Taeguk Ladies kick off Asian Cup bid with Vietnam game
The Korean national women's football team will start their bid to win their first AFC Women's Asian Cup trophy with their opening match against Vietnam on Friday.
Korea's goal will be to finish in the top five and earn a spot at the 2023 Women's World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Korea have advanced to the Asian Cup semifinals four times — in 1995, 2001, 2003 and 2014 — the most of any team that has never won the tournament. Their best performance was finishing third in 2003.
At the last tournament in 2018, Korea finished fifth but made the most passes per sequence and had the longest average passing sequence time of 8.4 seconds of any team in the tournament. Korea defeated the Philippines 5-0 to take fifth place on that occasion, with Jang Sel-gi, Lee Min-a, Lim Seon-joo and Cho So-hyun all scoring.
All four of those players are included in the roster head coach Colin Bell announced on Jan. 10, and the team will be hoping to carry that form into this year's tournament.
"We are very excited about the tournament and can't wait to be started," Bell said in a pre-match press conference in India on Thursday. "The team is fit and, like I said, we are ready to get playing."
Unsurprisingly, Bell's squad includes all three Korean players from England's Women's Super League: Chelsea's Ji So-yun, Tottenham Hotspur's Cho and Brighton & Hove's Lee Geum-min. Ji is Korea's all-time leading goal scorer across men's and women's football, and, along with Cho, has led the national team for years.
"Its my fourth Asian Cup and I am looking forward to it," Ji said in Thursday's press conference. "But we've come here not just to qualify for the World Cup, but to win the competition."
The three are joined in midfield by Kim Sung-mi, Park Ye-eun, Yeo Min-ji, Lee Min-a, Lee Jeong-min and Cho Mi-jin. Bell named three goalkeepers to the squad — Kang Ga-ae, Kim Jung-mi and Yoon Young-geul — and seven defenders — Kim Hye-ri, Shim Seo-yeon, Lee Young-ju, Lim, Jang, Choo Hyo-joo and Hong Hye-ji. Joining the already prolific midfielders out in front are Moon Mi-ra, Seo Ji-youn, Son Hwa-yeon and Choe Yu-ri.
But Korea's trophy hopes have run into trouble before they have even had a chance to kick a ball, when three members of the Korean national team reportedly tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday.
Before jetting off to India on Saturday, the entire team tested negative for Covid-19. Three players and three members of staff then tested positive in their first test after entered India on Sunday morning. All six are reported to be asymptomatic.
Despite the setback, Bell remained optimistic on Thursday.
"My analysis is that Vietnam is a very well coached team," said coach Bell. "But we will not reveal what we will be going to do in the match. We have seen the strengths of the team, we met them at the Olympic qualifiers."
Vietnam aside, Korea face a serious challenge at this year's tournament. The Taeguk Ladies were drawn alongside Japan in the group stage and history is not on their side — Korea have only beat Japan four times in 31 games.
Despite the tough draw, Bell remains confident that Korea have put the necessary work in.
"We put a lot of emphasis on improving our general fitness," said Bell. "To be consistent in the 95 minutes but also giving the players the freedom to express themselves, we have exciting players and we want to give them the opportunity."
Korea will first face Vietnam at Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune, India at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, or at 11 p.m. in Korea. Korea's next match is against Myanmar on Jan. 24, then Korea will face Japan on Jan. 27.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]