Last-gasp Koreans edge into semis
A dramatic last-minute winner saw Korea DPR through to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006 semi-finals on Sunday, as the Asians clinched a 2-1 victory over France at the Petrovsky stadium in St Petersburg.
The quarter-final meeting was the first clash between the sides at any level of women's football. Korea DPR coach Choe Kwang Sok made just one change, restoring Jo Yun Min to the starting line-up, but France coach Stephane Pilard introduced four new faces compared to the final group match against the USA, with the most surprising omission striker Elodie Thomis, a starter in all three games to date.
Korea worked their first chance after just two minutes, but Kim Song Hui narrowly failed to connect from five yards out after Kim Kyong Hwa arrowed a free-kick into the mix from the right flank.
The crowd at the Petrovsky stadium saw a lively enough first half with the Asians just about on top, although the French increasingly neutralised the threat as the game progressed, and began to fashion chances of their own. Marie-Laure Delie was forced to seek attention for a nasty-looking cut, but after lengthy touchline treatment, she was able to continue with her head swathed in bandages.
Korea took heart from their passionate support, a knot of travelling fans who maintained an incessant background cacophony of rattles and chants. Their team's tactical plan centred on pacy counter-attacks, but the deep-lying French proved a hard nut to crack - the hardest yet for the impressive Koreans. For Les Bleuettes, Louisa Necib prompted and urged her side forward, duly creating their best chance midway through the half when she herself burst through the Korean defence only to fail to find the target with only keeper Jon to beat.
Up the other end, Kim Kyong Hwa was never afraid to try her luck from long range, but a series of efforts either cleared the crossbar or ended up in the capable grasp of keeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
However, the lively Korea striker finally found the net seconds after the restart. Kim Chin Hui laid off Jo Yun Mi's pass into the path of Kim, and from 25 yards the skilful schemer made no mistake with a ferociously-struck left-foot drive (1-0, 46').
France responded by bringing on Thomis for Jessica Houara, and the change immediately bore fruit. Just seven minutes after coming on, the substitute capitalised on Delie's persistent build-up play to bury the equaliser from close range (1-1, 62').
Pilard set for sleepless night
"I don't think we brought her on too late," coach Pilard answered with a wry grin after he was asked why he had waited to introduce Thomis until after the Koreans had scored.
"She went out there and scored right away. But seriously, it was a tactical decision. I watched a video of Korea beforehand, and I'd been hoping a single striker with Necib in support would be a winning combination."
By the time Thomis scored, the caution of the first half was a distant memory as the sides charged forward in search of a potential winner. Chances fell at both ends, the French looking a considerably more dangerous proposition with a second orthodox centre-forward on the field.
"After we'd equalised, we had a gilt-edged chance to take the lead. That chance is going to keep me awake the whole night," Pilard lamented, referring to when Delie had barged her way through only to shoot tamely at the goalkeeper. "If you don't accept a chance like that, you're never going to win the match."
Both teams, keen to settle the issue in normal time, kept up the frenetic action throughout the closing phase, but it was the Koreans who grabbed the glory when Kim Song Hui delivered a last-minute corner high into the area for Hong Myong Gum to rise near the penalty spot and head an unstoppable winner into the right hand corner of the net (2-1, 90').
The French coach made no secret of his disappointment afterwards, although he found words of praise for his side. "I'm proud of my players, for the way they played today, and for everything they've achieved over the last two years. That was the end of an era today, as a number of my players will be appearing for the senior team from now on."
The Koreans now travel to Moscow for Thursday's semi-final meeting with Brazil . Kim, scorer of the opening goal and named Player of the Match afterwards, said she was not in awe of the South Americans and felt her side could reach the final. "That won't be our last victory here," she vowed, "because we want to win the trophy as a thank-you to our wonderful fans for their tremendous support."
Player of the Match: KIM KYONG HWA
"She made the difference today. She is an excellent playmaker, and scored a goal as well. She is technically well-equipped, an outstanding distributor of the ball, and ultimately decided the outcome," Marika Domanski-Lyfors (SWE), FIFA Technical Study Group .