Korea DPR arrived in China for their third FIFA Women's World Cup finals shrouded in mystery. Since earning a draw against much-fancied USA in their Group B opener on Tuesday, however, the Asian team have stepped right into the spotlight with the tournament favourites.
Slightly camera shy, the Koreans were a little taken aback to find a swarm of local and world media waiting at the gate to their Chengdu training ground the day after they had held two-time champions USA. After a little coaxing, though, they opened right up and even appeared to be enjoying the attention after their initial jitters subsided. Captain Ri Kum-Suk, who was named Player of the Match, even suggested the Korea team were disappointed not to have taken all three points.
Draw not enough
"It was not a bad result, but it really is a pity that we couldn't win the game," the April 25 Sports Group player told FIFA.com, seemingly unaware that her Korean side were out-and-out underdogs at the opening whistle. "I believe we should have beaten the Americans judging by the way we played. We were a little bit disappointed that we could not start the tournament with three points."
As Chinese TV reporters hovered around the likes of Kim Yong-Ae and head coach Kim Kwang-Min, Ri became almost truculent about her sides' ambitions. "We must reach the second round, and with two games to go we have a very good chance. The first thing we need to do is beat Nigeria on Friday."
Known for a short-passing-game that has long been the envy of their Asian neighbours, the DPR ladies revealed a new weapon in their arsenal against the States. Their ferocious long-range shooting - prominent when the Korean U-20s won the world title last year in Russia - had them looking dangerous all over the pitch. Kil Son-Hui scored the opener from outside the area and on several occasions USA keeper Hope Solo had to sprawl to keep searing drives from 25 yards and beyond from bursting the back of her net.
Ri - a rampaging forward with a quiet, shy countenance off the field - smiled wide when asked about the phenomenon. "We practise shooting from distance all through the year," she said. "If we can't walk the ball into the net, then we have to find another way to put it in."
Hit 'em hard
Coach Kim sees the ability to generate ferocious power in their shots as a function of body type and a matter of adding another dimension to the side's well-known ball movement. "Although short passing is our strong suit and something we take great pride in, shooting well from distance is a tremendous weapon," he said. "Certain cultures and body types are suited to different strengths in football. We Koreans are short and stocky, but with powerful, compact muscles in our legs. For this reason we can generate a lot of power. We will never be the best at heading but this is something we can do very well."
Nigeria, who drew with USA 2003 runners-up Sweden in their first game to leave Group B wide open, will be no pushovers on 14 September in Chengdu. But Ri, who says her goal is to win a world title here in China, oozes an uncommon confidence. "Sure, they are good, probably better than four years ago," she concluded, "But I know we can win. We Koreans never give up the fight."