- Korea Republic eliminated well-regarded Korea DPR from race for France 2019
- Captain Cho Sohyun played key role for Taeguk Ladies
- Cho has been a key figure in Korea Republic's recent rejuvenation
Korea Republic have proved more than capable of springing surprises in the women's game. At the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™, Yoon Dukyeo's side came from behind to defeat Spain 2-1 en route to the second stage. More recently, the Taeguk Ladies knocked out three-time Asian champions Korea DPR as they sealed qualification to next year's AFC Women's Asian Cup in Jordan, which also serves as the qualifier for the upcoming FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019.
In a sense, they emerged victors in unexpected fashion on both occasions. But it was their elimination of their northern peninsula neighbours which raised more eyebrows. Playing in Pyongyang, hosts Korea DPR were strongly-favoured, considering their proud record on the continent. However, the visitors proved more than a match for them. Korea Republic emerged undefeated, holding the home side to a 1-1 draw. The two sides finished level on points with two wins and a draw each but Korea Republic advanced thanks to scoring more goals.
By doing so, Korea Republic caused a huge upset, considering their rivals had reached the final in each of the past four Asian Cups they had qualified for. But while their success was seen as a surprise by the media and fans alike, Korea Republic captain Cho Sohyun told FIFA.com that it was nothing more than an initial target fulfilled.
"Before travelling to Pyongyang, we were aware that the top priority for us was to secure a ticket to the next Women's World Cup," said the 28-year-old Incheon Red Angels midfielder, who scored three times and skippered her side through the qualifying competition. "This meant that the qualification group was something we must win. Had we failed, it would have been a huge setback for our women's team in the following years. We will have plenty of opportunities to play against the world's top teams if we go to the World Cup."
Lessons learned at Canada 2015
Indeed, Canada 2015 remains a fond memory for Cho. Despite falling 2-0 to Brazil in the opener, Cho and Co. earned their first point in a 2-2 draw against Costa Rica before overcoming Spain to seal their maiden qualification for the knockout rounds. As well as displaying her leadership skills throughout, Cho also headed home the equaliser to set her side on the path to a spirited victory, a performance which saw her singled out as player of the match.
"To be honest, we were getting very tired going into the field against Spain," she recalled. "As the captain, I knew I should work harder to encourage my team-mates. We played with great teamwork. And I owed my thanks to a team-mate for providing the great assist for me to score. I was very satisfied that I could score a goal which changed the run of the play."
Inspired by their history-making feat, Cho and team-mates went to the Round of 16 aiming to break new ground. However, the ambitious South Koreans were brought down to the earth after conceding three unanswered goals against France.
"We were thrilled to have progressed to the knockout stage for the first time," she continued. "And we wanted to go further. But losing to France made us aware where we are in the international arena. It is a reality which we must face. We will work hard to make progress and I look forward to having another opportunity to play against France."
"Since coach Yoon took over (in 2013), we have played more international matches," Cho added. "In the process, we have gained international experience and exposure to tough opposition while improving our skills. Besides, an increasing number of young players are called up to the national teams so they can develop. With the emergence of the new generation, we will have a greater pool of young talents."
Now Korea Republic have fixed their sights firmly at qualification for France 2019. With the top five teams advancing, they should have few problems of grasping an automatic spot. However, Cho is dreaming beyond that.
"I am very confident that our team can secure a ticket for the next World Cup," she concluded. "However, we want to achieve more than that this time around. We want to at least finish third to level our record in this tournament. If possible, we will do our utmost to defeat teams like defending champions Australia and even lift the trophy."