Koreans unfazed by rapid rise
Without a doubt, Korea DPR have been the surprise package of this FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006, sweeping all before them in Group C and bagging a maximum haul of nine points.
On the way, Kim Kyong Hwa and her team-mates have overcome such prestigious opponents as current world champions Germany, whom they beat 2-0 in their opening match, before thrashing Switzerland and Mexico by identical 4-0 scorelines - always looking to be in complete control.
So what is the secret of the Koreans' success? Kim Kyong Hwa's answer is charmingly disingenuous: "When we play football, we just tell ourselves that we won't lose," the 20-year-old tells FIFA.com. "I'm not afraid of any of our opponents."
Perhaps it is this confidence that has mad the difference thus far in the tournament, and anyone who has seen their three performances to date will know that their self-belief is by no means misplaced. Theirs is a team in which everyone plays their part, but midfielder Kim has been an integral part of their flying start, scoring one and setting up two of the Asians' 10 goals.
She may only be 5'3" (1.59m), but Kim stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to her strength, both physically and particularly in terms of her character - something which is apparent as soon as you meet her. While she is exceptionally calm off the pitch, as soon as she crosses over the touchline, she takes on the look of a women on a mission.
She was voted Player of the Match against Switzerland, eliciting high praise from former Sweden coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors, who is part of the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG) charged with analysing the game. "She is incredibly creative," observed the Swede, "and is just as strong in defence as she is going forward."
French hold no fears
Kim came to football relatively late and only started playing when she was 12, kicking a ball about on the streets after school. When she was 14, she started playing for a club, and things simply progressed from there.
"I always played alongside the boys, and that made me stronger," she explains. Her skills remained undiscovered for some years, however, until friends gave her parents some advice, namely: "Your daughter's good. She should make sure she develops her talent."
The rest is now history-in-the-making. At 20, Kim is the oldest member of the team, and this will be her last FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship. She has, though, already made the step up to the full international team who have qualified for the FIFA Women's World Championship China 2007 - not that the focussed youngster is thinking that far ahead just yet. "First, we need to concentrate on the tournament in Russia and do the best we can here," she says.
In St Petersburg on Sunday, the Koreans will be facing quite a challenge when they take on a French team which finished runner-up at this year's UEFA U-19 Women's European Championship. However, the Europeans hold no fear as far as the Korean girls are concerned, despite their forwards' reputation as speed-merchants.
"Pace isn't that important, skill is what really counts," says Kim, again exuding confidence. While she herself is a well-rounded player, capable of turning out in midfield or attack, the 20-year-old is convinced of her best position. "Up front, obviously!" she laughs.
Roared on by a large contingent of fans with loud, home-made rattles, the Koreans are confident of progressing to the semi-finals. "The fans really spur us on with all the noise they make," Kim admits, before finally putting her confidence to one side to give a very diplomatic answer to the final question - whether or not they will beat France."We'll give it our best shot," she says, smiling.