Asia’s line-up for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014 was completed on Sunday with Korea Republic, Korea DPR and hosts China PR securing a top-three finish at the AFC U-19 Women's Championship to book passage to next year's global showpiece.
The six-team campaign, staged in Nanjing from 11-20 October, saw the Taegeuk Nangja (Taegeuk Ladies) go five matches undefeated as they recaptured the Asian laurels, having claimed their maiden success in the 2004 edition.
Taking heart from their brilliant performances in the past two FIFA U-20 Women's World Cups, coach Jong Songchon’s side entered the campaign seeking their fourth global appearance. Their hopes were, though, dealt a blow in the 2-2 opening draw against China PR during which they only narrowly avoided defeat.
A 7-0 rout of Myanmar saw Korea Republic put their campaign back on track, before they overcame high-flying Japan 2-0 to move into the top three. After registering a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Korea DPR, they edged a desperate Australia by an identical scoreline to seal their second Asian title.
"Even though we had some difficulties (against Australia), the players got over the problems with their strong mentality," said coach Jong. “In Asia it's quite difficult to qualify for the U-20 Women’s World Cup, because the other teams are very strong."
"We did our best with our tactics throughout the tournament. The players showed they were strong in both technical and tactical terms. Now we know the World Cup is happening for us, and we will draw up preparatory plans when we get back," he added.
Also excelling throughout were pre-tournament favourites Korea DPR, who opened brightly by thrashing Australia 6-2 with top-striker Ri Un Sim completing a treble. A solitary-goal defeat of China was followed by a 2-0 win against Myanmar as the 2006 world champions maintained their unblemished record. Although they narrowly lost to Korea Republic, a goalless draw against Japan was enough to secure their place as tournament runners-up.
Hosts scrape through
China, runners-up at both Thailand 2004 and Russia 2006, had set their sights on no less than a fifth qualification. But coach Wang Jun's home side got off to a lacklustre start against Korea Republic, before a 1-0 defeat to Korea DPR saw their chances left hanging by a thread.
"We had planned to seal qualification with victories against Korea Republic, Australia and Myanmar, but the results of the opening two matches largely dented our chances," coach Wang told FIFA.com reflecting on their campaign. "We were forced to change our strategy thereafter and I was satisfied that our players did well in implementing our game plans."
The hosts' tactical changes paid off when they recorded a crucial 2-1 comeback triumph against an Australian side hampered by the loss of key players to senior national team duty. Cheered on by the home crowd, the Chinese battled from behind to draw 2-2 against Japan. In the closing matchday they thumped Myanmar 8-0, a result which saw them narrowly edge Japan to third place on goal difference and qualification for Canada 2014.
"The Australia win was crucial for us," continued Wang. "The result revived our hopes and provided us with a timely morale-boost. We are now in the World Cup but our players have their work cut out if they are to improve well enough to compete against the world's best teams."
Korea Republic proved to be the tournament's best scorers with 15 goals scored in five games. But they were indebted to captain Jang Selgi, who emerged as the competition's brightest star. The dynamic No 10 was on target in the opener against China, before netting five times as her side ran riot against Myanmar.
After again getting her name on the scoresheet against Korea DPR, she scored goal number eight against Australia. Her prolific form and leadership saw her crowned as both the tournament’s Most Valued Player and top-scorer.
China, too, impressed through their free-scoring style despite finishing behind Korea DPR. They were the campaign's second best goal-scorers, just a goal shy of Korea Republic. Striking-ace Wang Shuang managed a brace against Australia, before completing a hat-trick against Myanmar. Partnering her on the front-line was Song Duan, who racked up four goals to further aid China’s cause.
"These players form our nucleus alongside other key players including midfielders Lv Yueyun and Zhao Xinzhai," Wang summed up. "But the team should improve their technical and tactical levels. I hope that we can have a team capable of winning by controlling proceedings with passing and teamwork when we head to Canada next year."