End (and beginning) of an Era as Korea Begin their 2023 Women’s World Cup Journey

Ji So-yun and other veterans of the 2010 title winning U17 Women’s World Cup look to shepherd younger players to step up in Korea’s 4th Women’s World Cup

The mission is simple: score a goal in the World Cup. That’s the mere benchmark Ji So-yun set for herself as she estimates that this might be her last dance at the Women’s World Cup. The 32 year old -if you’ve been in a cave for more than a decade – is the most decorated Korean Women’s footballer – one of the best midfielders in the world and had until last year plied the trade at perennial powerhouse Chelsea Women from 2014-2022. Not enough can be said for her talent, as Emma Hayes, her former manager in England can attest with Ji’s personally autographed #10 jersey for her and draped over the press conference table after her final emotional farewell game.

(click the link to watch the highlights of Korea’s U17 World Cup title match. A number of golden generation Korean Women players were in this 2010 U17 World Cup that won it all – the title match was a haniljeon vs Japan of all teams 3:3 with a penalty shootout – last kick was Jang Sel-gi’s

The early potential Ji and her generation posed on Korean football came in the 2010 U17 Women’s World Cup, when the Korean side’s speed x skills combo surprised the international youth women’s game. Korea took home their first major international youth World Cup trophy.

Ji later went to INAC Kobe Leonessa when their side met with Emma Haye’s led Chelsea. Impressed, Chelsea came in for “Ji-Messi” and the rest was history. After all the trophies and kudos for Chelsea in the rear view mirror, she is considered a vanguard for Korean women’s football, much as Cha Bum-kun did before her for the men’s side. Ji’s success at Chelsea ushered a small but not insignificant wave of Korean Women players coming abroad to hone their skills in the emerging cauldron of Europe. Other 2010 U17 teammates like Lee Geum-min (Man City and now Brighton) and Cho So-hyun(ex-Tottenham now free agent) followed in her footsteps to Europe.

Time is not on Ji’s side. She and a golden generation of Korean footballers – many who were on the U17 World Cup winning squad may be phased out of the squad in the next World Cup cycle. 12 of the 23 player roster are age 30 and above. Coach Collin Bell is gambling that the veterans still ‘got it,’ enough to make the team competitive internationally and provide institutional knowledge to the younger players. Despite the perceived age of the team, Korea actually has one of the widest age gaps of all the teams in competition in Australia/New Zealand. 2 players represented in the 2003 Women’s World Cup in striker Park Eun-sun and Keeper Kim Jung-mi (Korea’s first WWC appearance) while they also sport THE youngest player of all 736 players rostered – Casey Yu-jin Phair – who made history in another category for Korean football as the first bi-racial player to make a Korean World Cup squad (the Men’s program nearly rostered a bi-racial player several years ago but missed that boat).

The Korean Women had been a team on the rise for the 2015 World Cup, successfully getting into the knockout stages in Canada before losing to France in the Round of 16. Deflated from their quick exit at the 2019 World Cup in France, they rebounded in 2022, nearly winning the Asian Cup and on pace to beat AFC powerhouse China, but tragically lost their lead late in that title match with the final score 3:2.

As Cho So-hyun expressed in Goal.com last year, despite attempts to move the program forward, there are tremendous institutional and cultural problems facing Korean Women’s football that are difficult to overcome. The obstacles for Korea’s Women include an indifferent public (only a little over 9,000 showed up to see the team off as they beat Haiti in an international friendly in June at the Seoul World Cup stadium and more historically, lack of funding. In 2015, it was revealed that the KFA funded the Women’s program less than $1M, a fraction of a fraction of the funding the Men’s program received. There is little information on whether that percentage in 2023 has increased. The buffoonish actions of the current Yoon Suk-Yeol presidential administration certainly hasn’t helped in this category, having virtually wiped away the Ministry of Gender Equality in South Korea last January. However, there is a gradual slow uptick in attendances across the WK-League, Korea’s semi-pro league that is showing positive signs of professionalizing their league (Ji transferred to Suwon in late 2022 -since then they became the first WK-League side to charge for admission for their home matches).

Tonight July 24th, Korea will face Colombia (10pm US EST/ 11am Korea Time / US TV: FS1, Telemundo. Korea TV: MBS/KBS2/SBS ) as their first test in the 2023 World Cup. To advance from Group H (which includes Germany and Morocco), they will need to get a positive result tonight, seeing as Colombia look likely to be their rival for runners up. Morocco look defeated already, losing 6:0 to Germany earlier today, but conversely the German machine looks like it’s running on all cylinders to atone for their Euros loss last year.

Familiarize yourself last minute with this old & young and slightly more diverse Korean squad, here’s some resources:

-Fighting Stripes Football – a great resource (and formerly Tavern 2.0 lads) they have an overview of the squad and what players to look out for – see their substack link

Guardian Football has an AMAZING interactive guide that highlights all 736 players in the World Cup. Their intel on Korea is pretty comprehensive with insights on Team Korea including #22 Bae Ye-bin who they describe as an 18 year old “teenage sensation” who plays for Uiduk University.

-Meanwhile The Athletic just dropped a profile of Casey Yu-jin Phair. She’s made waves even before playing a single minute for the Korean senior squad- having scored bunches of goal for Korea’s U17 prior to getting a shock call up for Collin Bell’s World Cup Team Korea selection. That and she will be not only the youngest ever if she gets onto the pitch either against Colombia or Morocco, she is the first bi-racial Korea to suit up for Korea – and yet another first – THE first Korean-American footballer to rep the Taeguki flag. Who is she? The New Jersey 16 year old has been a mystery to many as the KFA, Collin Bell and her family has kept her under wraps from the international media to keep her focused on making the squad during the June camp (where Bell had to whittle down to the final 23 from an initial 31 size field), but Athletic got 1st dibs in talking to her club coaches at PDA in New Jersey, her dad, and finally some words from the kid herself. It makes sense they’re managing the media interviews and her image in the press VERY CAREFULLY – they don’t want her to be over-hyped. Still, the Old Tavern Owner can’t help but be a little green eyed toward writer Melanie Anzidei as I tried unsuccessfully to get the same interviews but was personally shut down by none other than the KFA (if I was a hip hop artist, I would definitely have a profane laced song with the KFA in the title). Nevertheless, great profile -see for yourself at The Athletic. (one of several scoops is that Casey was born in Korea and moved to the US when she was 1 month old – there were incorrect media stories that said she was born in the U.S.).

UPDATE: just as this was published – long time Asian football writer John Duerden dropped this on the significance of Casey Phair’s inclusion in the squad for media outlet West Observer – Steve Han (both John and Steve are friends of the Tavern) also weigh in. See that HERE.

Final minutes of the article: is it hyperbole to suggest Colombia would be ultra violent towards the Taeguk Women Warriors? Ireland abandoned their friendly tune-up match last week after midfielder Denise O’Sullivan was sent to the hospital after a challenge. Maybe, but perhaps not. There was a YouTube fuzzy video from the closed door match that showed the challenge. It’s hard to make out the details, not good enough for a VAR red card review. The Tavern’s guess is Colombia may use that ‘rep’ tonight to psych Korea out of their game. However if Collin Bell doesn’t bite, Korea on paper should have enough quality to see through their attempt at dark arts and get on the scoreboard. The question is and has always been: how good is Korea’s defense? It was tested by a better-than-people-expect Haiti squad last month, but Korea regrouped after going down a goal that was largely a problem of their own defensive making (Nerilia Mondesir took advantage of wingback Choo Hyo-joo loose ball to score in the 14th minute). Jang Sel-gi who notched the game winning PK in the U17 title match vs Japan in 2010, scored a spectacular long range shot that won the game for Korea – it also got international socials talking about her humble and shocked reaction instead of magnanimous goal celebration. Of course it was Ji So-yun who knocked in a penalty to start the comeback against Haiti.

All hands on deck tonight in a must game win for Korea. Here’s a possible XI :

See y’all on the flip side / 대한민국


  1. Yeo Min Ji won the golden ball and golden boot at the 2010 u17 women’s world cup. I was surprised to see her left off the roster. Same with Lee Mina (different generation but also one of our best, apparently had a knee injury and couldn’t make it)

  2. It’s been a frustrating World Cup to watch for this team. I had high (higher than I should have had) hopes for this team before these games. But they clearly are on a much lower level than the rest of the countries, and it is sad to see. The most frustrating aspect of it is that I feel like nobody in Korea even cares about the women’s game. I thought a good performance might inspire more young women and help develop the game…. unfortunately I fear this tournament result is just going to set the team back further.

    • 100% agree with you. This is a big step backwards for us. We played shockingly badly and our women’s football setup will suffer as a result unfortunately.
      On a separate note Germany must really hate us, we’re becoming their bogey team.. east asian teams i guess if you count japan

  3. The game between Germany-Korea was a hard watch but they did their best against Germany even if they took a big step forward. But we must cheer them up and stay positive, 괜찮아. I’m moroccan and really happy that we got qualified, but also a big fan of the Korean -feminine and masculine- teams and I just wanted to encourage them because Korea suffered an early exit from the FIFA Women’s World Cup, so 파이팅 그리고 정말 감사합니다!

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