Kang Chaerim is an emerging star in Korea Republic
She represented her country at France 2019
The in-form striker aims to fire her side through to their maiden Olympics
If courage counts for anything, then young Korea Republic forward Kang Chaerim looks set to fire her side through when they face China PR in April's crucial qualifying play-off for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020.
The two sides are locked in the two-legged decider where the winners will progress to this year's global showpiece. Colin Bell’s Taegeuk Ladies will be the hosts on Thursday in Goyang for the first leg before travelling to Suzhou, China five days later for the return leg. Despite having never qualified for the Olympics before, Kang voiced their determination to book their maiden progression.
"It is perhaps the best opportunity [for us] to qualify for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament for the first time," the Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels striker, who turned 23 last month, told FIFA.com in a pre-match exclusive interview. "It is the team's common goal to make history [through qualification]. Personally, of course, I want to offer my contribution and grab the chance of playing in our Olympic debut."
Kang's confidence is not unfounded considering her courageous displays at her FIFA Women's World Cup™ debut at France 2019. Two years back, she emerged as a surprise inclusion in the squad but she cut a brave figure throughout their group campaign despite suffering three losses.
Sent on as a second-half substitute in their opener against hosts France in a game largely dominated by the hosts, Kang displayed few signs of stage fright in hitting back on the break, including managing Korea Republic's first serious shot of the game.
Impressed by her confident display, the then coach Yoon Dukyeo started Kang in the next two games against Nigeria and Norway and although her team lost both matches and she failed to find the back of the net, it was a priceless experience according to Kang.
"When I came on as a substitute [against France]," she said. "I was the youngest player on the pitch. I followed the coach's instructions well and attempted a shot. [Perhaps] the coach saw the self-belief in me so he gave me starting opportunities in the remaining games.
"France were way better than we had expected and we were a bit nervous in the first game," she continued. "But we played better in the rest of the games as a team. We would have performed much better had we met the hosts in the second or third game.
"[Despite the failure to progress beyond the group stage], it was a great experience competing against the world's best in the Women's World Cup. It showed me the areas where I can improve both physically and technically. And the most important was that my confidence was further bolstered when I returned to play with club and country."
Name: Kang Chaerim Birthdate: 23 March 1998 Position: Forward/Midfielder Honours: WK League (2019, 2020)
The international exposure did trigger her transformation as she emerged a different player thereafter. A few months later, Kang broke her international duck in the 2019 EAFF Championship, bagging a brace as Korea Republic overwhelmed Chinese Taipei 3-0.
Even more noteworthy were her showings in last season’s WK League where she finished as the league's second top-scorer with nine goals from 21 appearances helping Incheon Hyundai to their eighth domestic title. Notably, she netted the only goal as her side saw off Suwon UDC in the play-off semi-finals en route to the championship.
"I was satisfied with my performances [with my club] during last season," she said. "I earned more playing chances and scored more goals - in 2019 I only had six goals from 11 matches.
"And I was happy for scoring against Chinese Taipei. As a forward, it is always exciting to score goals for the national team. Of course, I am feeling that I need to score more important goals [in major competitions]."