Better late than never as S Korea and China battle for Games placeSports | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 8 Apr 2021
After repeated postponements stretching back more than a year because of the coronavirus, South Korea and China will finally meet for a last-ditch spot in women's football at the Tokyo Olympics.
The first leg takes place today in Goyang, South Korea, and the return fixture is on April 13 in Suzhou.
The Olympic qualifying tie, initially scheduled for March last year, has been postponed three times because of the pandemic. And the coronavirus will still be hanging heavy over the tie.
The Chinese squad landed in South Korea this week dressed in full protective bodysuits, complete with goggles, gloves and masks.
And the limited number of fans set to be allowed in at Goyang Stadium have been told not to eat or shout in an attempt to contain infections.
It is a taste of what could lie ahead for whichever team reaches the Olympics, which have been pushed back to July-August.
There are only two berths left at Tokyo 2020 in women's football, with Cameroon facing Chile for the other.
China hope it will be a victorious final chapter in a tortuous journey which began in Wuhan, ground zero of the pandemic.
The squad were training in Wuhan, which originally was set to host the qualifying tournament in February last year. But the competition was moved to Nanjing, then Sydney, as the coronavirus took hold.
Coach Jia Xiuquan's side - missing star player Wang Shuang, who was stuck in Wuhan - finished second behind Australia in Group B to set up a clash with South Korea, the top team from Group A.
South Korea defender Kim Hye Ri said it was a relief to get the game on finally. "Such a great opportunity will never come again," she said. "We've suffered tremendously from our failure to advance to [past] Olympics. I really want to be able to smile this time."