Choi returns to lead Taeguk Ladies to even greater heightsChoi In-cheul, the new head coach of the Korean women’s national football team, believes there’s more to his squad’s performances than just wins and losses.
“The number of young prospects has been decreasing, and we’re having difficulty expanding our talent pool,” Choi said at his introductory press conference at the Korea Football Association (KFA) House in Seoul on Tuesday. “We need to expand the sport at the grassroots level, and one big obstacle is the prejudice people have about women’s sports. Parents may not want their daughters to pick up football.
“And because the national team gets more exposure than any individual club in women’s football in the country, we have the responsibility to help change that perception,” Choi continued. “It’s socially and culturally important for us to do well at major events.”
The KFA announced Choi’s hiring last Thursday, hoping that the 49-year-old will deliver the goods at major competitions, such as the Olympics and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Choi is taking over from Yoon Duk-yeo, who resigned in July after Korea failed to make it out of the group stage at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France the previous month.
This is Choi’s second tour of duty with the women’s team. His first stint lasted from October 2010 to September 2011, during which he led Korea to the bronze medal at the 2010 Asian Games. Before taking over the senior team, Choi coached the under-20 women’s team to third place at the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Choi went on to enjoy more success in the women’s semi-pro competition WK League, leading Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels to six consecutive titles from 2013 to 2018.
They’re in first place this season as the only undefeated club, with 18 wins and two losses for 56 points, 18 points ahead of second-place Gyeongju Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power WFC.
But Choi put aside his club title aspirations because “I wanted to challenge myself and help develop the national women’s football program.”
Choi said he’ll lean on the lessons he learned from his first coaching stint.
“Looking back on my first national team experience, I think the team would have produced better results if I’d been better at communicating with the players and at devising right strategies for them,” Choi said. “Eight years have passed, and I’ve matured as a coach. I’ll try to build trust with the players from the start.”
In terms of his strategies, Choi said he will ask his players to be “creative and proactive” with or without the ball, and added they should always look to pressure their opponents and generate counterattack opportunities.
Choi will make his return to the national team bench for back-to-back friendlies against the reigning World Cup champions United States - first in Charlotte, N.C. on Oct. 3 and in Chicago three days later. Then in December, Korea will host the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Football Championship in the southeastern metropolitan city of Busan. North Korea, China and Japan will be in action.
Choi said those matches will serve as an important barometer to see where his team stands and what the players have to do to get better.
“We made the knockout stage at the 2015 World Cup, but in the four years since, European and American players have made huge progress in their physical strength and speed,” Choi noted. “We also got better in those aspects, but not nearly at the same rate as other countries. We have to get stronger and faster.”
Once the calendar flips, Korea will try to qualify for their first Olympic tournament, and they’ll get to do so on home soil. Earlier Tuesday, the KFA announced Jeju Island will host the third round of the Asian qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in February.
Choi said competing for a spot in the Olympics at home won’t add any extra pressure on him.
“This will be a good opportunity for us, and our players will be able to feed off the crowd’s energy,” Choi said. “We’ll be in familiar surroundings, and this can only help our preparation for the Olympics.”
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