Korea Republic's U-17 team got off to a flying start this year with three wins in a row in Australia. Last Tuesday, they beat their hosts 1-0 thanks to a first-half goal from midfielder Yoon Bitgaram before seeing off China PR 8-0 on Wednesday.

Yoon was again the catalyst for success as the young Taeguk Warriors maintained a 100 per cent record with another 1-0 victory in the third game against Japan on Saturday.

The result was a timely boost for their morale, as the coach Park Kyung-Hoon explained: "We've won this tournament in the beginning of the FIFA U-17 World Cup year , and the players have regain their confidence with the wins against Australia and Japan, whose teams consisted of the players older than mine."

For two years since taking the reins, Park has focused on finding new talents but with only seven months before the kick-off, his first priority is to organise the team, which he describes as "not yet perfect".

His plan is to have a series of friendlies in Europe: with Spain on 13 and 15 February, and then with Belgium in the following week.

Clean sheets
The most important thing, however, would be to find a perfect combination of his defence - which he seems to have stumbled upon during the games in Sydney.

"I'm focused on that part as I was a defender during my playing career," he said. "The training sessions in Brazil helped us a lot in terms of communication and organisation. We couldn't have come back with three clean sheets in Australia unless we have learnt from the 40 goals we conceded in Brazil."

He did not forget to praise the playmaker Yoon, who opened the scoring in both games. "It was two years ago when I first saw him," the coach recalled. "Although he hadn't been called up to the youth team until then, I thought he had a sense of football and good passes. He also possesses the ability to hold the ball up.

"Since then Yoon has been developing into a good midfielder who can also pass and shoot from distance. I believe he's going to be an excellent player if he develops the defensive side of his game."

With all the good players at his disposal, Park has onlu one concern about the current system of youth football in Korea. "There is only one professional player (Kim Seung-Gyu, of Ulsan Horang-i) in my team," he explained.

"The rest of the players are high school students so we have to call them up for a fortnight during the vacations. Even so, they tend to forget what they've learnt from the training when they go back to school because most of my midfielders and defenders are often fielded as forwards in their respective school teams."

"As they are basically students they cannot focus solely on football. Whenever I recall my boys to the national team they have to start over from scratch, although things are getting better as we have been together for more than two years. I'm planning intensive training sessions again in March."