Korea Republic’s road to this year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup was far from straight-forward. They missed out on a direct place after finishing a disappointing fourth in Asian qualifying last October, before being gifted an extra ticket when Japan assumed hosting from Uzbekistan.
Two more months then passed before a new coach was appointed. Jong Song-Chon, who has worked as senior assistant coach for the women’s U-20 and senior national teams, was only able to assemble his first squad five months before the finals.
“The first thing I did was to review and analyse all the videos from the Asian qualifiers last year. After that I concluded that we did play some good football, although we had problems scoring,” Jong told FIFA.com in a recent interview. “What’s worse, we couldn’t build on the development of recent years and the morale was visibly low.”
Jong’s first game in charge during an overseas training camp in June was, predictably, a baptism of fire as the young Taeguk Ladies suffered a 3-0 defeat by China PR. A subsequent rematch against the Chinese looked like it would be a similar story as Jong’s charges trailed 2-0 with ten minutes remaining. But then, from nowhere, emerged a forgotten star.
Second-half substitute Yeo Min-Ji, who has struggle with niggling injuries since winning the adidas Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the 2010 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Trinidad and Tobago, rose to the occasion by pulling one goal back before turning provider for an equaliser as the Koreans came from behind to win 3-2.
“Min-Ji was still recovering from the injury she had sustained during her senior team commitments and could play for no more than 20 minutes. But as I saw her turn the tide of the game, I knew she was still alive and her finishing touch was as good as it used to be,” Jong said of the youngster who led the side to a U-17 world title in Trinidad and Tobago. “At the moment she’s fully recuperated and fit, and I’m one hundred per cent sure that she’ll play an important role in the finals.”
“That said, we’re not a team revolving around an individual,” said Jong, who also oversaw the U-20 side’s fairy tale run to third place at Germany 2010. “We’ve got some classy midfielders, like captain Lee Young-Ju, Jeon Eun-Ha and Lee Geum-Min, all of whom are capable of creating various attacking routes.”
One of the most challenging tasks ahead of the 41-year-old coach will be seeking to strike a harmonious balance between the experienced class of Germany 2010 and the promising starlets from T&T 2010.
“They have been training together in and out of the country since the Asian championship, so they know each other well enough to play as a unit,” Jong insisted. “More importantly they know what they’re doing and they’re heading in the right direction.”
So, in which direction are the Taeguk Ladies moving? Jong answered without hesitation: “Our initial goal is to win our group ahead of Brazil, Italy and Nigeria, which I think we’re more than capable of, and hopefully we’ll have an advantage in the quarter-finals. But the most important thing for us is to believe in ourselves and revive the momentum we gained two years ago.”