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Women's soccer legend wants to mark end of era with goal at World Cup

By Yonhap

Published : July 3, 2023 - 11:30

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Ji So-yun, midfielder for the South Korean women's national soccer team, speaks with reporters before a training session for the FIFA Women's World Cup at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Monday. (Yonhap) Ji So-yun, midfielder for the South Korean women's national soccer team, speaks with reporters before a training session for the FIFA Women's World Cup at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Monday. (Yonhap)

Preparing for the third and possibly her last FIFA Women's World Cup, veteran midfielder Ji So-yun said Monday she wants to mark the end of an era with a goal at the big event.

Ji is the all-time leading scorer in South Korean football, male or female, with 66 goals, and is tied with teammate Cho So-hyun for the most caps by a Korean football player with 144. At 32, Ji could be playing at her final World Cup this summer in Australia.

The same could be said of the vast majority of her teammates at ongoing training camp, with head coach Colin Bell running the ship with 31 players in tow. The roster will be whittled down to 23 after South Korea's tuneup match against Haiti in Seoul on Saturday.

"I've been with more than half of the girls here for over 10 years, and this could be the final World Cup for our generation," Ji told reporters before a training session at the National Football Center in Paju, 40 kilometers northwest of Seoul. "I want to enjoy this as much as I can, and try to take the team as deep as possible. I've only scored penalty goals at the World Cup, and I'd like to score one from the field to punctuate my career. I've scored a bunch of goals, and I will really push for a goal at this World Cup."

South Korea, world No. 17, will open their Group H play on July 25 against 25th-ranked Colombia in Sydney. They will then take on No. 72 Morocco in Adelaide on July 30 and No. 2 Germany in Brisbane on Aug. 3.

The top two nations from each of the eight groups will advance to the round of 16.

Ji said beating Colombia in the opening group match will be crucial.

"They have some strong players and Mayra Ramirez is a dangerous player," Ji said of the 24-year-old forward. "It will take more than one defender to stop Ramirez. It's important for us to play hard and make life difficult for her."

Ji said Colombia, for all of their highly skilled offensive players, may not be so sound defensively.

"We have to help each other out on defense and look for quick counterattacks," Ji added.

With Ji in hot pursuit of goals, defender Jang Selgi will try to lock things down at the other end.

Jang, 29, made her World Cup debut four years ago in France, where South Korea lost all three group matches. The defender vowed on Monday things will be different this time.

"The goal for the entire defense corps is to put up clean sheets," Jang said. "We have to get off on the right foot. We're not even thinking about Morocco right now."

Bell opened camp on June 18 and has been running players into the ground with his famously grueling conditioning sessions. Ji is taking it all in stride.

"It's not easy to be running around so much in such hot weather, but we have to overcome all of this. Things will be even more difficult at the World Cup," Ji said. "Everyone here is really driven and motivated, and the coach is pleased with what he's seen. I think we're very well prepared physically."

Jang said training sessions have been so tough that she has lost her appetite, though she does have one positive takeaway.

"Because everyone is so exhausted, we often try to cheer each other up," Jang said. "I think it has made us a tighter group."

Jang said she felt she and her teammates are "at about 70 percent" as far as their physical readiness.

"The coach has such a high standard," Jang said. "And I can tell we've all become stronger and better conditioned. If we have good stamina, other elements will naturally follow."

This will be South Korea's fourth appearance at the Women's World Cup. They've played in the knockout stage just once -- in Canada in 2015, losing to France 3-0 in the round of 16. (Yonhap)