May 22 (Reuters) – South Korea are hopeful of qualifying for the knockout stages of the women’s World Cup in France next month despite being placed in a tough group, midfielder Ji So-yun has said.
The Asian nation is set for its third appearance at the quadrennial event but has never gone beyond the last-16 and is pitted against higher-ranked teams in hosts France and Norway in Group A.
Hosts France are ranked fourth in the world, 10 places above Korea, while Norway are 12th but without Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, who has refused to play for the national team.
Nigeria, ranked 38th, are the fourth team in the group.
“Our first goal is to reach the second round,” Ji said in an interview on world soccer governing body FIFA’s website here
“I know that will be difficult, but we can reach the goal only if we believe we can. And once we reach the initial goal, we’ll be hungry for more.”
Ji, who was injured during South Korea’s 2015 World Cup campaign and watched on as France eliminated them in the last-16, said she was over that disappointment and looking forward to facing the hosts in the opening game on June 7.
“I remember watching the great players of France beating us, and I’m sure they’ve got even better now, but so have we,” the 28-year-old added. “I’ve grown into a better player than I was four years ago, and I’ve put that disappointment behind me.
“Four years ago, it was the first World Cup for everybody except (goalkeeper) Kim Jung-mi, but now we’ve got many players who experienced the finals four years ago.”
Ji is coming off a good club season in which she scored eight goals for Chelsea, including a stunning free-kick in the Champions League semi-finals against eventual champions Lyon, but does not have any personal targets for the World Cup.
“I always screw up whenever I set a personal goal, so I just try to play my game and play better than I did four years ago,” she said. “I don’t really care about the numbers, goals or assists.
“It doesn’t matter if I score or not. I only hope we can reach our team goal and enjoy the game.” (Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Jennings)