When Korea Republic finished third at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany earlier this month, it was regarded as a miracle in a country that has enjoyed only moderate success in women's youth football. In fact, it was almost impossible to find another word to explain how the young Taeguk Ladies achieved South Korea’s best ever result at a world finals, given the fact that there are no more than 158 players registered at six university teams nationwide.
By comparison, Korea Republic U-17 coach Choi Duk-Joo has relatively more options to choose from 339 players at 16 high schools around the country but still the figures indicate the stark reality of the women’s game in Korea. However, when FIFA.com asked him about the prospect of his side emulating the success of Germany 2010 next month in Trinidad & Tobago, Choi was cautiously optmisitic.
“We have to do well, too,” he laughed as he was surrounded by the players called up for the final training session before leaving for the Caribbean. “The U-20 players did well to claim third place in Germany and my players followed all the games on television while we were training in the United States. I think they could build up the confidence enough to go out there and achieve good results, although they should feel a bit of pressure.”
Choi’s charges set up a training camp last month in Atlanta, where they played four friendly matches with local teams. After a defeat by WPS outfit Atlanta Beat, the Taeguk Girls bounced back with three straight wins over the U-22 state representatives from Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.
“There are only about 1,400 female players registered at all age levels in Korea whereas there are over 10,000 players in a single state in America,” the 50-year-old said. “It was clear that our players are inferior to the opponents in terms of physique, but we could dominate the games thanks to our own plays and skills. I’d say we could overcome the pressure with our confidence.”
Having won the Asian championship last November just six months after taking the reins, Choi has already proved his ability to organise the players into an effective unit in a short period of time, but he insists that the result was all down to his players.
“The players have the will to achieve things, and there are a lot of talented players. The team is made up of very attack-minded players in all departments and that’s our strength,” he explained. “The only thing that bothers me at the moment is that a couple of key players, such as Yeo Min-Ji and Kim Da-Hye, are still recovering from injury. We cannot play 100 per cent of our football without them. That said, our goal is to reach the final and win it. I think we can go all the way if we prepare well before the finals.”
Korea Republic will feature in Group B alongside Germany, Mexico and South Africa at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, and Choi is confident his side can progress over the first hurdle. “I’ve seen Germany play in person during the European qualifying. They are a consistent side with a lot of good players. But we’ve got better players in terms of skills and speed, and we can beat them if we build more endurance,” he said. “In the end, I expect us to compete for first place against Germany and Mexico. As for the Mexicans, I know they have a good centre-forward and a playmaker but there’s got to be a way to stop them.”