Colleen Belhoe vows to make first Olympics…injury demons out of the way “North Korea-China strong, but I’ll win”

Colleen Belhoe vows to make first Olympics…injury demons out of the way “North Korea-China strong, but I’ll win”

‘Colleen Belho’ has regrouped to qualify for her first Olympic Games.

The women’s national soccer team has qualified for the second round of Asian qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

But it’s a tough road ahead. A series of injuries have left the team without a full complement of players. Even the draw is not easy. They will have to face North Korea and China back-to-back in the group stage.

A string of ‘injury woes’주소

Belo Horizonte has been plagued by injury woes. European striker Choi Yuri was ruled out of the Olympic qualifiers due to a hamstring injury.

The Korea Football Association (KFA) announced on Nov. 23 that “Choi Yuri needs to undergo rehabilitation for a hamstring (muscle in the back of the thigh) tear, so Jung Seol-bin has been selected as a replacement.”

The striker’s absence is crucial. Park Eun-sun, who had been utilized as a frontline resource, left the team with a knee injury, followed by Choi Yoo-ri. Jung Seol-bin, who was called up as a last-minute substitute, will be able to play locally.

In response, Coach Bell turned to a new face. Despite missing Choi Yoo-ri, the tournament is being held during the FIFA Women’s World Cup A match, so the team is back to its best, including overseas players.

Among the domestic players are ace Ji So-yeon, captain Kim Hye-ri, and signature midfielder Lee Min-ah.

In particular, Ji-so-yeon became the first player in 17 years to play 150 A matches for both men and women. The record for most A-match appearances by a men’s national team player is held by former national team coach Cha Bum-geun (136).

Kim Kyung-hee was named to the squad in place of Ryu Ji-soo, who was ruled out with an ankle injury.

Among the overseas players, Lee Geum-min and Lee Young-joo were selected. The 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia-New Zealand also called up the 2007-born pair, who were part of the squad. Born to a Korean mother and an American father, she became the youngest player in World Cup history, male or female.

Colleen Belho trains at the National Football Training Center (NFC) in Paju, South Korea, last month. Courtesy of the Korea Football Association

‘Group of Death’ deployment

The team departed Incheon International Airport on Sept. 23 for Xiamen, China, the site of the second Asian qualifier for the Paris Olympics. The tournament is a group stage competition with the winner of each group advancing directly to the quarterfinals. The best-placed team from the second-placed nation will join them in the quarterfinals. The two winners of the quarterfinals will then advance to the Olympic Games.

South Korea, ranked 20th by FIFA, is in Group B with China (15th), Thailand (46th), and North Korea.

The first-time Olympic qualifiers will face an uphill battle in what has been dubbed the “Group of Death.

North Korea’s presence looms large. Aside from a silver medal at the recent Hangzhou Asian Games, they have not played an international match and are not ranked in the world. They haven’t won against North Korea in 18 years, with two draws and 11 losses, since winning the East Asian Cup in August 2005. They also have a poor record against China, with five wins, seven draws and 29 losses. They also lost to China in the playoffs at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifiers.

“North Korea is a tough opponent,” said Bell. We lost to Japan in the final, but it was a goalkeeping error, and North Korea was the better team,” Bell said. “North Korea and China are teams we’ve rarely beaten. But we have found weaknesses, and we need to find ways to exploit them.”

While acknowledging the objective power differential, Bell also said that North Korea is not an insurmountable mountain.

South Korea will play Thailand on Sept. 26, followed by North Korea on Sept. 29 and China on Nov. 1.

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