South Korea managed to edge out fellow Asian side Japan on Saturday night in Port of Spain to be crowned champions at a global footballing competition for the first time in their history. The thriller finished 3-3 after extra time and needed a penalty shootout to decide the victor. The end-to-end encounter had fans at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on the edge of their seats from start to finish and was a fitting conclusion to the 2010 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago.
If any of the 22 young ladies down on the pitch were at all intimidated by the huge crowd or the presence of heartthrob David Beckham up in the VIP tribune, they didn’t show it in the first 12 minutes. The Koreans marched up and scored the opener with their first shot of the match. Lee Jungeun squared up to the ball in the sixth minute some 25 yards from goal and arrowed it to the top corner.
Not to be outdone, the Nadeshiko repeated the trick, only from farther out, five minutes later. Hikaru Naomoto collected from a poor clearance, controlled and slipped past one marker before hammering toward goal from 30 yards out. The Korean goalkeeper got her gloves to the ball, but could only palm it against the underside of the crossbar and in. The keeper was cursing her bad luck and positioning again shortly after as Japan took the lead through a harmless-looking effort from Yoko Tanaka. It somehow slid under Kim Minah and into the net to make the score 2-1.
The Koreans were having trouble getting the ball to tournament top scorer Yeo Min Ji, but the rest of the Taeguk Ladies were more than willing to pick up the slack in attack. Captain Kim Areum’s free-kick from distance flew up into the humid night sky on the half hour and came crashing down against Hirao’s crossbar, with the keeper well and truly beaten. She got it right on the stroke of half-time, however, when her vicious set-piece from a full 40 yards levelled the scores.
The fans were able to catch their breath a bit as the second half began at a less-frenetic tempo, but the lull in the action lasted only 11 minutes and was broken by the outstanding Japanese winger Yokoyama. She bolted past a phalanx of defenders, as she has done on so many occasions at these finals, and crossed low. Chika Kato was on hand to poke home into the open net, flinging herself at the deflected ball. Japan continued to press forward, prodding for a fourth goal. It nearly came in the 64th minute, but the Korean keeper was somehow able to push Yoko Tanaka’s curling shot against the post.
Yeo min Ji almost drew level again for the Koreans, but the ball came off the crossbar and then off the head of Hirao, failing to find the back of the net with 15 minutes to go. They were rewarded for their long-range instincts in the 79th minute, however, when substitute Lee So Dam thundered home from well outside the box to force extra time. Japan were the dominant side in the added periods, but they couldn’t convert their chances and the game was decided on penalties. Defender Jang Selgi was the hero on the night, scoring the decisive spot-kick to see Korea Republic win their first world title in any age category or gender.