A slow, error-prone start by the South Korean women allowed the French women to settle the game before 10 minutes had even expired. Unfortunately, this means that their Women’s World Cup journey has come to end where it started 13 days ago, in Montreal.
Yoon Deokyeo made 3 changes from the side that executed a glorious and historic comeback in Ottawa against Spain. Suspended centre-back Hwang Boram came out for Kim Doyeon, while injured right back Kim Hyeri made way for Spain game heroine Kim Sooyun. The third change was very surprising however, as Yoon Deokyeo looked for an injection of pace into the lineup, taking out star player Ji Soyun for WK-leaguer Lee Geummin. Park Eunsun kept her spot in the starting lineup.
The French clearly showed their superiority not long after the first whistle. The first goal came some four minutes in, with a beautiful passing play by Camille Abily and Laure Boulleau allowing Marie Laure Delie to gently place the ball off of the far post and in. Korea were baffled at the early concession – France overjoyed.
The French struck again on 8 minutes, with Elodie Thomis and star player Eugenie Le Sommer combining for a similar passing play. This time, the finish was more power-oriented, with the former blasting the ball past a helpless Kim Jungmi. 8 minutes gone, 2 goals for Les Bleues. Immediately, the Koreans held an impromptu huddle. They were going to fight until the end.
And fight they did. Although they did not have any goals to show for this game, for a good 20 minute period after the two French goals, if you had not known which team exactly was supposed to be leading, you would think it would be the Koreans. The Taeguk Nangja’s passed out wide and time and time again looked for options to pass into space or cut in and shoot. They were no match for the French however, who showed they could defend as well as they could attack.
The halftime whistle blew, and the South Koreans were down 2-0. They were not to be counted out just yet. There was belief that perhaps, like they did against Spain, get an opportunistic goal and have the momentum shift in their favour.
It was not to be, however. Not long after the restart, Eugenie Le Sommer was up to her usual tricks again, tearing down the left flank before a perfect cutback to Delie. The third goal, the nail in the coffin. The Koreans battled hard until the end, but only had Yoo Younga (who replaced Park Eunsun)’s effort from long range to show for their spirit.
The final whistle blew. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium roared its approval. The French were victorious, setting up a mouthwatering quarter final with the Germans. The Koreans were going home. Their Women’s World Cup journey had come to an end.
And yet, on the pitch, there were no tears. The manager’s usual job of going around and consoling players distraught with the defeat wasn’t required. Sure, there were sad faces, some disappointment and a sense of overall “what if”. But also, underneath this inevitable disappointment, there was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. They had gone as far as they could go. Korean women’s football made its point.
5 Thoughts on the Tournament
1) So-so performance from Ji Soyun
Perhaps it was the style of play, or perhaps it was fatigue, but Korea’s star player Ji Soyun, the first and to date only South Korean to test the waters of European women’s football, was not, by her own admission, at her best. Against Brazil, her touches on the ball were heavy and she failed to create much in attack. Her transition game was far from perfect against Costa Rica. And despite these two poor performances, she turned things around in Ottawa. Indeed, her best performance was certainly against the Spanish, where she set up both goals. Unfortunately, she presumably picked up a knock leaving her on the bench for this one.
The verdict: Korean fans expecting to see a world-class Ji Soyun tuned in instead to a very-good-at-times Ji Soyun. Her performances unfortunately fluctuated from the poor to excellent from game to game, but – let’s remember – she’s only 24. The Chelsea Ladies’ star has already said she is soon eying a move to a Spanish or French league, which she should have no problem doing. Perhaps we will see, at the next Women’s World Cup (if Korea qualify) the world-class Ji Soyun this talented player can blossom into consistently.
I will go to an even better league, become faster, gain more experience and become an even better player. After this, I wish to challenge the next Women’s World Cup.
2) Killer instinct?
It’s a simple problem that we see in Korean football across all levels of play, no matter the age or gender. Korean players like the safe option, and only special players such as Ji Soyun (when in form) or Son Heungmin (more so for club than country) really have dynamism or the ability to thread a perfect pass. It’s a simple problem with no simple solution. Grassroots coaching? Tactics? General Asian football stereotype to follow strict instructions? The KWNT is lacking in killer instinct, which is disappointing although not entirely surprising.
3) Team spirit
On the good side though – one thing the Taeguk Ladies’ was not lacking in was team spirit. Imagine yourself, having trained for this moment for years and conceding two goals in eight minutes against a formidable opponent. There seems to be no way back. What do you do, turn to the coach helplessly for instructions? Lose all sense of control or confidence? Try to win the game yourself, or forgot there is no I in team? Well, from the Korean women’s national team, the solution was – have a drink of Gatorade and let’s talk things through. Immediately, the team huddled on the top of their own 18-yard box, Kim Jungmi rallying in the troops for a quick discussion. The result? Sustained pressure on the French shortly after, and a valiant second half performance.
This team never gave up, even when they were 3-0 down. The cries of “Ohn-nee!” rang for 90+ minutes without end. And at the end of the game, substitutes and starters alike comforted each other like sisters. Although France won 3-0 today, they did not shake the Korean team’s spirit and determination for the future. That is truly to be admired.
Kim Jungmi is the epitome of tuhon. Midway through the first half, her teammate Park Eunsun inadvertently elbows her in the cheek while defending a set piece. Park is no lightweight. With her unique physical advantage, she is probably one of the tallest and strongest players in the tournament – and to receive her elbow with the impact that it did? Extremely painful. The South Korean goalkeeper went down for several minutes, and while her understudies warmed up on the sidelines, Kim had no thoughts of giving up. They plastered her right cheekbone and on she went, diving into every loose ball and claiming every astray cross without the slightest hesitation.
Now if “soccer gods” did exist, then they would probably have mercy on Kim and not have a Brazilian ram into her other cheekbone on the edge of halftime in a similar situation, right? But yet again, after some pain, she picked herself up and finished the game. That is what tuhon is about.
5) Mission Canada: Mission accomplished
Ultimately, Korea’s Women’s World Cup has been a success. They have gotten their first WWC points, their first win and got the opportunity to clash with France in a knockout stage tie, and certainly didn’t go away easily. Some will point to the fact that Australia, China and likely Japan will go through to the quarter-finals repping the AFC, while Korea are packing their bags. Let’s also remember the state of Korean women’s football. In a telling article by Steve Han at KoreaAm, we learn that the KFA has invested a grand total of $700,000 to the women’s program. Total. That’s it! Not to mention that China and Japan have had relatively easier Round of 16 opponents (and Australia, well, kudos to beating Brazil, what a performance that is).
What matters most is that Korean women’s football is back on the map. In just their second World Cup participation, they have gained acclaim back home and around the world. They have epitomized what Korean football rarely lacks – a team that fights ’till the bitter end, no matter the price they have to pay, working in unison on and off the pitch towards a common goal.
It’s bittersweet to let this run go, to have to say, “well, it’s over”. But Korean media says otherwise. The headlines on Daum and Naver say otherwise. “Yeogiggaji”. Rough translation: This time, we have gotten this far. Another interpretation – until next time.
So, Korean women’s national team, until next time. You have made us all proud.