Give girls an assistA football team consisting of girls under the age of 17 has become the country’s latest sensation, winning the U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago over the weekend in stunning fashion.
Advancing to the finals was an impressive feat in and of itself. But winning the championship against Japan by a score of 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out after playing to a 3-3 tie in regulation is the stuff of sports legend, ranking as the first time a Korean football team of either gender or of any age group has won an international tournament sanctioned by FIFA. Korea hastily assembled a U-17 women’s national team in 1990, ahead of the Beijing Asian Games. It took the team just two decades to rise to the top of the sport on an international scale - a relatively short period of time given that the Korean men’s teams still haven’t accomplished such a feat.
The championship run was the culmination of superb leadership from a talented coach and a genuine love of the sport by a young generation of girls. Members of the U-17 national team all began playing football at a young age. Yeo Min-ji, who scored eight goals in six matches and took home both the Golden Boot and Most Valuable Player awards in the championship, constantly bugged her mother to take her to a football club in the southern port city of Gimhae. She was spotted by a coach while in the third grade. Jang Sel-gi, who made history with her last sudden-death penalty kick, followed the footsteps of her father and brother by pursuing the sport at the age of 10 while many girls around her picked up drivers and putters as golfer Pak Se-ri made headlines. Ji So-yun - a hero in last month’s U-20 World Cup, where the national team came in third place - also was picked up by a school coach while playing with her male peers at a school playground.
These women displayed a true, pure love of football, even though their circumstances were far from ideal. Now, it’s the older generation’s time to return the favor. Our female football teams play in poor conditions, and there are just 1,450 players with 65 teams registered with the Korea Football Association. That pales in comparison to other football-focused nations such as Germany, which has 1.05 million registered female players. Nine women’s teams here have also fallen apart since 2007 for various reasons.
With that in mind, the nation should funnel money and resources into supporting female football players as part of larger efforts to improve the physical condition of our children. Our women have already proven their capacity to win in the U-17 Women’s World Cup. Now, let’s show them our capacity as a country to help them rack up such accomplishments for years to come.