Thank you to Hal Kaiser, THE guy when it comes to Women’s Soccer, for contributing this guest post for the Tavern. Hal is a former Houston Dash reporter. He will be covering the women’s bracket of the East Asian Cup (now rebranded E-1 Championship) for the Tavern as the South Korean women go for a surprise tournament victory against Asian rivals. Follow Hal on twitter @Hal_Kaiser!
With Women’s World Cup qualifying only four months away, the South Korean women’s national team kicks off its next to last tune up tomorrow in Japan against the home team in the East Asia Cup. The four team tournament also includes matches against North Korea and China on December 11th and December 15th respectively.
The last time the Korean WNT took to the pitch was with a highly experimental young side in two friendlies against the United States in October. Manager Yoon Deok-yeo has made several changes from that side, calling up fifteen of the twenty-two players that traveled to the United States. However, the team that will play in Japan is no less experimental.
While five key players return to the squad in goalkeeper Kim Jung-mi, defenders Kim Do-yeon and Lim Seon-joo, midfielder Kang Yu-mi and forward Jeong Seol-bin; the Koreans will be without star player, Ji So-yun as well as experienced midfielder Jeon Ga-eul. Both players are in the middle of league play – Ji with Chelsea in the FA-WSL and Jeon with Melbourne Victory in the W-League – and were unavailable for call up.
Carryovers from the side that traveled to the US include the three university students that made their debuts during that tour: Jang Chang, Han Chae-rin and Son Hwa-yeon; as well as defender Park Cho-rong, another debutant in the US.
Against the United States, South Korea gave a good account of itself in the opener in New Orleans, losing by a final of 3-1. In North Carolina, however, they looked a very different side and were run over, 6-0. Korea played that match without Ji So-yun, as Yoon opted to see how the team looked without her, perhaps in preparation for the East Asia Cup knowing he would not have her at his disposal.
Without Ji’s poise, ability to solve pressure, draw the defense and distribute the ball, Korea struggled to keep possession. To have any success in this tournament, Yoon will have to find players that can hold up the ball and control the midfield. It will help somewhat that Cho So-hyun should be able to player in her customary midfield spot after having to fill in at center back due to injuries in the US.
Apart from Cho, however, Lee Mina needs to step up and firmly establish herself as a playmaker at the international level. She has recently signed a contract to move from Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels to play in Japan for INAC Kobe Leonessa. Friday night she will be facing a few of her new teammates, no better time to show them what they have obtained in signing her.
Korea will face three fairly different sides that share one common feature: they are in transition and have been struggling recently.
Japan is undergoing a makeover since failing to qualify for the Olympics in 2016. Having moved on from many of the legends that were a part of World Cup and Olympics success in the past, and lacking their overseas based players, Japan brings a very young team to the East Asian Cup. Only five players in the Japan squad are over the age of 25. Only six players have more than fifteen caps.
The Japanese will look to anchor around the experience of Rumi Utsugi and Aya Sameshima at the back, Mizuho Sakaguchi and Emi Nakajima in the midfield, and the supremely talented Mana Iwabuchi upfront.
Japan is smarting from having taken a beating at the Tournament of Nations in late summer in the United States at the hands of the hosts (3-0) and Australia (4-2). A November 2-0 win over Jordan was far from impressive, although admittedly it involved a lot of experimentation. However, they remain a technically talented side that is not to be taken lightly, particularly playing at home.
North Korea is in clear decline, struggling ever since their international suspension was lifted following the 2015 Women’s World Cup. They are a physical and athletic team, however, and present continue to present a challenge for the South. The last time the two teams met earlier this year, however, the South managed a 1-1 draw in Pyongyang to knock the North out of World Cup consideration. On neutral ground, the South should be able to dispatch the North.
China has been an up and comer since the Women’s World Cup, most notably taking second place in Asian qualifying for the Olympics last year. However, they have stumbled in 2017. The Algarve Cup was an unqualified disaster for them, failing to win in all four matches. They have lost twice against North Korea this year and have made a coaching change, hiring Siggi Eyjolfsson in November.
In Eyjolfsson’s first two matches in charge last month, China lost to Australia twice by an aggregate score of 8-1. Eyjolfsson has made minimal changes heading into the East Asia Cup. It is difficult to know what to expect from his team given the transition to a new head coach.
Without Ji, an excellent outcome for Korea would be six points, five points would be quite good, four is the minimum they should shoot for.
The opening match against Japan will set the tone and a draw is a feasible outcome. The only must win of the tournament is the second match against North Korea. The South must continue to establish its superiority in AFC over its northern neighbor. It is critical they push past the north to become firmly entrenched in the top four of Asia.
By the time of the third match, it may become a war of attrition given three matches in a week, and China has arguably the deeper and more experienced side. If China can find its feet over its first two matches, this match could prove the most challenging of the three for South Korea. However, a draw is a strong possibility and a win is feasible.
More important than results, however, is for Yoon to continue to find which players he can rely upon heading into 2018. It was announced this week that South Korea is graduating from the Cyprus Cup to the more prestigious Algarve Cup for 2018. The side that plays there in March can no longer be experimental, it has to be the same group of players that will go to Jordan a month later. Therefore, this is Yoon’s last chance to decide who is ready to be a part of that team.
South Korean Squad
Goalkeepers (3): Kang Ga-ae (Gumi Sportstoto), Kim Min-jeong (Suwon FMC), Kim Jung-mi (Incheon Hyundai Steel)
Defenders (7): Kim Do-yeon (Incheon Hyundai Steel), Kim Hye-ri (Incheon Hyundai Steel), Park Cho-rong (Hwacheon KSPO), Sin Dam-yeong (Suwon FMC), Lee Eun-mi (Suwon FMC), Lim Seon-joo (Incheon Hyundai Steel), Jang Sel-gi (Incheon Hyundai Steel)
Midfielders (9): Kang Yu-mi (Hwacheon KSPO), Son Yun-hee (Hwacheon KSPO), Lee Mina (INAC Kobe), Lee So-dam (Incheon Hyundai Steel), Lee Young-ju (Incheon Hyundai Steel), Lee Jung-eun (Hwacheon KSPO), Jang Chang (Korea University), Cho So-hyun (Incheon Hyundai Steel), Choe Yu-ri (Gumi Sportstoto)
Forwards (4): Son Hwa-yeon (Korea University), Yoo Young-a (Gumi Sportstoto), Jeong Seol-bin (Incheon Hyundai Steel), Han Chae-rin (Wideok University)