DPR Korea celebrate against the Junior Matildas. Credit: The AFC

The Junior Matildas’ bid to qualify for their first-ever U17 Women’s World Cup came to a shuddering halt today as the side was defeated 3-0 in the AFC U16 Women’s Championship semi-final by reigning champions DPR Korea.

Two first-half goals from striker Kim Hye-yong and a late strike from substitute Kim Pom-i were enough to see the three-time tournament winners through to their seventh consecutive U17 Women’s World Cup, becoming the first team to achieve the feat.

With tournament organisers moving the game forward to a midday kick-off, Junior Matildas coach Rae Dower would’ve expected the hot and humid conditions in Chonburi to have a significant effect on the match.

Presumably with the conditions in mind, Dower opted to have the industrious Alana Jancevski leading the line in place of Georgia Beaumont, while Jordan Rankin was preferred on the wing over Taneesha Baker. Charlize Rule slotted into the midfield spot vacated by Nia Stamatopoulos, with the usually-solid back five remaining as it was against Bangladesh.

Almost immediately from kickoff, DPR Korea gave the Australians a preview of what was to come; winning possession near halfway from a loose Rule pass, centre back Ri Hyon-hui played a hopeful vertical pass out of her own end to the taller of DPRK’s strikers Myong Yu-jong, who immediately swivelled towards goal and attracted four defenders into her orbit. With space in abundance, she played a square pass to her strike partner Kim Hye-yong, only for Kim’s return pass to be snuffed out and cleared away by covering defenders. 

Australia finally managed an attack of their own in the 10th minute, springing a counter on the pushed-up Korean defence and catching them well out of shape in their own half. 25m out and facing her own goal, skipper Jessika Nash was harried out of possession by both Myong and midfielder Sin Pom-hyang, gifting the ball to fleet-footed striker Kim in a dangerous spot.

However, fellow defender Claudia Mihocic spared her captain’s blushes and whipped the ball off Kim, allowing midfielder Hana Lowry to play a pass left to Rankin and open the pitch up to attack near halfway. Hitting a long diagonal pass to the right corner, Rankin bypassed the flooding Korean midfield and split defenders Kim Hong-suk and Choe Kyong-ryong to find the flying Baker, whose cut back inside would eventually find Lowry and be sent soaring over the bar.

The blueprint for Dower’s side was there: hit DPR Korea on the break with clean, crisp passes, and avoid getting bogged down by the Korean front six’s intense pressing game. The Rankin-to-Baker pass showed that there was a route to goal – even if it was paved with danger and needed a precise touch. 

However, that pressing was to become Australia’s biggest enemy, as time and time again, their opponents found a way to either win possession with a tackle or a timely intercept, and almost immediately they were turned around and forced to chase and defend.

That pressure would eventually tell, as DPR Korea opened the scoring after 13 minutes. Afforded acres of space by the shifting Australian midfield, Korean right back Kim Myong-nyo floated an inch perfect cross into the box to the waiting Kim Hye-yong. Controlling once with her chest and again with a deft touch to feet, Kim expertly took her chance to give DPRK a deserved 1-0 lead.

Just four minutes later, Kim was again on the scoresheet – this time through a goal good enough to feature in any age level or league. With Myong once again dropping deeper to collect a pass from midfield, Kim darted away from marker and into the box, taking one backheeled touch to turn away from Nash and another to hit a bullet shot into the top corner to make it 2-0.

DPR Korea continued to push in search of a third to kill the game, pressing Australia even into their own defensive corners and forcing the Junior Matildas to pass through or over them. The Korean midfield and attackers worked almost seamlessly as a unit, often surrounding Lowry, Rule, and Paige Zois at all four points of the compass and simply winning the ball through strength of numbers.

This pressure was however quickly released whenever DPR Korea were in possession, as wingers Kim Chung-mi and Ham Ju-hyang – and eventually substitute Ri Myong-rum – would push as far wide as possible, allowing midfield pivot Hong Song-ok time to pick her pass and marshall her team as need be, whether that be forward to Kim or along back to Ri in defence to allow her attackers time to recover.

The second half was one of little reward for the Junior Matildas; even with the introduction of Beaumont three minutes after the interval, Dower’s side struggled to maintain any consistent possession or break down the stubborn Korean defensive lines, and failed to register a single shot on target for the half.

If there was one shining light for the Junior Matildas it was once again goalkeeper Miranda Templeman. The West Australian stopper was imperious in the cage for her team, making multiple saves on a number of occasions – including one triple save in the first half – to give her side even the faintest glimmer of hope they could get a result.

However, there was little Templeman could do about DPR Korea’s third goal. Capping off a slick passing move to turn banal midfield possession into attack, Kim Hye-yong this time turned provider, slipping a short square pass for substitute Kim Pom-i to slot home past the keeper and seal her side’s qualification to yet another U17 Women’s World Cup.


DPR Korea 3 (Kim Hye-Yong 14’ 17’, Kim Pom-i 90’+3)

Australia 0

DPR Korea: Pak Ju-mi; Choe Kyong-ryong, Kim Hong-suk, Ri Hyon-hui, Kim Myong-nyo; Ham Ju-hyang (Ri Myong-gum), Sin Pom-hyang (Kim Pom-i 85’), Hong Song-ok, Kim Chung-mi; Kim Hye-yong, Myong Yu-jong (Hwang Sol-ran 72’)

Australia: Miranda Templeman; Emma Ilijoski (Jordan Jasnos 87’), Claudia Mihocic, Jessika Nash (yellow card 53’), Kirsty Fenton (Josie Morley 61’); Charlize Rule, Paige Zois; Jordan Rankin, Hana Lowry, Taneesha Baker (Georgia Beaumont 48’); Alana Jancevski