|Title||World Cup mission accomplished, S. Korea faces more work ahead in women football|
SEOUL, June 22 (Yonhap) -- On the surface, South Korea accomplished the goals it had set out to meet at the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada. The world's 18th-ranked team earned its maiden win at the quadrennial tournament and reached the knockout stage for the first time in the process.
The success on paper, however, masked some of the pressing issues South Korea faces going forward.
Coached by Yoon Duk-yeo, South Korea lost to France 3-0 in the round of 16 in Montreal on Sunday. Without its star forward Ji So-yun, who sat out with a thigh injury, South Korea was badly overmatched in all facets.
The defeat also served as a microcosm of the state of South Korean women's football: The offense needs more depth while defense remains a work in progress.
South Korea ended the tournament having scored four goals and given up eight in four matches. To open the group stage, it had no answer against world No. 7 Brazil and lost 2-0, a result that could have been even more lopsided had Brazil not sat back on the lead in the second half.
Facing the 37th-ranked Costa Rica, South Korea lost a 2-1 lead in the 89th minute. Instead of trying to protect the advantage in the late stretch, South Koreans kept taking risks on offense and shot themselves in the foot.
South Korea needed a pair of fortunate bounces to defeat No. 14 Spain 2-1 and sneak into the round of 16. Kim Soo-yun netted the winner on an attempted cross that somehow floated over the opposing goalkeeper late in the second half. Then in the final play of the match, Spanish forward Sonia Bermudez rang her free kick off the crossbar. A draw would have knocked South Korea out of the tournament.
In the round of 16, world No. 3 France badly exposed South Korea's slow-footed defense. The first two goals, which came in a four-minute span early in the first half, were both the results of nifty give-and-go plays that left helpless defenders as mere spectators.
South Korea's shoddy coverage raised its ugly head again on France's third goal. Forward Eugenie Le Sommer sped down the left flank and defender Kim Do-yeon could barely keep pace. Le Sommer then found Marie-Laure Delie, who snuck in from behind Shim Seo-yeon to score her second goal of the match. Shim had been watching the play develop to her left and failed to keep the charging Delie in check.
On offense, South Korea simply didn't have enough weapons after Ji went down. Prior to the tournament, Yeo Min-ji, former junior star coming into her own at the senior level, was ruled out with a knee injury.
Another forward, Park Eun-sun, missed the first two matches with an ankle injury and wasn't close to 100 percent when she did play.
"The team was too reliant on Ji So-yun and Park Eun-sun on offense, and when they couldn't get the job done, the offense just stagnated," Kim added. "On the other hand, we discovered forwards like Lee Geum-min (21 years old) and Lee So-dam (20) who can carry the future of the team."
Next up for South Korea will be the Women's East Asian Cup in Wuhan, China, from Aug. 1 to 8. South Korea will face three opponents all above it in the FIFA rankings: No. 4 Japan, No. 8 North Korea and No. 16 China.
The qualification for the 2016 Olympics is scheduled to begin next February. South Korea has reached the final round alongside Japan, North Korea, China and the 10th-ranked Australia, to be joined by the winner of the second round, which will begin in September. Only the top two countries from the half dozen will qualify for the Olympic Games. South Korea has never competed at the event.
After South Korea's elimination in Montreal, Ji admitted she has her work cut out for her.
"The World Cup was a different animal. From the moment I stepped onto the pitch for the first time, the pressure was off the charts," she said. "I realized here that I have to become a better player and come through in key situations. I'd like to gain more experience and challenge myself at the next World Cup."
Ji is 24 and may still be in her prime when the next World Cup opens in France. For Park, a 28-year-old with a history of injuries, this might have been the last hurrah -- though the player herself refused to look at it as such.
"I have mixed feelings; it's disappointing but at the same time, it feels like we've accomplished something," said Park, who also played in South Korea's World Cup debut in 2003. "If I can take care of my body, I think I can play in the next World Cup. And I think some of the younger players have a bright future."
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