Having already secured places at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008 with victories over hosts China and Korea Republic respectively in the semis, both finalists went into Tuesday's finale determined to grab continental bragging rights. However, it was coach Kwang Sok Choe's Koreans who stole the show, with Ra Un-sim's strike in the 22nd minute enough to separate the two sides.
Ra, joint-top scorer alongside Korea Republic's Jung Hae-in with four goals, won the tournament's best player honours during Korea DPR's all-conquering campaign.
By emerging as the new Asian queens at youth level the Koreans gained not only praise from their own supporters, but also the respect of Japan's coach. "My team played well but our rivals were the better team today," said Japanese coach Sasaki Norio. "We changed our game plan in the second half but unfortunately it did nothing to change the outcome."
Sok Choe, who was awarded the AFC coach of the year award for 2006 after guiding Korea DPR to the world title at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Russia last year, was quick to point it out that the ground-breaking success provided the team with a timely boost ahead of the showpiece event in Chile. "(As world champions) we feel no pressure and we will focus on the preparatory work as soon as we are back home," said a proud Sok Choe at the post-match press conference.
Despite their fairy tale campaign at Russia 2006, Korea DPRhad failed to make an impact on the continental stage until their runners-up finish in the previous edition.
Nevertheless, they made light work of topping a tough group that also featured the likes of Australia and Japan, snatching maximum points with three straight victories. In the crucial semi-final clash against hosts and holders China, to whom they had lost last time around, they ran out 4-1 winners, reviving memories of their famous 5-0 thrashing of their East Asian neighbours in the final of Russia 2006.
After leading his side to victory with an unblemished record, coach Sok Choe readily admitted that it was his team's outstanding physical fitness and fighting spirit that carried them through. "These two factors stood us in good stead against our rivals," he concluded.
China scrape through
In stark contrast to the Koreans' brilliant performances, defending champions China failed to live up to expectations as they only secured a place at Chile 2008 with a narrow 1-0 win over Korea Republic in the third-place match.
The team's disappointing campaign was reflected in the performance of captain Ma Xiaoxu, who looked only a shadow of her normal self. Ma, who had scored ten times to help China win the previous edition of the AFC championship before almost single-handedly steering her side to the final in Russia, was found struggling to find the net in the team's opening two victories over Thailand and Chinese Taipei.
She ended her goal drought by opening the scoring against Korea Republic in the last group match but her efforts were cancelled out by Jung Hae-in's late equalizer, which earned a 1-1 result that set China up against the formidable Korea DPR in the last four.
After the semi-final defeat, the hosts were left on the brink of missing out on a place in Chile. However, despite playing without Ma, who sustained an ankle injury, China scraped through the all-important rematch against Korea Republic, Ruan Xiaoqing sealing the victory with the only goal of the game 14 minutes from time.