Up-and-coming Korea Republic making a big mark
After qualifying for a first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup last year, Korea Republic's recent qualification for the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship in Thailand points toward the emergence of a new power in the region. From their first 2-1 victory over China, to the 3-0 thrashing they gave them again in the final, Baek Jong-Chul's unfancied side produced a series of memorable moments in the Asian championship.
With six victories on the trot, the continent's new top dogs now have their sights set even higher for the competition in Thailand this November. Even though they will face defending world champions USA and two European sides in a tough Group C, Baek Jong-chul's team have no fear. "It is a fact that USA are a tough team, but, in a FIFA event, every team is a difficult foe," The 43-year-old coach told FIFA.com in a recent interview.
Now, five months from kick-off, the emerging side are concentrating on preparing for further miracles. "Now that the qualifying tournament is over, we are focusing our full attention on the future," the boss said.
No fear for the newcomers
The side's blistering run of form through the Asian championship has confidence soaring in the camp. Even on the eve of the tournament, which was hosted in Suzhou, China between 25 May and 6 June, few believed the Korean side would be able to produce much.
The first obstacle on their way were well-prepared hosts China, the group contenders who were determined to prove themselves following their failure to reach the inaugural FIFA U-19 World Championship in Canada two years ago. And the fact that the Koreans had never beaten the Chinese did not exactly inspire too much faith in the side.
But the team were not there to merely make up the numbers, as their results quickly proved. And now the newly crowned Asian champions will never be underestimated again.
"I participated in the Asian U-19 Women's Championship two years ago, and we were simply not good enough then," midfielder Lee Jang-Mi told FIFA.com., "However, our team showed great development this year. And I believe that we can prove we are as good as the USA and some of the better European sides."
Led by a lion-hearted general
For Baek Jong-Chul, facing powers like the U.S. is not only a big immediate challenge, but also a good chance for his team to improve on their sudden dominance in Asia. "People are concerned about the Draw results as we will have to battle it out against USA and European 1 and 3 teams. It is true there are tough battles ahead, but on the other hand, playing against the world's top sides will also help us concentrate on our task. Our players will gain valuable international exposure and experience from these matches."
According to the former assistant of the senior women's team, who has been at the U-19 helm since January, the side's strength resides in their teamwork and fighting spirit. "It used to be hard to instill discipline in our female players. But this time it was totally different. The preparation for this Asian championship was satisfactory and we generated great spirit."
The coach is also fully aware of a high level of talent in the squad. "Since they started playing football at very young age, most of the girls are very skillful footballers."
After the storm
Park Eun-sun, MVP of the Asian championship with eight goals, played a huge part in raising the level of play. She looked hot-tempered girl at last year's AFC Women's Championship, where she was sent off in the third-place match against Japan. Fortunately her teammates held on to their 1-0 lead. But despite her seven goals overall, it was obvious that she still needed to learn some lessons.
Recalling this in an interview with FIFA.com, the 177cm-tall, 18-year-old who played with the seniors at last year's FIFA Women's World Cup in the U.S. blushed at her previous impetuousness. "In the past, I was not good at controlling my temper on the pitch. It stopped me from showing my best. Though struggling for the past year, I have overcome some of my problems and it helped me throughout the U-19 Championship."
This was indeed the case. In an over-tough opener with China, Park Eun-sun headed the winner in the 78th minute to give her team an important 2-1 victory. She was named player of the match again in the final, where her hat-trick helped overwhelm the Chinese again 3-0.
"I will prepare myself well for this world championship in Thailand, and do my best to avoid the mistakes that have plagued me in the past."