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Kim Min-jae looking to convert 2018 high to Continental glory

Jeonju: Precociously talented Korea Republic defender Kim Min-jae has eyes on continuing his successful 2018 season into the new year at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.

It's fair to say that Kim's first two-years of his professional career in top flight football have been on an upward curve.

In 2017, his debut season in the K-League 1, the physically imposing centre-back won the league title with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, was named K-League Young Player of the Year and named in the K-League Best XI.

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This year has followed a similar pattern.

Another league championship with Jeonbuk, a debut AFC Champions League campaign and, although he missed out on the final 2018 FIFA World Cup squad due to injury, a much-desired gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games Indonesia.

The latter, in particular, was a personal highlight.

"I was obsessed with winning the 2018 Asian Games," admits Kim, who turned 22 a fortnight ago

"We had never won the Asian Games outside of Korea Republic before and there was a lot of pressure on us about getting the gold medal."

Fortunately, for Kim and his teammates, the young Taeguk Warriors were able to defeat Japan in the final in Indonesia, bringing with it national glory and military exemption.

"We were lucky to get a good result in the final, and winning the gold medal absolutely gives us more confidence as players and a team."

Kim's continental experience at club level didn't have as happy a conclusion, after Jeonbuk were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by domestic rivals Suwon Samsung Bluewings, but the Asian adventure also brought useful lessons for the future.

"One noticeable thing I learned was to do with travel," he says.

"Regarding away games, in Korea it only takes a few hours to get anywhere. But to China or to Japan it takes more time, so I have learned a lot about how to maintain my physical condition during the travel.

"I’ve also learnt how to deal with different attackers and styles, which gives me more confidence as a footballer.

"Every match I took part in at the AFC Champions League improved my ability as a player."

The lessons learned this year have set Kim in good stead for the next big challenge: the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.

"I wasn’t in the squad for the World Cup, now we have a new coach [Paulo Bento] and he is of course different from the man he replaced, Shin Tae-yong," says Kim.

"The most important thing is for me to play well in the national team. We know which style he [Bento] wants us to play in the national team. So, if we follow his direction, then we can do well."

"Before we set out to the Asian Games, we defenders promised we would try to avoid conceding any goals - although things didn't work out that way.

All I can say for now is that at the Asian Cup I will try my best to help the team get as many cleansheets as possible.

"But first and foremost, it’s important I get selected for the squad!"

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