by STEVE HAN | @RealSteveScores
The short-handed South Korean women’s national soccer team gave the No. 3-ranked France everything it had, but it wasn’t quite enough.
With their star player Ji So-yun sidelined with a right thigh injury, the Koreans were outclassed by the skillful and athletic French team as they suffered a 3-0 loss and were eliminated in the round of 16 at the 2015 FIFA World Cup on Sunday night in Montreal, Canada.
No one doubted that Ji would be the centerpiece of South Korean head coach Yoon Deok-yeo’s game plan against France, especially after he said in a pre-game press conference on Saturday that he intended to play “fearless attacking soccer” versus one of the competition’s strong favorites. However, about an hour before the game, the 24-year-old Ji was shockingly missing from South Korea’s starting lineup.
“[Ji] So-yun had a problem in her right thigh after the previous game against Spain,” Yoon said after the match, according to Yonhap News Agency. “To look out for her future, I had to take her out. Obviously, losing her made things more difficult for our team, but I felt that a young player’s future was more important than one particular game. She was disappointed about not playing, but she fully understood my decision.”
France, ranked No. 3 in the world by FIFA, quickly took life out of the toothless Korean side with two goals from Marie-Laure Delie and Elodie Thomis after just eight minutes into the game. Although Korea resisted further damage in the first half, Delie scored France’s third goal three minutes after halftime to seal the game. On Wednesday, Korea booked its place in the round of 16 after coming from behind to beat Spain in Ottawa for its first ever win at the World Cup.
“France played a better game, so congratulations to them,” Yoon added. “Their players are very talented and I expect them to play even better as the tournament progresses. On the other hand, our team gave up two early goals, which was a situation we wanted to avoid. It was a difficult game for us.”
The disappointment on the faces of the Korean players were visible as some of them were in tears after the game, but they will surely get a heroine’s welcome when they return home from Canada. The dramatic story of the Korean team, which has come a long way since its early exit at the 2003 World Cup to becoming one of the final 16 teams to survive at this year’s tournament, has been getting heartfelt praise from their fans back home.
The KFA, Korean soccer’s governing body, has only began investing in women’s soccer in recent years. As of 2014, the KFA had only 1,765 registered players spread across just seven semi-professional teams and 76 elementary, middle, high school and college teams in women’s soccer. France, which is expected to contend for the World Cup title this year, has over 84,000 registered players in 36 professional and semi-pro teams to go along with hundreds of teams at youth level.
Before leaving for Canada last month, Yoon and his team mentioned repeatedly that their ultimate goal at the World Cup is not only to achieve success for themselves, but to give opportunities for young girls in Korea to be inspired to play soccer. They emphasized the importance of their role in making a cultural change to create a better growing environment for younger female athletes in Korea. Many will agree that their success at this year’s World Cup could become the starting point for their greater goal.
Featured image via Yonhap