Korean dreams no big mystery
© AFP

Mysterious, quiet, unknown, secretive - these are just some of the adjectives commonly used to describe national football teams from the northern part of the Korean peninsula. However, after being invited to take in a training session and sit down for a chat with head coach Kim Kwang-Min, FIFA.com recently found out modifiers like thoughtful, elegant, determined and humorous apply as well.

"Mysterious?" the coach laughed in mock disbelief when asked about the commonly held notion that his side are shrouded in secrecy. "Do I seem mysterious to you right now? I am talking to you very openly," he said. "I have heard this kind of talk before, but I dismiss it. Our intention is not to be quiet or mysterious, only other people say this about us. If we are maybe a little more quiet than the rest of the sides it is because we like to let our football do the talking!"

One thing is clear when watching the team from the communist state train: they are not quiet at play. Shouting orders and demanding the ball, the North Korean squad - physically smaller than most at these finals - are a whirl of positional change and elegant short passing. Upon close inspection, they look to be as technically gifted with the ball as any in the women's game. And Kim is quick to point out that their ability does not stop there.

"We like the play with the ball on the ground - everyone knows this about us," said the coach, who has brought five veterans from the last FIFA Women's World Cup here to China, including the outstanding Ri Kum-Suk. "But we have skills in other areas as well. People who assume we are a one-dimensional team are going to be surprised. We can play on the pitch, but our skill set does not end there."

First up for the Koreans, who have six players from the youth squad that swooped to win the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup last year, is a date with favourites USA. "It is important for me to say that we are in no way afraid of a team like the US," said the coach who saw his side soundly beaten by Tuesday's opponents four years ago. "My girls will fight with all they have and I think we have the ability in the side to win if things go right. However, you can never know what is going to happen in football until after the game is over."

Korea DPR are in arguably the toughest group at this, their third FIFA Women's World Cup, alongside not just USA but the 2003 runners-up Sweden and perennial African champions Nigeria as well. However, Kim is almost predictably unimpressed. "Sure, sure, there is no doubting this a difficult group - probably the most difficult in the tournament. We know that," he said with a derisive smile. "But one of the reasons it is so difficult is because we are in it. So, that being the case, we have no fear".

It seems only one mystery surrounds the talented Koreans at this point, namely whether their technique and brilliant ball skills will be enough to claim a spot in the knockout rounds for the first time. Ask their laid-back coach and the answer is simple: "Why not?"