Smiles are rare in the Korea DPR camp. At training they go about their business with determination and focus, total precision. After matches they hustle past curious members of the local media arm-in-arm, straight to the team bus, preferring to shower back at the hotel where televisions have been removed from their rooms to avoid distraction. However, football has a way of inspiring a pure and unavoidable elation – like the kind that comes after a stunning goal or a big win.
“I practice my long-range shooting all the time; I work very hard at it,” was the rather uninspired reaction of Kim Kum Jong to her stunning long-range goal that knocked out favourites Germany and sent the defending champions to the semi-finals. “I had some space in front of me and I decided to have a try. Fortunately it went in and all the hard work in training paid off.”
Speaking through the team’s emotional translator and media officer, the goal hero seemed to be describing the most mundane of occurrences. Her response when the ball flew into the net, however, spoke of pride, joy and the kind of singular freedom found on the world’s football pitches. When her strike from 35 yards curled up and over German goalkeeper Lena Nuding, the Pyongyang City striker jumped into the air, fell down to her knees and raised her arms to the sky. The crowd at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella roared the goal, good enough to grace any of the biggest stages, and Kim Kum Jong was mobbed by her smiling, leaping teammates.
The scenes were similar at the final whistle, after the North Koreans rotated and shifted their organised defensive unit to shield Germany – who scored 22 goals in the first round – from the danger areas. As the Europeans, perhaps victims of overconfidence, lay on the grass in disbelief and disappointment, the Koreans ran to the centre of the pitch and celebrated in delight. They aligned hand-in-hand to salute the fans, who roared on Kim Su Gyong in particular, her jinking little cuts and fakes causing the biggest cheers from a Caribbean crowd that knows a little something about style. “We always had full confidence that we could beat Germany. After losing our first game we focused and became more determined,” said the No11 to FIFA.com, describing their opening-day loss to Nigeria as a shock. “We have gained confidence and strength.”
“It’s very good for us to be going to the semi-final of the World Cup,” added Kim Su Gyong. “I think that we will win it and then we will go on to win the final.” The comment was made with assurance, leaving no real doubt as to the opposite’s possibility. Japan, their opponent in the semi-final on 21 September in Couva, might have something to say about the Koreans’ confidence. The Nadeshiko girls play with an all-out attacking style and verve that could be just the antidote to DPR’s stingy defence and organisation. Of the four remaining teams in Trinidad and Tobago, the North Koreans have scored the fewest goals and the Japanese the most.
The two will know each other well when they meet, both having come through the Asian qualifying competition in Thailand. Korea DPR coach Ri Song-Gun is full of confidence in his charges chances. “We promised ourselves after losing our opening match to Nigeria that we wouldn’t lose again and we’ve got stronger with every game.” It will take more than just discipline and defence to undo the talented Japanese, and thankfully for the DPR boss he has a pair that can provide those rare moments of joy and inspiration.