Bell’s women’s soccer team recently made an early exit from the second round of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Despite going undefeated with one win, two draws, and five points, South Korea finished second in their group behind North Korea (two wins, one draw, and seven points), failing to qualify for the final round and ending their dreams of making it to Paris. The final blow came in their final Group B match against China on Nov. 1, when they failed to protect Sim Seo-yeon’s opening goal and drew 1-1.
It was her third setback in 2023. In July, the team was knocked out of the FIFA Women’s World Cup group stage with a 1-1 draw and two losses, and at the Hangzhou Asian Games in September, the team lost to North Korea in the quarterfinals and settled for a bronze medal. And now they’ve added an early Olympic qualification exit to their list of worst performances.
Coach Colleen Bell and her players are not immune from the blame for the dark days of South Korean women’s soccer. The Englishman was named the first foreign head coach of the South Korean women’s national soccer team in October 2019, replacing former coach Choi In-chul. Expectations were high for Bell, who had a long history of coaching in Europe, including Germany and England, where she won the UEFA Women’s Champions League with Frankfurt in 2015 and oversaw the breakthrough of the Irish women’s national team in 2017.
The Football Association was so enamored with Bell’s European career that it gave him its full support, believing he was the right man to bring in the latest trends in world soccer. He inherited a squad that has been dubbed the “golden generation” and is considered the strongest ever. Bell himself was also well-liked by the public, with a media-friendly and sincere image.
However, Bell has been at the helm of the South Korean national team for more than four years now, and he hasn’t had much success. This is in contrast to Paulo Bento (Portugal, current UAE coach), who, despite a few crises, managed to make it to the last 16 of the World Cup in Qatar.
Confidence, flexibility, and high intensity training have been key words for Bell since his arrival. However, when the lid was lifted, it was clear that Korea’s inherent weaknesses in performance and fitness were still present in every international tournament, but there were no tactical and strategic alternatives or crisis management skills to overcome them.
In fact, the women’s national team has followed a similar pattern of collapse since Bell’s arrival. In the playoffs for the final Asian qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, South Korea lost to China 3-4 (1-2, 2-2) on aggregate and by one goal.
Back then, South Korea took the lead in the second game, but couldn’t hold on to it and had to go to overtime to tie the game. Two years later, the same déjà vu happened again against the same team in the Paris Olympic qualifiers, and it’s a testament to the team’s lack of progress. South Korean women’s soccer has yet to qualify for the Olympic Games.
At the 2023 World Cup, they set an ambitious goal of reaching the quarterfinals, their best ever finish. However, two consecutive goalless defeats to Colombia and Morocco sealed their early exit after just two games. In the final game, they held off Germany to draw 1-1, but once again they failed to protect their lead and had to settle for a point instead of three.토토사이트
At the Hangzhou Asian Games, Korea defeated weaker opponents such as Hong Kong and the Philippines, but when they faced North Korea in the quarterfinals, they failed to protect their lead due to an own goal and conceded four goals. It is said that the team was outnumbered by a combination of bad refereeing decisions and the retirement of Son Hwa-yeon, but it was an inexcusable defeat against North Korea, a country that has been out of the international scene for years.
If we look at the pattern of Belo Horizonte’s collapse in every important match, we can see the following sequence: physical inferiority → lack of goal determination → conceding a goal due to a mistake → sudden drop in energy after conceding a goal → loss of concentration due to a drop in physical strength. In the beginning, the team leads the game with active forward pressure, but as soon as they concede a goal, they quickly lose their energy, and their performance has many ups and downs, and even if they manage to take the lead, they lack the backbone to protect it steadily until the end.
Bell has had plenty of time and opportunity to implement his soccer philosophy, with more support than any other coach in history, including his signature high-intensity fitness regimen and trials against nations from different continents. But the results have been flat for four years.
Of course, there was also some bad luck. In Hangzhou AG’s case, favorable match schedules and controversial refereeing decisions played a big role, while the Paris Olympics qualifiers had the worst possible draw, with early encounters with women’s soccer powerhouses China and North Korea.
“This is the World Cup, this is the reality of Korean women’s soccer,” Bell said after the team was eliminated from the World Cup, “this is the level of women’s soccer in Korea, this is the reality. In the immediate aftermath of the Asian Games, she blamed the tournament schedule for the loss.
However, there was little self-reflection on Bell’s own tactical and managerial failings. For example, the average age of the Korean national team at the last World Cup was 28.9 years old, the oldest among the 32 qualifying nations. Bell’s insistence on playing a style of soccer that hasn’t suited his players for years, even though they don’t have the physical strength or player base to sustain the high-intensity soccer he demands for a full 90 minutes, has come back to haunt him.
Of course, it’s not all down to Bell himself. The senior players, once dubbed the Golden Generation and highly regarded, also need to look at how well they have performed at key moments in recent years. South Korean women’s soccer has produced a number of international players, and the average salary and treatment of players in the Korean Women’s Soccer League is not too bad compared to world standards ($14,000, or about 17.9 million won).
However, most of the main players are now in their 30s, and it’s hard to expect them to improve in terms of skill and fitness. Due to the much lower status and recognition of the sport compared to men’s soccer, the short lifespan of players, and the declining birthrate, the pool of talented women’s soccer players is shrinking.
It’s no exaggeration to say that women’s soccer is in a dark age of international competitiveness. The last four years under Colin Bell have been a failure. Failure can no longer be glorified by the wishful thinking of ‘we lost’ or ‘the process was good, but we were unlucky’. A major overhaul is needed, along with a sober analysis of what has been achieved.