 3-2. There is a six-hour time difference between Doha and Seoul.
Videos on TikTok of his apology were flooded with messages telling him “not to be sad.”