Korea beat Myanmar to reach knockout stage at Asian Cup
The Taeguk Ladies defeated Myanmar 2-0 on Monday at Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune, India, guaranteeing their spot in the Asian Cup quarterfinals regardless of the result of their final group match against Japan.
The Myanmar game was Korea's second win in a row, following a 3-0 win over Vietnam on Friday.
Starting without Chelsea forward Ji So-yun on Monday, the first 35 minutes was surprisingly quiet for Korea, especially since Myanmar stand at world No. 47 while Korea is No. 18.
On Friday against Vietnam, Korea had easily scored two goals, one by Ji and one own goal, just seven minutes into the match. That form was nowhere to be seen on Monday, as Korea struggled to break through the dense Myanmar defense.
In Ji's absence, Tottenham's Cho So-hyun was a big part of Korea's attack, with shots in the 16th and 20th minute that failed to make it past the Myanmar goalie. Cho tried again in the 26th minute, heading Lee Geum-min's free kick toward the goal, but narrowly missing.
In the 35th minute, head coach Colin Bell made the decision to replace Son Hwa-yeon with Ji, but even with the talismanic top goal scorer on the pitch, the match stayed at 0-0 until the whistle blew for half time.
Things changed early in the second half, when Cho was able to pick out Lee, who took one touch before slotting the ball into the goal to open the scoring.
Korea struck again in the 84th minute, when Ji picked up her third goal of the tournament. Kim Hye-ri crossed the ball over to Ji, who headed it off the post and into the goal just before a Myanmar defender tried to kick it out. Ji now has a total of 62 goals with the national team, the most any Korean has ever been able to score.
Korea will play their last group stage match against two-time defending champion Japan on Thursday. But regardless of the result, Korea's two wins have already secured them a spot in the quarterfinals.
At the Asian Cup, there are three groups of four in the group stage and the top two teams from each group advance, as well as the two best third-place teams. But, as with all knockout tournaments, a better finish in the group stage leads to an easier knockout round.
The Taeguk Ladies and head coach Bell are looking to win their first-ever trophy at the Asian Cup. Korea's best result so far was at the 2003 Asian Cup, when they finished third.
"I am just happy that we won," Ji said at the post-match press conference on Monday. "We came here to win this tournament and beat contenders like Japan, Australia and China. It should be a good match."
The Asian Cup also serves as a qualifier for the 2023 Women's World Cup that will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The top five teams in the Asian Cup will qualify for the World Cup, with two more teams advancing to the playoffs.
Korea is currently in second position as both Japan and Korea have two wins, but Japan outscores Korea after beating Myanmar 5-0 and Vietnam 3-0.
As of press time, the first and second position teams in Group A are China and Taipei, while India was forced to withdraw from the event on Sunday due to a Covid-19 outbreak. The Indian team could not name the required 13 players for the match against Taipei and had to withdraw from the event. All India's matches are now considered null and void. The first and second position teams in Group B are Australia and Thailand.
Korea will face Japan on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., or at 5 p.m. in Korea.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]