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(Women's World Cup) S. Korea's toughest match comes on opening night vs. hosts France

All Headlines 08:00 June 06, 2019

PARIS, June 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's most daunting challenge of the group stage at the FIFA Women's World Cup may be their opening match against the hosts, France.

All eyes of women's football will be on those two Group A countries when they square off at Parc des Princes in Paris at 9 p.m. Friday local time, or 4 a.m. Saturday in Seoul.

It will be the opening match of the tournament and the only game that day.

Members of the South Korean women's national football team practice at Stade Louis Boury in Gennevilliers, France, on June 3, 2019, in preparation for the FIFA Women's World Cup. (Yonhap)

Coached by Yoon Duk-yeo, South Korea are chasing their second consecutive trip to the knockouts at the quadrennial tournament. But right from the get-go, the 14th-ranked South Korea will face world No. 4 France, the highest-ranked nation in Group A.

And it was France that knocked off South Korea in the round of 16 with a 3-0 win at the 2015 tournament in Canada.

There are six groups of four in France. The top two nations and the four best third-place teams will advance to the knockout round. Realistically, South Korea should be ecstatic if they can somehow steal a point from France and should then try to split the next two matches against Norway (world No. 12) and Nigeria (No. 38).

The tournament expanded to the current 24-team format for the first time in 2015. South Korea finished second in their group with four points then. Two teams with three points each, Switzerland and Sweden, squeezed in as No. 3 seeds.

For France, midfielder Amandine Henry, who was named the Player of the Match against South Korea four years ago, is one of eight returnees from the previous competition. South Korea will bring back 11 players from 2015, including West Ham United Women's Cho So-hyun and Chelsea Women's Ji So-yun.

Cho, the long-time captain, leads the current group with 120 caps. Ji has 115 caps and she's the country's all-time leading scorer with 54 goals. With playmaking midfielder Lee Min-a and former junior star Yeo Min-ji also in the mix, the offense isn't expected to be a problem for this team.

Members of the South Korean women's national football team practice at Stade Louis Boury in Gennevilliers, France, on June 4, 2019, in preparation for the FIFA Women's World Cup. (Yonhap)

Yeo said while France will be tough to beat, that doesn't mean they are invincible.

"Their players have so much power and speed, not to mention skills," Yeo said. "But I saw them give up a goal against China in a friendly (on May 31). So it's not like they don't have any holes."

Yeo said South Korea have experience going up against bigger and stronger teams, having earlier faced Iceland and Sweden in the buildup to the tournament.

"We've been working on counterattacks and who's to say we won't score against them?" Yeo said. "We have some speedy players on offense and we have to exploit open space behind their defense."

The biggest question mark for South Korea is in the net, where two veterans are expected to battle for the starting job. Yoon Young-geul and Kim Jeong-mi, were both sidelined with injuries even before the final roster was named.

Members of the South Korean women's national football team prepare for their practice at Stade Louis Boury in Gennevilliers, France, on June 3, 2019, in preparation for the FIFA Women's World Cup. (Yonhap)

That forced coach Yoon to select three goalkeepers with a combined 19 caps. Kang Ga-ae, who has appeared in 13 international matches, may get the No. 1 job by default over inexperienced Kim Min-jeong (three caps) and Jeong Bo-ram (three), though it was Kim who got the nod against Sweden in the team's final tuneup match on May 31.

Coach Yoon said Tuesday that he has yet to settle on the starting goalkeeper and he's talking things over with his coaching staff.

Whoever starts in goal will likely have her hands full against the likes of Henry and another returnee at forward, Eugenie Le Sommer.

Le Sommer has scored 74 goals to lead all current French players, Both she and Henry were selected by FIFA's Technical Study Group to the 2015 tournament's All-Star Team.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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