Professional football league a must for women’s teamThe women’s national team won the East Asian Football Championship, which ended on Aug. 7, with two wins and one loss. Although the men’s team was on the bottom of the four-nation ranking with two draws and one loss, the women’s team defeated China and North Korea for the first time in 15 years. However, the team lost a rematch against North Korea 2-0 in a friendly in Goyang last Tuesday. The match was a part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan.
An Jong-goan, 39, the women’s national head coach, has a nickname, “Winning Machine,” and has been compared to Guus Hiddink, the former head coach of the men’s national team, which he took to the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup semifinals. Mr. An said the secret behind victory is physical and mental strength and team spirit. He stressed that he pushed the players to do their best to revive the team’s honor.
“When we go outside Seoul for training, neighborhood soccer teams want to play us,” Mr. An said. “In the past, the women’s national team often played neighborhood teams, but I said ‘absolutely not.’ They belong to the national team, wearing uniforms with the Korean Taegukgi mark on it and should take pride in themselves.
“Playing men’s middle school teams is worthwhile. Before the East Asian Football Championship, we beat a men’s middle school team. We had enough confidence to enter the championship,” he said.
Mr. An was interviewed at the lodging facilities of the INI Steel women’s soccer team, which he also manages alongside the national team. On the field, Mr. An rules the 20 women players with eyes of steel, but off the pitch he appears warm and has a hearty laugh.
National team players Kim Kyul-sil and Song Joo-hee say Mr. An is furious when players are unable to focus or if their lodging is messy, but at other times he tries to imitate comedians to lighten the mood.
After graduating from Kwangwoon University, Mr. An played for Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i, but he hurt his knee and had to give up playing professionally. In 1994, Mr. An took over the INI team and led them to a number of victories.
“Female players often consider that if they aren’t selected for the starting 11, they are not needed anymore,” Mr. An said. “Then they often overlook training and give it up. I have to tell them how important they are.”
Mr. An also said it is important not to scold players when they make mistakes and experience bad conditions, but to read slight changes in their body or emotions and give them time to rest.
In the East Asian Football Championship, INI Steel players took up nine positions, with other players feeling left out. Park Eun-sun, who belongs to the Seoul City team, had a difficult time in the beginning, he said.
Led by Mr. An, the national team won the Toto Women’s Cup 2001 in Korea, and a bronze medal at the 2001 Summer Universiade in Beijing, China. Two years later, the team came in third at the AFC Women’s Championship, and competed in the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time.
Mr. An believes in the endless potential of women’s soccer. “The national team needs to upgrade their skills through training in Europe or friendly matches against stronger teams,” Mr. An said.
“Now, there are only three regular teams, but if more are formed we will be able to form a professional league. Then we will be able to make up a national team that will be able to challenge world-class teams,” he said.
by Jeong Young-jae
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