The late Luis Aragones once said that while core fitness was important in football, natural talent could always make up for any shortfall in physical strength. That theory was borne out when the coach led a Spain side containing diminutive but exquisitely gifted players such as Xavi and Andrea Iniesta to glory at UEFA EURO 2008.
Korea Republic midfielder Lee Sodam is one player who agrees with the former Roja boss’ assertion. Though only 5’2 tall, the 19-year-old has so much talent to call upon that her relative lack of stature has not stopped her from making a mark.
“I know it’s my weak point,” she told FIFA.com. “Being so small didn’t really cause me many problems to begin with, but I’ve been more aware of it since I started taking part in international tournaments and training with the full national team. All the same, I make a point of not worrying about it and focusing instead on my strong points so that I can keep on improving.”
The shortest member of the Korea Republic squad at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014, Lee has been catching the eye with her sublime set-piece skills, taking possession of the ball as soon as her side wins a free-kick or corner and then flighting it goalwards with her powerful right foot.
“Free-kicks and crosses are my speciality and I practise them a lot,” she explained. “That’s my way of making up for my lack of height, and I have to say that the results have been good too.”
The South Korean sorceress decided that football was her sport at a very age, choosing it over Taekwondo, the martial art practised by her father.
Discussing her love for the game, she said: “I like moving around a lot, being on the ball and running around the whole pitch, which is why I decided to become a central midfielder.”
Like other pint-sized, ball-playing geniuses such as Xavi and France’s Mathieu Valbuena, Lee has made technical expertise the focal point of her game. Another of her role models is her compatriot, the equally diminutive Ji Soyun, the winner of the adidas Silver Ball and adidas Silver Boot at the U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010 and now one of the stars of the senior women’s national team.
“I have a lot to learn, and I’d love to play like her,” she said in reference to her fellow countrywoman.
Lee has yet to make quite the same impact as a goalscorer as the Chelsea Ladies star, having only found the back of the net once so far at Canada 2014, and that from the penalty spot in the 1-1 draw with England. She has made a habit of scoring important goals, however, among them a volley from outside the area in the final of the U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010, a goal that helped her side down Japan and win the title.
Lee is appearing in her third world finals and more are sure to come, the first of them the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™, a tournament for which the Taeguk Ladies have already qualified, with Lee now a permanent fixture in the side.
For the time being, however, she is looking no further ahead than Wednesday’s final Group C match against Mexico. With the South Koreans lying bottom of the section with a solitary point, nothing less than a win will do.
Lee is nevertheless keeping her cool: “The experience I’ve gained in other World Cups helps me when it comes to preparing for games like this.”
Though she might not pose much of an aerial threat to El Tri, the Mexicans would be well advised to keep their wits about them if Lee gets the chance to stand over a free-kick on the edge of the box, an opportunity for her to show that talent is every bit as important as physique.