2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup

Flexibility key for Korea Republic

© Getty Images

Though Korea Republic have not yet become a dominant force in senior women's football, they are no longer regarded as outsiders at youth level after winning the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup and finishing third at the U-20 finals in 2010.

While those memorable campaigns in Trinidad and Tobago and Germany were largely driven by the individual brilliance of Yeo Minji and Ji Soyun, the reigning continental champions’ current crop are a better-organised unit under coach Jong Songchon.

Having led the U-20 Taeguk Ladies to the quarter-finals at Japan 2012, Jong knows what it takes to compete at a higher level. "We've already qualified for the finals by winning the Asian title last year but we would need a different approach for the tournament proper," he told FIFA.com in an interview between intensive training sessions in the south-western city of Mokpo.

"I cannot tell you the detail at the moment, of course, but I can tell you this: our opponents will find it very difficult to figure out what kind of team we are, because we don't stick to a certain plan but change depending on who we play against."

In fact, that flexibility was among the most important factors Jong considered before naming his squad for Canada 2014 last week. "I can only bring 21 players with me, so I had to make sure most of the players could operate in at least two positions. Each and every one of my players has her own strengths and colours, which makes it difficult for me to select the best XI," Jong added.

"That said, we've got eight players who have already taken part in the world finals two years ago. Besides, the current squad is pretty much the same as the one that won the continental championship last year. I have so many talented players at my disposal and my job is to assemble the best combination, so they can prove their potential."

One member of the class of Japan 2012, captain Jang Selgi, was outstanding during the qualifying campaign, with the livewire forward scoring eight times to win the Golden Boot trophy as well as the MVP award. Not a bad result for a player who had made her World Cup debut as a defender at Trinidad and Tobago 2010.

Smooth transformer
"I used to be a striker for my school team but happened to play as a right-back during the U-17 World Cup and then a left-back at the finals in Japan two years ago. I was very young and it was difficult for me to accept the change at first," she recalled.

"But then I realised that I was playing football anyway and I was also lucky to experience the transition. Every role comes with different responsibilities, but when I returned to my original position I felt comfortable."

Selgi, whose name translates as 'wisdom', is wise enough to understand her coach's faith in maximising the speed of the game. "He always tells us to play intelligently - we have to think quickly, move quickly and pass quickly - so we can be ready for any situations," she explained.

"So even if we're up against stronger opposition, like the ones we came across during the training in Canada last month, I could even enjoy the moment as we tried to play our own game."

When training resumed under the suffocating heat in the afternoon, the coach focused on the basic skills as the players worked on passing the ball for more than an hour. "The idea is to build from the basics," Jong said. "I want my players to love and enjoy the game in the first place, and then if they can stay hungry and want something desperately, anything can happen. I believe some of these players can even go on to take part in the senior World Cup next year."

That is, however, still a long way away, and you never know how many more transitions Selgi may undergo in the meantime. What if the coach asked if she could play in central midfield at Canada 2014?

"Firstly, I'd ask the teacher [as young players in Korea call their coach] why I should move to that position, but if he thought that was the best for the team I'd follow the decision," said the skipper. "But I don't think that's going to happen because we've got such a great midfielder in [Lee] Sodam and our midfield is already packed with good players. We are a strong team that can play well, with or without me."

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