By ISAAC LIRI
NORTH Korea’s Kim Phyong Hwa Kim fired home the winner in a gripping 3-2 quarterfinal victory over Spain at the National Football Stadium yesterday to keep her side on course for an Under-20 Women’s World Cup final.
The extra-time goal broke Spanish hearts as coach Pedro Lopez’s team were left to ponder how close they had come to forcing a shootout in a tense and thrilling match.
Lopez said his side had done well to qualify for the quarterfinals but could not get past a competitive North Korean side.
“We did put in our best effort and going out like this is heart-breaking but Korea were the better side. All I can say is we did our best and this was the best game we’ve played in the tournament,” a disappointedLopez said. In what was a heart-stopping quarterfinal, Spain stayed true to Lopez’s prediction that they could match the relentless North Koreans – and they did that for 90 minutes, forcing the match into extra time.
An estimated 5000 fans were treated to a tactical match as both sides probed for openings in a high quality opening half.
North Korea’s Ju Hyo Sim opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a header off a Jon So Yon cross.
The 2006 champions played defensively, strangling the Spanish attack at every turn and that pressure saw several counter-attacking opportunities present themselves, with Ri Hyang Sim slotting her side’s second goal on the 30-minute mark.
Spain fought against the North Korean defence, with Nahikari Garcia hitting a goal in the 38th minute to keep her side in the contest as they went to the halftime break only a goal behind.
Maintaining a structured style of football, Spain fought hard to keep possession as Lucia Garcia hit the equaliser in the 63rd minute.
With fatigue creeping in, the players, who had kept high pace for most of the match, neither side could clinch a winner in regulation time.
Up stepped an unlikely heroine in Hwa, who scorched a 106th-minute gamebreaker, ending the hopes of one side but continuing the dreams of another. North Korea coach Hwang Yongbong was pleased with his side’s gritty win but was disappointed with their second half performance.
“To be honest I’m disappointed with our performance in the second half where we let Spain dominate,” Yongbong said.
“Going into extra time, the message was to score when the opportunity came and we did that but again we could’ve lost because Spain were doing their best to score.”
By ISAAC LIRI