Korea Republic
© AFC

The past
Korea Republic will make their fourth appearance at the U-17 finals in Nigeria this October. The twice Asian champions (in 1986 and 2002), however, have failed to progress beyond the group stages since making it to the quarter-finals of Canada 1987. It took 16 years for the young Taeguk Warriors to make their second appearance at a U-17 showpiece, Finland 2003, where they suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of the USA and Spain. History repeated itself four years later when the Koreans hosted the most recent edition of the U-17 world finals, losing to Peru and Costa Rica to go out in the first round.

The present
The Koreans were eager to make up for the disappointment of a poor showing on home soil in 2007, and that was exactly what they did in the AFC U-16 Championship in Uzbekistan last October. Having got off to a flying start with 5-2 and 9-0 wins over India and Indonesia respectively, Lee Kwang-Jong's charges drew 1-1 with Syria to advance to the quarter-finals. After a convincing 3-0 win over the hosts, which earned them a berth to the world finals, they came from behind to defeat archrivals Japan 2-1 in the semi-final. But their hopes of claiming a third continental title were dented when they went down to ten men midway through the first half in the final against Iran, who subsequently won the match 2-1 to lift the trophy. However, Korea Republic had reason to celebrate in April, when they travelled to the United Arab Emirates to take part in a four-nation tournament. Captain Lim Chang-Woo opened the scoring and Lee Jong-Ho added another in a 2-0 win over Nigeria, before the duo combined for two goals again to beat hosts UAE 2-0 in the title decider.

The future
Despite unsatisfactory recent results on the continental and world stages, Korea Republic have been consistent in nurturing talent at the junior level. Coach Lee Kwang-Jong, who has been working in youth football for almost a decade, is focused on the mental side of the game. "We always try to enjoy our football. Young players will naturally grow into creative ones if they play and enjoy the game on the pitch. That's what I care about," says the 45-year-old tactician, who believes some of his players will become the backbone of the senior national team in the future.

Facts and figures
Former stars
Ro Jung-Yoon (1987), Seo Jung-Won (1987), Shin Tae-Yong (1987), Shin Young-Rok (2003), Yang Dong-Hyen (2003), Yoon Bitgaram (2007)

Key players
Lee Jong-Ho (forward), Lee Chang (midfielder)

Qualifying statistics
4 wins, 21 goals scored and 6 conceded.

The numbers game
3 - Goals and assists from Lee Jong-Ho not only helped Korea Republic reach the final of the AFC U-16 Championship last year but earned him the Most Valuable Player award.