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Korea Republic's Ji determined to realise Olympic dream

Seoul: Korea Republic have represented Asia at the FIFA Women's World Cup on three occasions but their international prominence has yet to extend to the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. 

The Taegeuk Ladies have tried and failed on six occasions to win their way to an Olympic Games, and current superstar Ji So-yun is desperate to end that barren run.

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Korea Republic are just 180 minutes away from a breakthrough with a play-off against China PR standing in their way of maiden Olympic qualification.

The two-legged showdown, originally scheduled for March, has twice been postponed due to COVID-19, with February 2021 confirmed as the new dates.

"We have tried hard in qualifying for the past Olympic Games only to disappoint on each occasion," the 29-year-old Chelsea midfielder Ji told "Now we have a chance.

“To be honest, I think this is a good opportunity for us to qualify for the Olympics for the first time. I hope my dream of participating in the Olympics will come true.

"I respect the Olympic spirit of contributing to world peace through sports,” added Ji in reference to International Olympic Day. “I would like to commemorate the birth of the Olympics with all those who love sports."

With an incredible 61 goals from 125 international appearances, Ji is Korea Republic's all-time top-scorer and the second most-capped player.

Her 14-year international career has been littered with highlights including finding the net in competitions ranging from the EAFF (East Asian) Championship, the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and even the Women’s World Cup, where she was on target in a 2-2 draw against Costa Rica at Canada 2015.

The only thing missing from the resume is an Olympic goal.

Ji, however, is all too aware they face a massive challenge against China. They lost 1-0 against their neighbouring rivals in the 2019 Four Nations Tournament, before playing out a goalless draw in last December's East Asian Championship.

"We have faced up against China many times and we know each other very well,” Ji said. “So the final result may largely depend on which side makes fewer mistakes.”

The team's progress under new boss Colin Bell (pictured above) has provided Ji with added confidence. Since taking over last October, the former Republic of Ireland women’s team coach has injected new blood into the side.

With the fresh faces providing added impetus, the team excelled during Asia's third round of Olympic qualifying by winning their group in confident fashion.

"We have many young players in the team now and they provide fresh drive,” said Ji. “Good changes have taken place under him during a short period and we are looking to make further progress.

"It was a good start for the team and the new coach. It was coach Bell's first major competition in charge. There were changes of positions and roles and everything looked new. But I think we have got used to it very well."

Qualifiers Final Round Group A: Myanmar 0-7 Korea Republic

Ji, meanwhile, remains the team's talismanic figure. She struck three times during the third round, completing a brace in a 7-0 win over Myanmar before sealing a 3-0 victory against Vietnam.

"Coach Bell needs me to play a central role and to lead the young players by example," she explained.

"As one of the veteran players, I should help and support the team with my experiences."

The new play-off schedule sees Korea Republic set to play at home on February 19, before travelling to China for the return five days later. With the decider just under eight months away, Ji sounded confident of entering the showdown well-prepared.

“COVID-19 did pose difficulties for us this year but the postponement gives us more time to prepare. We will work hard and get ourselves ready for the play-off. Everyone in the team thinks we must achieve our (Olympic qualification) goal this time around.”

Sources: FIFA, FIFA via Getty Images, AFC

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