After no fewer than 15 penalties, the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup title was still in the balance at the Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku when Korea DPR’s Ri Un-Yong stepped up to take her spot-kick, only to be denied by the gloves of France goalkeeper Romane Bruneau.
That miss spelled the end of the New Zealand 2008 champions’ dream of a second title and ended AFC representatives' 100 per cent success rate, with Korea Republic having won the second edition of this competition at Trinidad & Tobago 2010.
Final defeat thus confirmed, the No16 fell sobbing to the turf, where her also disconsolate team-mates quickly rushed to comfort her.
One of the pre-tournament favourites for the crown at Azerbaijan 2012, Korea DPR started the competition well but found it increasingly difficult to click into gear come the knockout stages – eventually succumbing to a strong French side in the decider.
After the match, coach Hwang Yong Bong remained objective enough to point out where his team had gone wrong, while highlighting that the future is still bright for his talented crop of youngsters. “We may have underestimated our opponents,” said Hwang.
“France are a very strong team who played really well today,” he went on. “It’s also a fact that we’re going through a generational overhaul and the pressure might have been too much to bear. But we mustn’t be pessimistic and I’m not leaving here disappointed, far from it. Failure is the mother of success.”
The supremo can indeed draw consolation from the emergence of players of the calibre of No10 Ri Un-Sim, the competition’s leading scorer, whose eight-goal tally equalled the previous record set by Korea Republic’s Yeo Minji at Trinidad & Tobago 2010.
What's more, coach Hwang’s squad had players able to take up the slack in the rare moments their main sharpshooter was off the mark, with Kim So-Hyang, for example, stepping up with a decisive brace in the 2-1 semi-final win over Germany.
Highs and lows
The North Koreans could barely have started their Group B campaign brighter than their 11-0 thrashing of Gambia, though they were subsequently held to hard-fought 1-1 draws by fellow section rivals France and USA. Spearheaded by Ri, the team’s attacking play was based around using short, quick passing interchanges.
Come the knockout stages, however, against first Canada then Germany, the Koreans began relying more on lofted balls from midfield aimed at their lethal No10 and her respective strike partner, whether that be Ri Kyong-Hyang or Kim.
In Saturday’s Final, France nullified the threat of this more direct approach, particularly before the interval, though Les Bleuettes were later forced onto the back foot once Korea DPR altered their attacking personnel and re-adopted their short-passing ethos.