Women’s football coach wants to go ‘step by step’ toward continental title, World Cup berth

NAMHAE, South Korea-- With his team just days away from entering the top continental women's football tournament, South Korea head coach Colin Bell is preaching the importance of staying in the moment.

"We will try to take everything we do step by step," Bell told reporters Wednesday, nine days before South Korea's first match at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women's Asian Cup in India.

Bell has been running training camp here in Namhae, about 500 kilometers south of Seoul, since the start of the new year. He finalized his 23-player roster on Monday, with Ji So-yun, the country's all-time leading scorer, in the fold for her fourth Asian Cup appearance.

To kick off their Group C action, South Korea will face Vietnam on Jan. 20, followed by Myanmar on Jan. 24 and Japan, the two-time defending champions, on Jan. 27.

The tournament will double as the Asian qualifying event for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup. The top five nations from the Women's Asian Cup will qualify for the big show, while two more teams will end up in the intercontinental playoffs.

"The first goal is the qualification for the World Cup, and then obviously try to win the (Asian Cup)," Bell said. "But we're going to do it in phases. The first step is Vietnam, the second step is Myanmar and the third step is Japan."

There will be 12 teams at the Asian Cup, paired into three groups of four. The top two teams from each group, plus the two best third-place teams, will advance to the quarterfinals.

Asked to break down the three upcoming opponents, Bell only chose to discuss Vietnam, not looking past his first opponent. Bell used the terms "good" and "intelligent" to describe Vietnam, who have never beaten South Korea in their 11 previous meetings.

South Korea's most recent tuneup matches came against New Zealand in a back-to-back in November. South Korea claimed the first match 2-1 on Nov. 27, but dropped the second match three days later by 2-0.

Bell was particularly angry after the second match. South Korea dominated the first half of that contest but failed to score and then, in Bell's words, the team "threw the game away" with a lackluster second half.

Bell said his players weren't fit enough to sustain their level of play in that latter half, and they have "looked much better and sharper" during the ongoing camp in Namhae.

"It's about the recovery between matches," he said. "At the Asian Cup, it will be match, recovery, training and match. We need to get that sorted."

In addition to conditioning, Bell said he will demand "good tactical organization" from his squad at the tournament.

"We want to defend against the long ball with tight pressing," said Bell, who noted South Korea gave up goals against New Zealand set up by long balls. "Communication is important between defenders and attackers in those situations."

Defensive back Lee Young-ju, who recently signed with the Spanish side Madrid CFF, she and her teammates no longer need to be reminded of the importance of the Asian Cup.

"Vietnam and Myanmar are teams on the rise, and I don't think there is any easy team for us," Lee said. "Japan are obviously a strong side, and we have to concentrate that much harder against them."

Japan are the highest-ranked team in Group C at No. 13, followed by South Korea at No. 18, Vietnam at No. 32 and Myanmar at No. 47.

South Korea have won all six matches against Myanmar. Against Japan, though, South Korea have managed just four wins against 10 draws and 17 losses.

South Korea's best performance at the Women's Asian Cup remains the third-place finish in 2003.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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