Taegeuk Ladies take on unusual training partners

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Taegeuk Ladies take on unusual training partners

The Taegeuk Ladies are apparently not too picky when it comes to choosing their training opponents. They are willing to hold exhibition matches against whomever they can in order to get into game shape.

Even if that means the competition is against boys half their age.

The Taegeuk Ladies - who are ranked 21st in the world and set to compete in the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in November - routinely play games against boys aged 12 to 14.

“We might lose to the top teams but we’re neck and neck with the mid- to lower-tier middle school teams,” Lee Sang-yeop, the women’s national team manager, said. “I would say we have a 50 percent chance of winning.

The reason for the women’s national team playing boys is simple: to improve their play against opponents with better physical size and strength as well as speed.

They’ve found it’s an ideal way to prepare for international competitions against top opponents from Europe and the United States, among other places.

“We play middle school boys’ teams once to twice a week. The physical makeup of middle school boys is different,” stated Lee. “Furthermore, they think it’s embarrassing to lose to women so they play their hearts out.

“There’s always the danger of injuries in such passionate games, but we can only develop when we learn to play tough physical opponents.”

The Taegeuk Ladies are not the only ones having practice games with boys. Clubs from the WK-League, a semi-professional football league for women, regularly hold practice games with middle school boys’ teams.

“We have trouble winning even three in 10 matches against middle school boys,” said Busan Sangmu Women’s Football Club manager Lee Mi-yeon.

How, then, do the Taegeuk Ladies fare against high school boys?

“We have a chance against the junior varsity teams consisting of freshmen, but it’s a slim chance at best,” said Lee.

While the men’s national team travel abroad to play against other national football teams or invite the teams here to prepare for tournaments, the women’s national team lacks the funds to compete in international friendly matches. The World Cup or Asian Games and other international tournaments are the only international competitions on their schedule.

That makes it difficult for the Taegeuk Ladies to test their skills against quality opponents.

The practice of playing middle school boys might sound unusual, but it’s necessary and helpful for an under-funded squad seeking ways to improve its game.

By Kim Woo-chul [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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