It may be part of some overall master-plan, but since arriving in Peru the Korean delegation have not missed an opportunity to repeat how inexperienced their team is, how they are only here to learn and how much the journey took out of them. The lowest of low profiles has been their standard approach, and yet there was nothing raw about the highly-assured manner in which they tore apart Côte d'Ivoire. Whatever the truth behind their statements, though, there is no doubt that they have a group of forwards many teams would envy - and they intend to shine once again against Italy.  

"They hid their skills well in their first match. We were surprised by their vivacity and the rhythm they were able to impose on the game," lamented Ivorian coach François Bohé, having just watched his team lose 3-0 in their second match in Group C of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 in Chiclayo on 20 September. Could secrecy be the Koreans' secret weapon?

In all fairness, their remarkable attacking trio of Chol Min Pak, Hung Ryong Ri and Myong Ho Choe had given a glimpse of their talent against the USA in their opening fixture. Not only do they have exceptional pace on their side, the Korean triumvirate possess first-rate technical ability and seem to know how to find each other with their eyes closed. Add Jin Kuk Kim into the mix, and Jo Tong Sop's side boast a forward line capable of troubling any opponent.

They know it too and Kim, the team's creative spark, was certainly in confident mood ahead of their recent outing: "We don't have any choice and in any case we want to do this: we're going to beat Côte d'Ivoire, I guarantee it. They're excellent technical players and very athletic too, but I think their weakness is in defence." 

The mask falls
His promise was kept and, after dominating the Africans from start to finish, the Koreans' mask fell a little lower. Even coach Jo Tong Sop was unable to hold back his enthusiasm, although he still managed to temper his comments with self-criticism: "We were very poor in defence during the first game. This time, everyone pulled together and that's what made the difference."

The most pleasing aspect for the Korean boss was his side's tactical superiority, and rightly so after they snuffed out the Baby Elephants' challenge as he had planned. "Putting pressure on their players in midfield allowed our strikers to use the space in front of them to good effect," he explained. "As a result, we put three goals past them in one half."

"I'm very proud of our performance," added Myong Ho Choe with a wide grin. "We were really annoyed to have lost the first match. This one was very important and we didn't mess it up." Having moved level with Mexico's Carlos Vela at the summit of the scoring charts with three strikes, the Korean ace could also afford a more personal reflection on his contribution: "I don't have the words to express how I feel about scoring those two goals. It's there, in my heart. But of course I'd love to finish the tournament as top-scorer!"

As noble an ambition as that may be, Korea DPR are not even assured a berth in the quarter-finals yet. To make that happen, they must overcome Italy in their final Group C game in Trujillo on 23 September. Winner takes all and the loser flies home early, but there is plenty of belief in the Korean camp at the moment. "If we play like we did against Côte d'Ivoire, I'm certain we can beat the Italians," insists Choe. "The key will be the solidarity at the heart of our team."  

Dreaming big
For Sop, the situation could hardly be more clear-cut: "This encounter with Italy is vitally important: either we go through to the quarter-finals or we go home. It's a simple equation. We'll do everything we can to win and the first thing will be to study the strengths and weaknesses of the squadra."

He might also want to look at improving his and his team's focus. Indeed, when they conceded their third goal against USA, the Koreans only had nine players on the pitch because of a fateful bout of dithering caused by an injury. Likewise against the Ivorians, and with the match sewn up by half-time, Sop chose not to make any substitutions until five minutes before the final whistle. Then again, perhaps that is precisely the 'inexperience' he and his staff have been so keen to remind everyone of.

Behind the endless caveats, though, the Korean players are already dreaming big. "I want to make it to the final, nothing more, nothing less," admits Choe, and his colleagues are thinking along the same lines. Not least Kim, a diehard Real Madrid and David Beckham fan, who is looking even further into the future: "Sometimes I dream of becoming the best player in the world… and taking part in a World Cup. Maybe 2010, who knows?" Maybe, but first of all he and his team-mates must see how long they can make their Peruvian adventure last.