Champions at the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008 in New Zealand, coach Ri Song Gun and his charges have set their sights on matching that feat at Trinidad and Tobago 2010 to continue Korea DPR's run of success in women’s football.
Indeed, over the past few years, Korea DPR have developed into something of a superpower in the women's game, consistently performing well in big competitions thanks to their disciplined play and unrivalled passing game. "We hold women’s football in high regard,” the coach said to FIFA.com. “We’ve put a lot of effort in over recent years to produce good results and that is why our women’s teams are so competitive."
Those "good results" are something of an understatement: Korea DPR won the Russia 2006 edition of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup and reached the final at the same event in Chile two years later. This record, allied to their New Zealand 2008 success at U-17 level, means they are one of the teams to beat here in Trinidad and Tobago – not that their coach is brooking any such talk. "I don’t think that we’re the favourites. If you look at past results, Germany look to be more experienced and have a better chance of winning the tournament.”
Despite Ri’s protestations, the North Koreans look to be every bit as good as their rivals. Indeed, they comfortably reached the final of the 2009 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship to qualify for Trinidad and Tobago 2010, though the subsequent 4-0 reverse to southern neighbours Korea Republic was a painful blow. "We may be a little weak physically, but my players have more than enough individual skill to overcome this," explained Ri, with gifted striker Kim Kum Jong and defender Pong Son Hwa cases in point.
The team have been drawn in a wide-open Group A alongside Chile, hosts Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria, whom they will face in the Opening Match of the tournament on Sunday 5 September in Port of Spain. "I’m very wary of them,” said the Korean coach. “I think that they will be our main rivals in Group A. They’re physically strong and technically gifted, but I know that my players will show how mature they are, despite the fact that they are all very young. They’ll be giving it their all in this tournament.”
And they will of course be able to take inspiration from the performance of the Class of 2008. "They are obviously aware of what their predecessors achieved," said Ri, as the conversation drew to a close. “It’s impossible to say whether we will be able to write our name in the annals of this tournament a second time, but I have to say, I see a lot of similarities between the 2010 generation and the squad that won in 2008."