Around the World in Women's Soccer is a series that explores women's soccer in other countries. Each country will get two stories: The first will explore the country's national team, while the second will explore the country's domestic league.
The first time that South Korea competed in a professional women's soccer match, there weren't any actual soccer players on their roster.
It's true. In 1990, the Korea Football Association (KFA) decided that they wanted to take a soccer team to the Asian Games in Beijing. But they didn't have a women's soccer team, so they gathered athletes from other sports and formed a roster. The results were predictable. In their first match, South Korea lost 13-1 to Japan. They went on to lose against North Korea, China, and Chinese Taipei.
The South Korea national team, nicknamed the Taegeuk Ladies, have come a long way since then. They've won tournaments such as the Peace Queen Cup and the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Championship. They've made three Women's World Cup appearances in 2003, 2015, and 2019. And next month, they will have a chance to qualify for their first-ever Olympic tournament.
After that inaugural appearance in the Asian Games, South Korea did not turn away from the international stage. As their team developed, they competed in the Asian Games and the AFC Women's Asian Cup throughout the 1990s. Following the success of the 1999 Women's World Cup, their opportunities expanded. In 2003, the Taegeuk Ladies played in their first Women's World Cup. In 2005, they won the inaugural EEAF E-1 Championship.
But their high-point came in 2010, when South Korea won the U-17 Women's World Cup and finished third in the U-20 Women's World Cup. Many people thought that when these young, talented players stepped up to the senior side, success would follow. But that isn't exactly what happened.
South Korea didn't take the world by storm when their young stars rose the senior national team, but they still have grown a lot in the last decade. In the last six years, they've qualified for back-to-back World Cups. In the 2015 tournament, they made it to the knockout stage. They've finished in third in the last three Asian Games and they were runners-up in the EEAF E-1 Championship in 2015 and 2019.
Most of South Korea's players are with clubs in the domestic league. But there are a few players with European clubs, most notably Ji So-yun, a midfielder who was part of that U-20 squad in 2010 and currently plays for Chelsea. As of February 2020, she has 125 caps and 61 goals, making her the second-most-capped player in the country's history and the team's top goal scorer. Lee Geum-min and Cho So-hyun are two other notable midfielders who play in the FA WSL.
In 2019, English manager Colin Bell was appointed to lead the South Korea national team. He has a lot of coaching experience, most notably in the Frauen-Bundesliga and with the Republic of Ireland women's national team. In an interview, Bell said that his short-term goal is to take this team to the Olympics and his long-term goal is to make the team competitive at a World Cup. "I'm looking for a new dynamic within the team and changing the style of play," Bell said. "Being more active and trying to build up a younger team that has a lot of energy and hunger."
Next month, South Korea will have the exciting opportunity to qualify for their first Olympics. The Taegeuk Ladies will be facing off against China on April 8th in Goyang, South Korea, and on April 13th in Suzhou, China. The winner will join Australia and Japan as the three Asian teams competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. These qualification matches were supposed to take place in February 2020 and have been rescheduled four times before the AFC settled on these dates.
Olympic qualification would be a massive accomplishment for the South Korea national team, especially under these difficult circumstances. But they've been close before and fallen short. Next month, we'll see if this is finally the moment for South Korea or if they will be let down again.
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