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S. Korean women's football coach concerned about mental game ahead of NK showdown

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Published : 2017-03-13 12:09
Updated : 2017-03-13 12:09

South Korean women's national football coach Yoon Duk-yeo said Monday he's concerned about the mental aspect of the upcoming showdown against North Korea in Pyongyang.

South Korea will travel across the border for the AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifying tournament starting on April 3. South Korea will face North Korea, Uzbekistan, Hong Kong and India in Group B.

South Korean national women's football head coach Yoon Duk-yeo speaks at a press conference in Seoul on March 13, 2017. (Yonhap)

Only the top nation will advance to the 2018 Women's Asian Cup, and the qualifying tournament will double as the first stage of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France.

Aside from the magnitude of the competition itself, the South Korean players have to deal with the distraction of playing in Pyongyang for the first time, before the hostile crowd at Kim Il-sung Stadium to boot.

Yoon, who played in a friendly match for the men's team in Pyongyang in 1990, said he's been trying to share his experience with his players.

"We have some veterans on our team, but I am sure they'll feel the psychological burden of competing in unfamiliar surroundings," Yoon said at a press conference in Seoul. "We're trying to make sure they'll be able to play with peace of mind. It will not be easy but we'll try to get the players perform with confidence."

Yoon's players have gained some confidence, after finishing second at the Cyprus Cup tournament in Cyprus last week. North Korea placed third, but the two countries didn't meet at the competition.

North Korea has dominated South Korea so far with 14 wins, one loss and two draws. The only South Korean victory came in 2005, and their most recent meeting, the 2016 Olympic qualifying match in February last year, ended in a 1-1 draw.

"We've brought back some of the veterans who can provide some stability on the team," Yoon said. "We've played North Korea every year since I took over the team (in 2013), and I think the players have grown more aware of the North Korean style of play and made adjustments accordingly. They're a confident bunch, though I must say North Korea are still a better team on paper."

Among those veterans are forward Ji So-yun, star of Chelsea Ladies FC and the country's all-time scoring leader with 41 goals in 91 matches. Midfielder Cho So-hyun, with 97 caps, will also be a key player.

Yoon noted that at the Cyprus Cup, North Korea brought eight players from the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup championship squad from last December.

"I think those new faces have reinvigorated North Korea," Yoon said. "Their game is basically founded upon conditioning. And they also rely on strong pressing up front, and we'll have to neutralize their strengths." (Yonhap)