Park’s challenging 12-year journey

There will be eight new nations debuting at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Canada next week. Korea Republic and their star striker Park Eunsun are returning to the rarefied stage for the first time in 12 years, but it may as well be a completely different tournament as far as the Seoul-raised team veteran is concerned. “Many things have changed,” Park told about the development of Korean women football’s over the past dozen years.

The same can be said of Park’s personal journey. In 2003 Park went to the Women's World Cup in USA as a relatively scrawny 16-year-old. Now she is nearly six feet tall and casts an imposing figure in a back-to-goal No9 role. Powerfully built and with an impressive goalscoring ratio, Park is very much the team’s focal point. The contrast with earlier in her career could not be greater. Park even sports a tattoo on her forearm saying “12 May 2013 The beginning of new days” to mark a self-imposed new beginning in her life.

The new-era Park certainly has proved profitable. She starred at last year’s Women's World Cup qualifiers outshining the more established names from Japan and Australia to top the goalscoring chart with six goals. She has also well and truly cast aside an unhappy period away from football working in low-paying jobs, and now plays for top Russian side Rossiyanka; one of the few Koreans to play in Europe.

And Park says her powerhouse showing at last year’s AFC Asian Women’s Cup could just be a mere warm-up show for the main event in Canada. “Playing in Russia had helped my career a lot,” Park says of the past 12 months plying her trade on the outskirts of Moscow. “Comparatively, there are more players who have better physical capability than me than in Korea. They are bigger and faster. I have learned how to compete against them under various conditions, and I have faced their challenge many times. This kind of challenge is unavoidable in the World Cup.”

I really want to do more in my second World Cup. That’s the big goal now.

Women’s football in Korea has enjoyed a steady upward trajectory in recent years. Most notable have been several high profile showings at FIFA youth tournaments, capped by victory at the 2010 U-17 Women’s World Cup. Sadly for the Taeguk Ladies the superstar of that storied win at Trinidad & Tobago 2010 - Yeo Minji – will miss Canada 2015 with injury.

Park may subsequently have to shoulder some extra burden, but her partnership with diminutive Chelsea forward Ji Soyun remains and is likely to be a fascinating sub-plot in itself. It also promises to be very different to 2003. “My team-mates at the time perhaps had trouble handling me because I was too young,” says Park with a smile.

Tough hurdle Korea are drawn into an intriguing Latin-flavoured group alongside Spain, Costa Rica and Brazil. The Taeguk Ladies lost three matches at USA 2003 so there are several milestones to potentially be chalked off. In many ways the challenge for Korean women’s football is to start transferring that success from youth level to the senior stage.

Park though is approaching the tournament with the kind of equanimity that comes with having survived a sometimes turbulent career. “I really don't have particular thoughts regarding our group,” says the 28-year-old. “It's a World Cup and all teams are not easy to play against at this level.”

So Park is relaxed about the opposition, but how will she feel entering Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on 9 June for a tough opening group match against Women’s World Cup glamour outfit Brazil? “There might be slight nervousness toward it,” she says. “But I like to bring confidence, and also enjoy my game. I really want to do more in my second World Cup. That’s the big goal now.”