GANGJIN, South Korea, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea hopes that it will be able to host an Olympic women's football qualifying match against China next month as scheduled despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a national federation official said Wednesday.
The official from the Korea Football Association (KFA) cited the possibility of the participating athletes of both countries being exempt from the mandatory 14-day quarantine when arriving in South Korea.
South Korea and China are scheduled to meet in the first leg of their playoff series on Feb. 19 on the southern Korean island of Jeju, and the second leg is scheduled for Feb. 24 in Suzhou, China. The winner, determined by the aggregate score, will compete at the Tokyo Olympics in July.
"In order to host the match, we would need quarantine exemptions for Chinese players and also Korean players traveling from other countries," the KFA official said. "We heard that the sports ministry and the national health authorities are having positive discussions on the matter. We think there is a possibility that the athletes will be exempt."
Coached by Colin Bell, the South Korean women's team opened training camp here in Gangjin, 410 kilometers south of Seoul, on Monday. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Bell said he wasn't concerned about the possibility that the upcoming matches could be moved to a neutral site because of travel restrictions in both countries.
"We play everywhere, anywhere. Just tell us the time and the date, and we'll be there," Bell said.
Bell called up 26 players from the domestic WK League for the camp. For the Olympic qualifiers, national team mainstays based in England, including Ji So-yun of Chelsea FC Women and Cho So-hyun of West Ham United FC Women, are expected to make the team.
Because of the 14-day quarantine, bringing in those players just for training camp in the midst of their English club season wasn't considered an option. But South Korea will definitely need their services for the qualifying matches, and the national football governing body is hoping they will be granted quarantine exemptions.
Based on the progress in talks on the quarantine exemptions, the KFA has already informed the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that South Korea was prepared to host the match on Feb. 19.
"There hasn't been any change to the schedule," the KFA official said. "The AFC will make the final call after reviewing our plans and Chinese plans."
Women's football made its Olympic debut in 1996 in Atlanta, and South Korea have never played in the quadrennial competition. South Korea, dubbed the Taeguk Ladies, have lost 27 times against China in 37 previous meetings, with only four wins and six draws. Their most recent victory came more than five years ago.
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