Korea, Japan meet again on the pitch

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Korea, Japan meet again on the pitch

Korea’s U-20 women’s football team upset Brazil 2-0 on Sunday to advance to the quarterfinals of the U-20 FIFA World Cup, setting up another politically charged football rivalry match against Japan amid heightened tensions between the two governments.

The men’s Olympic football team beat Japan 2-0 in the bronze-medal match during the London Games, with midfielder Park Jong-woo holding up a sign during celebrations reading “Dokdo is our land,” referring to Korea’s disputed islets in the East Sea.

Now it’s the women’s turn to take the pitch. Korea finished as runners-up in the Group B competition with six points, while their Japanese counterparts finished first in Group A after a 4-0 rout against Switzerland on Sunday.

The Korea-Japan quarterfinal match will be held in Tokyo on Thursday. Japan is hosting the event.

The Korean women trail far behind Japan in FIFA rankings. Japan is one of the world’s premier national teams, ranked third in the world behind only the United States and Germany. Korea is ranked 15th.

But after overcoming Brazil, Korean coach Jong Song-chon said he is confident the team can beat Japan. “It is better to meet Japan [than Mexico],” he told a media briefing after Sunday’s match. Mexico finished second in Group A and will play Nigeria.

Last year, Korea lost to Japan 3-1 in the regional preliminary for the World Cup. With the loss, Korea finished fourth in the preliminary round and failed to quality for the 16-team tournament.

But the host of the World Cup changed abruptly from Uzbekistan to Japan due to the lack of preparation by Uzbekistan, and one berth that Japan forfeited as hosts went to Korea.

“We lost to Japan in Vietnam last year, but our players’ capacity has developed a lot since then,” Jong said. “Our players began to play creatively.”

Korean women beat Japan 5-4 in a penalty shootout at the U-17 FIFA World Cup held in Trinidad Tobago in 2010. The key players of that team, Yeo Min-ji, Lee So-dam, Lee Jung-eun and Lee Geum-min, are also current members of the U-20 team.

Coach Jong has also put his hopes on Jeoun Eun-ha, who scored both goals against Brazil. Jeoun, along with Lee Young-joo and Seo Hyun-sook, were members of the previous U-20 team that finished third in the 2010 U-20 World Cup, the highest place Korea has reached in the biennial event.

The Jong squad beat Nigeria 2-0 in the first group match on Aug. 19 and lost 2-0 to Italy in the second match on Wednesday. Japan defeated Mexico 4-1 and drew 2-2 against New Zealand in its previous Group A matches.

North Korea currently sits atop Group C and will play Canada in its final group-stage match. If the North wins or ties, it will face the United States in the quarterfinal.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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