Not just your average Jo
© Foto-net

Moving almost on the tips of his toes, Korea DPR coach Jo Tong Sop has been calmly and imperceptibly making his way round the streets of Ottawa - and you get the impression he likes it that way. However, when the subject turns to football, the serene and composed demeanour gives way to passionate discourse as he urges his hard-working interpreter to fully convey his thoughts and opinions.

With just hours to go before his side's make-or-break group match with Argentina, the Korea DPR coach spoke to about directing the national team on their debut in the competition, the team's chances of making it to the next round and the importance of his daily meetings with his players.

"The boys are very innocent"
Jo Tong Sop is not one of those coaches who likes to barrage his players with constant advice from the touchline, preferring instead to take his time before calmly imparting a few choice words. More than anything, though, he is aware he is dealing with very young men. "You need to remember that not all of them are professionals or fully grown-up yet, which can make things more difficult. It's not easy working with youngsters," he says.

Asked to expand a little on the challenges involved, the coach says: "The main difference is that, compared with adults, these kids are very innocent. That's why it's difficult to get an immediate reaction from them when they have something new explained to them. For this job, you really need to have a background in teaching. At times I am more teacher than coach." The North Korean has been imparting the experience gained raising two sons of his own as well as that accumulated during two decades (1970-1990) as a professional player: "My players are not the very best, but then again they're young. They still have time to improve," he says with a smile.

A big fan of Frank Rijkaard's, the tactician knows that in guiding his side at this their first FIFA U-20 World Cup, he is part of a watershed moment in the history of North Korean football. "We're representing our country, which is a great privilege. Many young Koreans would dearly love to be where we are today, and that's a huge motivation for us."

"We're capable of going through"
Despite drawing their first two Group E games, against Panama and the Czech Republic, Korea DPR have won the admiration and respect of football fans in Ottawa with displays of pacy, attacking football, particularly in their second outing against the Czechs.

Jo Tong Sop says that he took a "cautious approach in the first game, with it being the opener", but then went all out against the Czech Republic. "We wanted to score at least one in that game to boost our confidence, and we achieved that, but then our nerves betrayed us and we conceded two. Fortunately, we kept on battling and got an equaliser in the end," he remarks.

Now, with two points in the bag, the Asian champions must secure their passage to the next round against group leaders and reigning world champions Argentina. However, the coach claims not to be daunted by the prospect: "They have both strengths and weaknesses, which we need to be aware of and try to take full advantage. What's interesting about this game is that, while they're stronger than we are, if we get our tactics right, we have a chance of winning it."

The coach goes even further, saying: "Our goal in Canada is to give our young players more experience for the future, while at the same time trying to have a good tournament. This being our first time taking part, we'd be satisfied with reaching the quarter-finals." Were that to happen, no one would be happier than the man himself, as it would afford him another precious week coaching, and teaching, his charges.