Disciplined, organised and absolutely clinical in front of goal, Korea Republic broke Nigerian hearts during their quarter-final at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010. Twice they drew level during a sensational match before going on to triumph 6-5 after extra time and book their passage to the semi-finals. The Taeguk Ladies can now look forward to facing Spain in Couva on Tuesday for a place in the final.
Even with hindsight, it is difficult to find a rational explanation for all the twists and turns of their scintillating encounter with Nigeria. The drama was unremitting, with two goals buried in the opening three minutes and another two plundered in the last three minutes of normal time. “I don’t know what happened; I can’t explain it,” said Flamingoes playmaker Ngozi Okobi, almost lost for words.
Korea Republic captain Kim Areum nonetheless offered up a few reasons. “The difference came down to tactics this evening,” she told FIFA.com. “Our defence was airtight at the right moment. In attack, we were able to adapt ourselves to their defence – which was organised around a libero – and found the space to score six goals.”
As simple as that may sound, the win was anything but. Indeed, from the skipper to goalkeeper Kim Minah, Choi Duck Joo’s charges were united by the desire to underline exactly how hard they had toiled to make the result possible. All were quick to pinpoint “teamwork” as the key to their success, and given their solidarity on the pitch and tireless running since the competition began, it was easy to accept the explanation.
To see the South Koreans in action is to watch a group of players who seem to be everywhere on the pitch, each of them sprinting from start to finish while they ping short passes around to move forward, and rack up the tackle count to defend. Choi’s team is well-balanced, advances en masse and holds nothing back as it pursues its stated aims. “Now, we naturally want to go further and we’ll start by doing everything we can to get past the semi-finals,” said Kim Areum, one of the leading forces for cohesion within the squad. “As captain, I try to keep a dialogue going between all the players and with the coach as well. It’s obviously been a very rich life experience for myself and my team.”
Given the Taeguk Ladies’ fierce team ethic, it is almost inappropriate to single out any individuals, but the statistics suggest Yeo Min Ji requires special attention. The prolific No10 registered ten times during the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship to help her side qualify for Trinidad and Tobago 2010, and her four efforts against Nigeria lifted her joint level with Germany’s Kyra Malinowski at the top of the scoring charts on seven goals. “I honestly didn’t expect to score so many,” she said. “I’m delighted, but now I want to put this performance behind me and prepare for the next match.”
That last-four meeting with Spain is already fast approaching, of course. “I admit that I don’t know their team at all as I’ve never had the chance to see them play,” said Kim Areum. “This’ll be a good time to do it.” Sailing into the unknown clearly holds no fear for Korea Republic – after all, they are the team forcing everyone else to lose their bearings.