Korea enter Vietnam friendly with sights firmly set on 2023 World Cup
The Korean national women's football team will take on Vietnam in a friendly on Saturday, reuniting for the first time since finishing in second place at the Women's Asian Cup in February.
The Taeguk Ladies are in the midst of a particularly busy year. After finishing second at the Asian Cup in India to start off the year, Korea will be back in action in July for the EAFF E-1 Football Championship, a four-way football tournament organized by the East Asian Football Federation.
Just two months after the EAFF tournament comes the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, where Korea will look to improve on three consecutive third-place finishes.
That busy schedule all acts as a warm-up for the main event: The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in July next year, where Korea has already earned its spot as one of four semifinalists at the Asian Cup.
But before the busy tournament schedule restarts, Korea will first face Vietnam in a friendly at Goyang Stadium in Goyang, Gyeonggi at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Taeguk Ladies will have to make do without some key players against Vietnam, with Chelsea's Ji So-yun, Tottenham Hotspur's Cho So-hyun and Hyundai Steel's Jang Sel-gi all out of action.
Ji, the highest-scoring Korean footballer of all time across both genders and all competitions, was originally called up for the friendly, but had to sit out the game after testing positive for Covid-19. Cho, the women's team's most-capped player, and Jang are both currently out with injuries.
But head coach Colin Bell, who recently renewed his contract with the national team after the Asian Cup, is able to call on the likes of Brighton's Lee Geum-min and Madrid's Lee Young-ju, with regular captain Kim Hye-ri of Hyundai Steel also available to play.
Going into Saturday's friendly, Bell made it clear that everything is focused on the 2023 World Cup. Looking back on the Asian Cup, the English manager made it clear that it was the team's inability to handle the pressure that caused them to lose the final to China.
The game against Vietnam offers a good opportunity for the Taeguk Ladies to start to work on that problem. While technically a lower ranked team — No. 32 to Korea's No. 17 — Vietnam are on the rise and beat Taiwan and Thailand in the Asian Cup to qualify for the World Cup.
Still, the Taeguk Ladies have never lost a game to Vietnam, beating the southeast Asian side 12 times. They most recently faced off at the Asian Cup in January, with Korea winning 3-0.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]