Versatile Cho eyes glory with Korea Republic

  • Cho Mijin played in the Asian qualifiers as a converted midfielder

  • The former striker finished as the team’s top scorer with five goals

  • She aims to fire her side to glory at Uruguay 2018

For natural strikers, predatory instincts die hard. That can be the case even when the player concerned is handed a role that involves a great deal more than scoring goals. And Cho Mijin, captain of Korea Republic’s U-17 women's team, is a prime example.

Usually deployed upfront, Cho was handed a new role ahead of last September's AFC U-16 Women's Championship - which doubled up as the qualifying competition for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018. As the captain, she was asked by coach Hur Jungjae to play deeper as a midfielder to cover both attack and defence.

Despite this unexpected changing of roles, the converted midfielder - who scored nine times in four matches during a previous stage of qualifying - excelled throughout in her new position. Aside from shoring up the team’s rearguard and providing vital leadership, she continued to showcase her knack for finding the net, finishing as the team's top scorer with five goals. Those strikes were crucial, too, as Korea Republic secured passage to Uruguay 2018 as tournament runners-up.

"I think I did well (in the new deeper role)," she told in a recent interview. "Our coach told me to focus on both ends of the pitch but my appetite for goalscoring remained sharp. And whatever role I played, I always tried my best."

An Antoine Griezmann fan, Cho is as important to her side as the French star is to Atletico Madrid.

In the qualifiers, she opened her account by scoring in a 3-0 win against hosts Thailand in the second group game before completing a hat-trick as they thumped Laos 7-0. But it was the spot-kick in the all-important semi-final encounter against Japan that she singled out as her most memorable goal so far – especially as it ended a long-standing penalty phobia.

Japan had broken the deadlock shortly after the restart through Tomoko Tanaka but when Korea Republic earned a penalty on 65 minutes, Cho stepped up to the spot. She was well aware that a World Cup place rested on her successfully keeping her cool.

"The coach ordered me to take the penalty but I was not confident," she recalled. "I used to be afraid of taking spot-kicks. Japan led us by 1-0, so it was a big burden. Had I missed the target, we would have wasted the opportunity to draw level. I tried to feel strong. I told myself that I could finish the job."

Finish it she did, converting from the spot to rekindle their hopes before again showing nerves of steel to score the match-winning penalty in the ensuing shoot-out. "After this match, my confidence was enhanced. Now I feel I can take penalties as they come.”

Korea Republic’s qualification marked a welcome return to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, with the team having missed out on the past three editions.

Cho now has fixed her sights on winning the world title in November, a feat the team achieved at Trinidad & Tobago in 2010. “I have a big dream. I want our team to win the World Cup,” she said.

And what of her personal targets? “I want to score goals but I especially want to score a goal through a volley,” she said. “I have been practising this a lot and I hope I can do it in front of a global audience.”