Past heroics inspire rejuvenated Yeo
Kuala Lumpur: Korea Republic face a huge hurdle at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France, having been drawn into Group A which features 1995 winners Norway, African powerhouse Nigeria and the in-form host nation.
Despite the daunting tasks facing them, however, forward Yeo Min-ji is confident that her side is capable of springing a surprise or two.
"This is our third Women's World Cup campaign," said the 25-year-old striker.
"Four years ago, we reached the Round of 16 in Canada (for the first time) so the expectations are high heading to France this time around. Our men's team performed well in last year’s World Cup and we want to impress the watching world at France just like they did in Russia.
"For me, this is my first Women's World Cup. I missed out on Canada 2015 due to an unexpected injury. I had participated in the U-17 and U-20 Women's World Cups so I can't wait for my Women's World Cup debut in France."
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Yeo was front and centre during Korea Republic's fairytale campaign at the 2010 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. Nine years back, Yeo and Co made history by claiming their maiden world title in Trinidad and Tobago. All the more significant was how overwhelming their success was. Not only did the team reign supreme, but Yeo bagged the tournament’s Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards.
Most notably, Yeo scored four times, including converting a penalty, as Korea Republic edged out Nigeria 6-5 after extra-time in an epic quarter-final game, performances which helped established her among the world's most promising starlets.
"Our U-20 team's brilliant performances in that year's U-20 Women's World Cup provided us with timely inspiration," she reflected. "Our team finished third with Ji So-yun scoring eight times. So my teammates and I set the goal of achieving higher results: to win the U-17 World Cup.
"I was aware as a centre-forward, my tasks were to score as many goals as possible. I kept thinking about it and went to the U-17 World Cup with this dream. Also, a friend of mine promised to treat me to a good meal if I scored eight goals (like Ji). So I realised my promise finally," she added with a smile.
With her meteoric rise to fame, a bright future seemingly beckoned. The years that followed, however, proved hard with Yeo struggling to recover to restore her form following one injury after another. She linked with the senior national team five years ago, but hopes of representing the country at Canada 2015 were dashed by a serious injury.
Yeo didn't give up, though. She kept working hard and eventually earned her return to the national team early this year. And she showed that her goalscoring form has not deserted her in the four-nation tournament in China PR, striking the opener against Romania to help her side to a 3-0 opening victory.
"It was after a long lay-off that I returned to the team. After playing the recent friendlies, my confidence is increasing. My focus is the Women's World Cup and we will play against physically stronger European teams (France and Norway). We must train harder to get ourselves prepared."
Having won nearly everything at the 2010 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, understandably, Yeo has locked her targets on tasting a measure of success on the Women’s World Cup stage.
“I want to show on the pitch that I can compete against such opponents, even if we are in a difficult group. I know all three games will be tough but nothing is impossible.
“We are preparing to win regardless of the rivals. As for myself, I want to score my first Women's World Cup goal and help my team win."
Sources: FIFA, AFP, FIFA via Getty Images, Korea Football Association
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