Can Korea grab the rose from China?

Both teams have a lot to prove in history in the making title clash

Can Korea grab the rose from China?

PUNE: One seeks to make history, the other to extend the history already made over the years. Yes, it’s all down to that one history-in-the-making match-up between China People’s Republic and the Korea Republic in a last-dance showdown.

The AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 final could not have had a better tapping lined up.

To many, though, the heart still goes out for Australia and Japan who suffered turnaround exits. But, have no feelings further, for it was these Sunday finalists who punched above their weight and defined their historic run.

Both Korea and China are characteristically different. From team composition, rankings, head-to-head, tournament experience including the coaches all speak in contrast.

Going ahead, Korea, for the first time, will cross over to Mumbai after enjoying acclimatised success in Pune. China has played at all three venues successfully. Question is – will this be a factor for Korea?

Team-wise, Korea and China have involved 18 players in total during their journey. The former has had 10 players figure as ‘regulars’ in all five matches. China, instead, has had 7 players appear on a regular basis but was limited to just 4 matches (owing to India’s withdrawal). Whether a set team will go past the line, or the mix-match-adapt strategy work will be interesting!

Road to WAC 2022 Finals

Interestingly, both teams’ average age is 8 months apart with the oldest being Korea (28 years and 3 months). Korean goalkeeper Kim Jung Mi will turn out to be the oldest on the pitch on the morrow and notably with the experience she possesses will be a force to reckon with for China. So far, Kim Jung has had 4 clean sheets and conceded just 1. Here again, will age matter?

If experience should be the key, then China has 5 players with 100+ caps and Korea 3.   

Leading the list for China is striker Zhang Rui (156 Caps), Wang Shanshan (148) – the captain who led her team past Japan, Li Ying (122 Caps) – the impact sub in the last-4, Wang Shuang (116) – a mainstay in the middle and Lou Jaiahui (113 Caps) – a two-assist hero so far.

In fact, of the 16 goals that China have scored, 10 have come from Wang Shanshan and Wang Shuang. The former ended up on the scorers' list in every match and Shuang, despite not starting for the semis, jointly being the top scorer of her team.

Korea, having netted a lesser number of goals as China did, has not been versatile. Ji So Yun (4 goals) has so far done the bailout job (2 v Vietnam, 1 v Myanmar and 1 v Australia).

Similarly, among the most capped players, the 3 that lead Korea are Cho So-hyun (131 Caps) Ji So-yun (130 Caps) - has a goal and an assist to her name and ‘keeper Kim Jung-mi (125 Caps). All in all, the 3 have been contributors.  How much experience will come into play will be interesting!

China’s authoritative indicator comes from the fact that they are unbeaten in their last 7 internationals against Korea (W5 D2 – including a draw in extra time) and picked up a 2-1 win against them the last time they met at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup (2014 Third Place Playoff).

Add a shot conversion rate of 23.2% in the ongoing championship, the highest of any team in the competition and more than twice as high as the Korea Republic (11.5%) and one realises the might of China. But then again, Korea is eager and China on their part has conceded much more than their rivals working out a balance that can tilt either way on any given day.

Past Asian Cup’s suggest that China, in their 15th appearance, are a one-team show. Eight 8 titles to their name as compared to 11 won by 6 countries collectively ever since the first tournament in 1975 is a story that pulls expectations away from Korea.

Heading into the finale, two newly appointed coaches will also have their own point to prove in a tactical battle of two sexes. Former player turned coach Shui Qingxia will look to inscribe her name among the previous successes China has had before. Standing beside her will be Englishman Colin Bell, on his second National women’s team assignment (the Republic of Ireland his first), who looks on for a first himself and Korea.

All said and done, for the Taeguk Warriors to stamp their first it will mean scaling the great wall and certainly no bed of roses against the Steel Roses.

Will it be the 9th for China or the first for Korea, Sunday will tell?