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Chonburi: How does it feel to score the goal that takes your country to a World Cup?

It’s a question very few can answer, but Cho Mi-jin already knows what it’s like to do just that – and at the tender age of 16.

The Korea Republic star scored a penalty to level her side’s semi-final against Japan, and later returned to the spot to deliver the final blow in the penalty shootout – taking her side to the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship final, as well as next year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in Uruguay.

So, how does it feel?

“Goosebumps!” said the Korea Republic captain, adding “There are no words to describe it. It’s unbelievable.”

Firmly struck, and beyond the reach of Japanese goalkeeper Shiori Fukuda, the winning penalty was never in doubt - doubly so when Cho revealed her thought process before taking the kick. 

“More than being confident, I felt a responsibility,” she said.

“Depending on my shot – either we went to the World Cup or we didn’t, so I took responsibility, and that way there was not so much pressure.”

Earlier in the match, Korea Republic had looked second best, and found themselves 1-0 down when Japan’s Tomoko Tanaka scored just 18 seconds into the second half.

That would have broken a lesser team, but Korea Republic refused to give up – finding a way back into the match and displaying mental toughness which has become customary, according to their skipper.

“We have always said we are one team. We rely on each other in difficult times and when we are suffering. I think that’s the basis of our strength,” she said.

Korea Republic’s top scorer in qualifying – with nine goals in just four matches – Cho has been handed a midfield role in Thailand, and the move has enhanced the team balance according to head coach Hur Jung-jae.

“She is actually a forward, and she scored many goals in the qualifiers,” he explained.

“However, in the tournament we are in now, we are playing against stronger teams and we needed someone who can also defend. That’s why I decided to move her (to a deeper role).”

The move appears to have struck the right balance. Cho has become a creative threat, while still adding five goals for the tournament – the most of any Korea Republic player.

“She’s doing a great job. She’s a great leader, and I’m very happy with her,” the coach added.

With the U-17 Women’s World Cup qualification achieved, Korea Republic’s focus is now squarely on claiming a first AFC U-16 Women’s Championship since 2009.

As in 2009, they’ll need to beat reigning champions DPR Korea in the final; an assignment that Cho believes her team can manage.

“I’ve seen them play on video, and I do feel confident that we can perform well against them and get a good result,” she said.

But – whatever happens in Saturday’s final - Cho will never forget that special night in Chonburi, and how it felt to take her country to a World Cup.

Photos: AFC