Kiwi Lee aiming for the top

At first sight there would appear to be little connection between a hugely popular South Korean TV talent show called Birth of a Great Star and Wednesday’s match between New Zealand and Costa Rica at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014.

Yet both have seen the emergence of two stars sharing exactly the same name: Megan Lee. Whereas one has made her name in Korea Republic with her singing talents, the other has thrust herself into the limelight by turning in a match-winning performance to fire the Young Football Ferns into the last eight of the competition for the very first time.

After being named Player of the Match by FIFA’s Technical Study Group, the 19-year-old midfielder was only too happy to speak to about her display and a historic night for New Zealand football.

“I think I had a good match,” she said with a laugh when asked if she would have voted for herself as the game’s best player. “You honestly don’t think about these things before and during the game, but when you get the award it's very satisfying.”

Reflecting on the difficulty of the task faced by the TSG in selecting the most outstanding player of each match, she said: “I would have fretted about it if I’d had to choose, especially with this team, because we all work for each other. I had a good game, that’s true, but I would have had a real job picking out just one player. I’d have chosen the whole team.”

Lee deserved her award, leading by example and inspiring New Zealand to seize a place in the quarter-finals, an achievement she was understandably proud of.

“It’s an amazing feeling for us because this is the first time we’ve got this far in this tournament and we’re aware we’ve done something important,” said the Forrest Hill Milford United player. “I think we deserved it after all the work we’ve put in, and it feels even better when you’ve suffered to get there. It’s taken two years of preparations for us to get this far, and the girls have all put an awful lot into it. We each work for ourselves and for each other.”

Knocking on the door Judging by her performance against Las Ticas, no one works harder for the Kiwi cause than Lee, who ran tirelessly down the left flank, devoting her energies to supplying her team-mates with the ball in dangerous positions. And when she found herself clean through on goal midway through the second half, she showed her ability to keep cool by drawing the keeper and neatly clipping the ball over two defenders and into the back of the net.

It was a classy finish that her coach Aaron McFarland put down to the experience she gained at the 2010 and 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups: “Megan is playing in her third world finals. This is my fifth, and this achievement in reaching the last eight for the first time is not just down to this team but also to the sides that have gone before them and the lessons you learn from each experience and take forward. The progress we’ve made is entirely logical. It just had to happen. We’ve been knocking on the door for a long time and with this win we’ve pushed it open.”

Having now muscled their way into the global elite, Lee and her team-mates are determined to break yet more new ground.

“We’re hungry for more,” she said, revealing the team’s desire to push beyond the quarter-finals. “We got together for a team talk a few weeks before the start of the tournament and we all felt we had the ability to reach the semis. We wanted to make the last eight but we didn’t want to just settle for that and say: ‘We made it. That’s great’. We’re setting our sights even higher now.”

In the Future and Destiny are two of the hits that the South Korean Megan Lee has had in her career so far, the kind of songs that her Kiwi namesake can very much relate to.