Chonburi: Korea Republic stand on the brink of their first AFC U-16 Women’s Championship semi-finals since 2011, after an improved second half performance helped them overcome host nation Thailand 3-0 at Chonburi Stadium on Wednesday.
Second half goals by An Se-bin, Chang Eun-hyun and Cho Mi-jin were enough to secure the victory, which means the Koreans are certain to qualify for the final four with a draw or better in their final Group A match against Laos on Saturday.
The result is a blow for Thailand’s hopes, but they too will reach the konockout stage should they defeat China PR on the same evening.
Korean Head Coach Hur Jung-jae stayed true to his word, selecting a line-up featuring three forwards, but the first 15 minutes proved evenly-matched, as both teams probed for a way to goal.
As the half continued the Koreans, full of strength and running, increasingly used a direct approach to get in behind the Thai defence, and looked threatening doing so, but failed to break the deadlock.
That was, in no small part, due to the watchfulness of Thailand duo Rattikan and Supwadee, who repelled a number of attacks as the last line of defence.
Coach Hur looked to shake things up at half-time, replacing Kim Bit-na and Baek Ming-yeong with Kim Ji-mi and Ko Min-jung, and the latter very nearly repaid the favour, denied only by Phonchita Thaenprathum’s last-ditch tackle in the 54th minute.
However, Ko’s impact wasn’t in doubt four minutes later, when her improvised flick over the Thai defence fell perfectly for An Se-bin, who made no mistake from 12 metres.
Kim Ji-mi – who also came on at half-time – then produced a sumptuous curling pass to release midfielder Chang Eun-hyun, who gave Thailand’s stranded goalkeeper Wararat no chance, and doubled the lead.
With Korea Republic’s defence comfortably handling the hosts’ forays forward, speculative long range efforts were the closest Sarawut Suksawang’s side came to scoring in the second half.
Cho Mi-jin capped off the scoring in the 88th minute. The Korean captain and top scorer in qualifying punished the napping Thai defence, collecting a seemingly harmless long ball and rattling home a third.
The result means Thailand are likely to need nothing less than a win in their final group match against China PR if they are to reach the semi-finals for the fourth time in their history.
With Korea Republic now sitting on four points, and set to face bottom-of-the-table Laos, a win against Gao Hong’s side now appears to be Thailand’s only available route to the final four.
Sarawut Suksawang: Head Coach, Thailand
“In the first half we were okay, but after half-time Korea were very strong. In the second half we lost the ball too much. My team made a lot of mistakes, but in the first half we showed we could play with Korea. Yes, China drew with Korea, but my team are confident and we want to win.”
Hur Jung-jae: Head Coach, Korea Republic
“I’d like to say I’m happy for the result, but I’m not so happy about our team’s overall performance. The players that don’t play regularly have very little technical differences to the ones who start. I think that not only today, but in our first game, our substitutes were successful, which changed the game.
I have to be honest, even though we came with some preparation for the tournament, our teamwork and organisation aren’t as good as I thought they would be. This is what I will look for in the next game and if we advance we have more time. We’ll take this into consideration ahead of the next match and prepare in the best way.”