Well, that escalated quickly. After a tepid 2-1 win against Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) to begin Group A, the Taeguk Ladies exploded for 20 unanswered goals in their final two group matches. If I said they couldn’t get out of second gear against the Taiwanese side, then the last 2 matches were Korea putting the pedal to the metal!
Matchday 2: Korea 8-0 The Maldives
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) August 19, 2018
Yoon Deok-yeo went with a rotated line-up in this match (and Moon Mi-ra was added to the roster to replace Lee So-dam) and it meant that something I wrote in my tournament preview was wrong. I said here that I couldn’t say much about Son Hwa-yeon or Lee Hyun-young and they might be farther down the depth chart, but they both started up top in this match! Although it was quite clear that the Maldives were outmatched, there was a clear takeaway from this match for the Taeguk Ladies. This squad’s crossing and heading ability is really good! Not only can they score off of headers, they can also intelligently knock the ball back to teammates in dangerous areas. On the first goal, a long corner is headed out to Jang Sel-gi at the top of box, where she wins a penalty. In addition, 5 of the 8 goals came directly from crosses and Son Hwa-yeon scored a hat-trick of headers! Yoon Deok-yeo clearly worked hard in training on this aspect and it really showed. Have a look at highlights to see some quality crosses and headers.
Matchday 3: Korea 12-0 Indonesia
— 대한축구협회(KFA) (@theKFA) August 21, 2018
This match had everything. 12 goals and some stellar play across the board! Lee Hyun-young scored 5 goals! Yes, 5! She converted a penalty, was able to beat the defense after the goalkeeper spilled her first shot, and scored a hat trick of headers. In addition, we got two stellar goals from substitute Ji So-yun, another curler from Jang Sel-gi, two more from Moon Mi-ra and a goal apiece for Son Hwa-yeon and Lim Seon-joo.
Let’s sort of zero in a bit on the players that are really impressing. It is abundantly clear that Son Hwa-yeon and Lee Hyun-young will continue to put away headers if the service into the box continues at this rate. They both attack the ball with bravery and have the ability to fight off defenders to get there first. Lee Min-a showed some incredible footwork and change of pace to make space for a cross to Lim Seon-joo for the goal. Ji So-yun put away 2 shots in different ways. The first one she puts her laces through the ball and blasts it into the roof of the net. On the second, she receives a knockdown at the top of the box, takes a touch away from the defenders and curls a beautiful shot into the far corner.
Jang Sel-gi continued her strong play to claim a nice goal on a set play. Instead of going for goal, Ji So-yun elects to pass to an unmarked Jang. Jang takes a touch to settle and then lets off her typical curling shot into the far corner. The commentators call it an “awesome shot” (멋진 슈팅). Kim Hyeri put in an outstanding cross on the sixth goal (you’ll see it in the highlights). She gets incredible loft on the ball to the point where the goalkeeper has no chance to claim it. Lee Hyun-young simply waits for it to come down and smashes it past a scrambling goalkeeper.
Were these two opponents difficult? No. But it’s clear that Yoon Deok-yeo has the team firing on all cylinders and ready for the knockout stages. In addition, he has managed his squad well and been able to rest Ji So-yun and Lee Min-a, the two star creative midfielders, from the starting lineups in these two matches. Ji started one match and Lee started the other. The team didn’t miss a beat with one of them on the bench. Cho So-hyun, the defensive midfield stalwart, hasn’t even featured yet because she joined late after helping her club team, Avaldsnes, qualify for the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
However, the real work will begin now. The Taeguk Ladies will move to the quarterfinals on Saturday (opponent has yet to be determined) and the quest for the first Asian Games gold medal will continue. The quarterfinal match could be another easy match since the ladies will be matched up with a third-place finisher, but the semifinals will be the real test we’re waiting for. Can these ladies win in the semifinals for the first time? Judging by the goals and overall play we have seen so far, my answer is leaning towards yes.