S. Korean women fall to Australia; Olympic soccer dream in jeopardy

March 4, 2016
Members of the Australian football team celebrate after scoring their first goal in the 56th second against South Korea during the Asian women's Olympic football qualifying match at Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka, Japan, Friday. (Yonhap)

Members of the Australian football team celebrate after scoring their first goal in the 56th second against South Korea during the Asian women’s Olympic football qualifying match at Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka, Japan, Friday.

OSAKA, Japan (Yonhap) — South Korea suffered a 2-0 loss to Australia at the final Asian women’s Olympic football qualifying tournament Friday, with their quest for the maiden Summer Games appearance now in jeopardy.

At Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka, Japan, South Korea failed to overcome a two-goal first-half deficit and picked up their first loss at the final round of regional women’s football qualification for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. South Korea, ranked 18th in FIFA rankings, now have two draws and one loss, fourth among six nations vying for two Olympic spots.

World No. 9 Australia, which earlier stunned Japan 3-1 and crushed Vietnam 9-0, have firmly cemented their top position in the standings with three straight victories, while China remained in the second with two wins and one draw after defeating host Japan 2-1 Friday. Earlier in the day, North Korea moved to third after beating Vietnam 1-0 for their first win of the tournament.

South Korea, which have never appeared at the Olympics since women’s football was first contested at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, will next face China at Yanmar Stadium Nagai on Monday.

To keep their Olympic dream alive, South Korea must beat China on Monday and Vietnam on Wednesday, and need some help from Australia and Japan. A loss or a draw in the two remaining matches will eliminate South Korea.

South Korea are currently five points behind No. 2 China and three back of third-place North Korea in the standings. Taking the driver’s seat, Australia face North Korea and China for their remaining two matches, while Japan face North Korea for their final match.

If South Korea manage to beat both China and Vietnam, and Australia edge their two opponents in addition to Japan defeating North Korea, South Korea then can make their first Olympic appearance.

Coming off promising 1-1 draws against two tournament favorites, North Korea and Japan, South Korea started the match with 4-2-3-1 formation, putting two defensive midfielders to curb Australia’s blistering attack that poured in 12 goals in two matches.

However, the South Koreans gave up the opening goal just 50 seconds after the kickoff, after a costly passing mistake. Midfielder Lee So-dam, in her first start of the tournament, made a back pass from the center circle, but Australia’s Chloe Logarzo intercepted the ball and fed it to Lisa De Vanna, who dribbled into the box for a left-foot shot. Though the Aussie captain’s attempt hit the post, striker Kyah Simon tucked in the rebound for her fourth goal of the tournament.

In the 12th minute, De Vanna this time drew a penalty after getting tackled down by right back Kim Hye-ri, also in her first start, inside the left edge of the box. Aussie’s No. 10 Emily Van-Egmond stepped up to convert the chance and doubled the lead.

The South Koreans kept knocking on Australia’s defense with forward Ji So-yun and winger Jeon Ga-eul leading the way around the box, but failed to threaten Aussie goalkeeper Lydia Williams. Their best chance came in the 44th when Jeon’s long-range free kick from the middle landed at the crossbar.

Trying to cut the two-goal deficit, South Korea made two substitutions from the start of the second half as attacking midfielder Lee Min-a and forward Lee Geum-min entered the pitch for Lee So-dam and Kim Hye-ri, the two culprits in Australian scoring plays.

But South Korea’s offense still wasn’t sharp. On the other end at the hour mark, Aussie forward Caitlin Foord, who entered the pitch for De Vanna in the 53rd, found the back of the net with her left-foot strike — only to have it called back on offside.

Desperate to score, South Korea put in forward Yoo Young-a for Jeon in the 74th for their last push and did produce a promising moment in the 79th, when substitute Lee Geum-min’s strike was tipped off by goalkeeper Williams. Just a minute later, Foord had a one-one-one chance to score inside the box, but the South Korean goalkeeper Kim Jung-mi denied her shot.

South Korea failed to get on board in four minutes of extra time and dropped to two wins, one loss and 12 losses all-time against the Matildas.

After the match, South Korean coach Yoon Duk-yeo said he is sorry for the result, despite support from fans back home.

“Our balance was shaken after the early goal and we had to play a difficult game,” he said. “Our players experienced an unfamiliar situation as Australia went aggressive and strong on the pitch.”

Though South Korea’s chances are slim, Yoon said that the team will not give up their Olympic dreams and will put their best effort forward in the last two matches.

“We have to show what we can do best in the remaining two matches,” he said. “We don’t know how things will turn out, but we will have to fight hard.”