The Taeguk Ladies ended their Asian Games campaign this morning (mid-afternoon in Indonesia) with a comfortable 4-0 win over Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) to claim a third consecutive Bronze medal. Although a semifinal loss to Japan was heartbreaking and meant they couldn’t compete for the Gold, the Taeguk Ladies leave Indonesia on a high after discovering a great run of form. Make no mistake, this Taeguk Ladies squad is improving fast and the preparations for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup are going well!
Quarterfinals: Korea 5-0 Hong Kong
Hong Kong were the 3rd-place team from Group B. As such, there was going to be a bit of difference in level here and so it was expected that Korea would win easily. This game featured 2 goals from Jeon Ga-eul (one free header and a nice curling shot), a brave header from Lee Geum-min, some nice feet in the box from break-out star Moon Mi-ra, and a nice goal from Lee Min-a. The gameplan from the last two group stage matches very much stayed the same and this squad is really looking to work the ball wide more often. When the ball is worked out wide this squad’s wingers and fullbacks have the ability to put in a good cross or make intelligent through balls. On Lee Min-a’s goal, it was a clever through ball from a congested wide position that springs Min-a free in the box to round the keeper. On Jeon Ga-eul’s first free header, it’s Lee Eun-mi on the overlap that lofts in a great cross. This tactic brings goals and it’s great to see the women’s side developing some stellar wide play!
Semifinals: Korea 1-2 Japan
This one was absolutely a heartbreaking loss. Yoon Deok-yeo brought out his strongest possible line-up and really got close to the victory against Japan.
The scoring began early in the 4th minute and it was a Japanese move that worked to perfection. Off a throw-in, Sugasawa motions to her midfield that she wants a ball lofted behind the back line. Lim Seon-joo is not aware enough and gets beaten quickly and Shin Dam-young has to hustle to cover. Sugasawa gets there first and stabs the ball into the far corner. Should Yoon Young-geul, the GK, be braver and come to claim that ball? Maybe. But really, Lim and Shin at CB had to stay tighter to Sugasawa and prevent her from getting on the end of that ball!
For the rest of the first half, Korea kept getting more and more control of the ball. Moves were developing from good combination play across the midfield and with the fullbacks. Lee Geum-min, who moved up front after Lee Hyun-young came off injured, drove at the defense on multiple occasions. Although there was no breakthrough in the first half, my feeling was that the Taeguk Ladies would eventually score. And what a goal it was!
It came from more wide play and also showed a really clear advantage that Korea may have developed in their bid to defeat Japan. The key players in the move were Moon Mi-ra and Son Hwa-yeon, both intelligent subs that Yoon brought on to get back into the match. Let me talk about Son Hwa-yeon first. Japan clearly knew that Son Hwa-yeon is especially fearless with her headers so they devoted a lot of attention to her. In fact, they had both CBs close to her on this particular play! Does that sound like a good idea?
If you say no, you’re right! Moon Mi-ra didn’t aim for her. Instead, she picked out Lee Min-a with the late run into the box with a peach of a cross. Min-a, more alert than the fullback marking her, took her free header opportunity with aplomb. The celebration from the squad was really enthusiastic. They were tied with the Nadeshiko Japan squad off a really great goal! In the 18 minutes before Japan’s winning goal, the momentum belonged to the Taeguk Ladies pushing for a winner. But football can be a cruel, cruel game.
Japan won off an own goal. That’s really all I need to say to know that it was a heartbreaking way to lose. After Jang Sel-gi bravely blocked a shot from outside of the box, Japan won the ball on the way down and got the ball to the wings. She put in a cross far post and the redirected header is going towards the middle of the box. Any attacker will know that this is the danger zone where you’re forcing CBs and GKs into difficult decisions. On this occasion, Lim Seon-joo gambled on the clearing header and lost.
The problem: she most likely made the right decision. When you look at the replay, it was very unclear if Yoon Young-geul was going to get to the ball because a Japanese attacker ghosts in front of her. Lim sees the ball coming across the box and tries to head it out for a corner. Unfortunately, it ends up in the back of the net. This is every CB’s worst nightmare. For Lim, it came in the semifinals of the Asian Games. Could Yoon have called her off the header? Maybe. But we’re just speculating if Lim could hear that call in the fast paced nature of this play and leave the ball to her GK.
In the end, the Taeguk Ladies couldn’t find another equalizer and had to settle for the bronze medal match this morning.
Bronze Medal Match: Korea 4-0 Chinese Taipei
This could actually be the strongest line-up for the Taeguk Ladies at the moment. It’s very balanced but allows the squad to play to their strengths. Lee Min-a and Ji So-yun as CAMs are a deadly combo at the moment. Jang Sel-gi at LW is actually a better fit for her skillset than LB. Cho So-hyun at CDM is the metronome/ball-winner of the midfield and Son Hwa-yeon at RW is perfect for her to get on the end of crosses at the back post. As you’ll see from the highlights, this team plays a lot down the left just because of how good Jang Sel-gi is. Her combination play with Lee and Ji is irresistible at the moment.
On the first goal, Ji So-yun lets off a curler at the top of the box that has the commentators calling out her nickname, 지메시 (Ji Messi)! On the second goal, LB Lee Eun-mi finds herself with plenty of time and goes for a long ball. Jang Sel-gi gets on the end of it and lobs a one touch cross to Lee Geum-min, who beats a backpedaling defender, for the header.
In the second half, the Ladies added a third and a fourth goal. I have to mention Taiwan’s GK Tsai Mingjung because without her saves the scoreline would have been much harsher on Chinese Taipei. On the third goal, Lee Min-a drives forward and finds Moon Mi-ra in a bit of space in the box. Moon cuts in on a defender and gives the ball back to Lee Min-a. Min-a goes past one defender and lets rip a powerful shot that a screened GK can’t see until it’s right in front of her! For the 4th, Kim Hye-ri exploits the offside trap to get in behind and lay her header on a plate for Moon Mi-ra. The Taeguk Ladies cruised to the Bronze Medal!
Where is this squad going?
The Taeguk Ladies at the moment are very much trending upwards in women’s football. I’ll make this point simply by contrasting the two recent Haniljeon matches between the Taeguk Ladies and the Nadeshiko Japan side. At the Women’s Asian Cup, which Japan won, the group stage match was not nearly as close as this semifinal. In that match, I never really got the impression that going forward we could break down Japan’s defense and score a goal. The match ended 0-0 and Japan forced Yoon Young-geul into a huge save right at the end to preserve the draw.
On Tuesday, it was completely different. Yes, the defense was breached early and Japan led for most of the match. However, the midfield play of Lee, Jang, and Ji combined with the drive of players like Son, Lee Geum-min, and Moon Mi-ra meant that Japan was pushed back a lot. It legitimately felt as if Korea could beat Japan and head to their first Asian Games Gold Medal final. That’s a really positive sign for the upcoming World Cup next summer!
In addition, Yoon Deok-yeo has found some really promising attackers that can put the ball in the back of the net. The play of Son Hwa-yeon, Lee Hyun-young before her injury, Lee Geum-min, and Moon Mi-ra means that Korea now has FW and winger options to play around with. Add that to a really strong CAM pairing of Ji So-yun and Lee Min-a with a newly attacking LW Jang Sel-gi and the Taeguk Ladies won’t struggle for goals anytime soon!
Look for the Taeguk Ladies to head back to their clubs and either finish out the Asian season or get ready for the European season. If you liked this women’s coverage, leave a comment and let us know!