The South Korean girls did it this time. In a dramatic penalty shootout, they beat Japan, a women`s soccer powerhouse, in the final of the FIFA U-17 Women`s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago. The young Taegeuk Ladies showed that they are their country`s hope by winning the second edition of the biennial tournament.
Though Lee Jung-eun scored a goal in the sixth minute, Japan would regain the lead. With her team down 3-2, Lee So-dam tied it with a powerful shot from midfield late in the game. People in South Korea were greatly impressed by the team`s hard-earned victory Sunday morning. This year has seen several female athletes shine for South Korea, led by Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na. In the U-17 Women`s World Cup, Yeo Min-ji earned the Golden Shoe as the tournament`s leading scorer and Golden Ball as the top player. Teammate Jang Sel-gi became another instant hero by slotting in the winning shot in the penalty shootout.
Given the poor conditions of women`s soccer in South Korea, the victory is nothing short of a miracle. In 1990, the South`s first women`s soccer team was hastily assembled for the Beijing Asian Games, and suffered a crushing 13-1 loss to Japan. The victory of the under-17 team in Trinidad and Tobago has more than avenged that defeat to Japan 20 years later. Japan is also no longer a country that South Korea cannot surpass in other fields.
South Korea has just 65 women`s soccer teams, including 16 at the high school level. The only hope was the emergence of young girls who received systematic and early training and voluntary and sympathetic leadership, and who enjoyed the sport. They learned the basics, strategies and tactics of soccer on youth teams. The under 17 team overcame a glaring weakness in South Korean soccer -- scoring ability -- through early training. Team coach Choi Duck-joo can be attributed for the victory with his emotional leadership of sensitive teenage girls.
While South Koreans firmly believed that soccer was a man`s sport, nine-year-old girls took to the field after watching the 2002 World Cup. They trained harder after watching with envy Park Ji-sung`s rise as a global star. Amid a new generation in South Korea and the country on the verge of joining the advanced group of economies, the players retained confidence under any circumstance. They never lost their pace even in tough situations.
Sports represent national power. Good results are impossible without the proper investment and assistance. So a big help was investment by the (South) Korea Football Association, which was motivated by the success of Japan and North Korea, two countries whose players are similar in physical condition as South Korea`s. Since soccer requires not only individual capacity but also teamwork and cooperation, this victory is all the more meaningful. This is a proof positive reminder that an individual, company or even a country can do anything if it never gives up.