It was at the AFC U-16 Asian Women’s Championships in 2007 that Korea DPR midfielder Jon Myong Hwa introduced her talents to the wider world. Aged only 14 at the time, the then No10 orchestrated her side’s attacks and showed her instinct for goal, never more impressively than in the final against Japan, scoring twice in her side’s 3-0 win and turning in a performance that would make her an ever-present in her country’s national youth sides.
What followed was even more eye-catching. At the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2008 she scored four times on the North Koreans’ march to the title, finishing third in the race for the adidas Golden Shoe, awarded to the competition’s leading goalscorer.
Yet, having embarked on what seemed destined to be a successful career as an attacking midfielder, Myong Hwa was then forced to make an unexpected adjustment. Though selected for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, she suddenly found herself switched to a holding role, just in front of the defence.
“Up to then I’d always played in attacking positions, but the coaches who were in charge at the time saw a place for me as a more withdrawn midfielder,” she told FIFA.com. “They felt I could do a job defending and distributing the ball from the back because I was a good passer and could read the game well.”
Such were her all-round the abilities that the change seemed to be a logical one. As Myong Hwa bashfully explained, however, things did not turn out as planned: “The problem was that I made too many mistakes at that tournament because I just wasn’t used to playing that role. I kept shooting off into attack and forgetting about my main job, which was to defend.”
Though Germany 2010 proved to be a major disappointment, Myong Hwa, who was still only 15 at the time, was mature enough to draw some conclusions from the experience.
“I realised that I couldn’t put pressure on myself and that I’d get used to things in time. What I needed to do was play more,” she added, pointing to her appearances at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany and at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. “I came to understand what my job was in the next few tournaments. I knew that I had to defend first and organise our attacks. That’s in my mind all the time now.”
Watching Barcelona matches also helped her develop her new craft, one pursued to perfection by Barça lynchpin Xavi: “He’s an extremely intelligent player. He always makes himself available, passes well and knows how to build moves. He knows his role in the team and sticks to his style of play. I think that’s important and it’s something I try and copy.”
Now wearing the No8 shirt, the converted defensive midfielder has shown that the long, hard process she has been through was all worthwhile. Confident of her capacities at Japan 2012, she has proved exceptional in shielding her defence and bringing the ball out from deep positions.
An example of that came in the decisive group match against Canada, when she had a direct hand in setting up her side’s opening goal, winning the ball at the back and providing an expert assist for Kim Un Hwa. “She’s an important part of the team,” confirmed Korea DPR coach Sun Ui Gun. “The job she does gives the players up front the freedom to attack.”
Now more seldom seen in forward positions and working much harder for a side that has already amassed 15 goals in Japan, Myong Hwa is essential to the balance of the North Korean line-up. A secret weapon with a formidable bank of experience, she is sure to prove vital in the rest of the campaign.
“I don’t mind defending, but that attacking instinct is still in me,” she concluded with a smile. “I’m going to carry on playing my game but if the opportunity arises, I’m going to get forward. I think about scoring all the time.”
The message for USA, Korea DPR’s opponents in Friday’s quarter-final in Saitama, is clear: as well as keeping one eye on the opposition forwards, they will be well advised to watch out for the elegant ball-player stepping up from deep.