Selected Player of the Match on her China 2007 debut after a stunning performance in Korea DPR's 2-2 draw with heavily fancied USA, Ri Kum-Suk duly went on to score her first goal of the tournament in the Asians' confident 2-0 win over Nigeria.

However, it says much about the standards that the Korean talisman has set, and the weight of expectation she is under, that her coach considers her to be underachieving in China. "I have seen her play much, much better than she is at this World Cup," said head coach and tough taskmaster Kim Kwang-Min. "If we are to hit our peak performance here in China, Ri Kum-Suk will need to step up her game and give the kind of performances that we have come to expect from her through the years."

The player, as soft-spoken and unassuming off the pitch as she is ruthless, predatory and combative on it, arrived in Chengdu in China's southwest with a fearsome reputation. Having played in every world finals for the Koreans since making her debut as a precocious and free-scoring teenager at USA 1999, she has since come to be regarded as the country's best player.

Asia's best
Shortlisted for this year's Asian Player of the Year award, she finished top scorer with 15 goals in the Koreans' victorious Asian Cup campaign of 2003, then went on to score four goals in their Asian Games success last year in Doha. She was also in the running to be the 2006 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, although the shy striker admits to not having been aware at the time of receiving such recognition.

Ahead of arriving in China, the 29-year-old Ri, one of ten squad members who play their club football at April 25 Sports Group, was handed the captain's armband and was clear about her ambitions. "We have had success in Asia," she told "But now we intend to be recognised as a world power."

With a short-passing game that has the opposition chasing shadows and powerful long-distance shooting, Ri and her team-mates - with four points from two matches - have established themselves firmly among the frontrunners for the fifth women's world title. Even still, Kim, as coaches often are, is especially hard on his star player. "This is not the Ri I have come to know and count on," he said after the Nigeria win," I just hope she can find her top form soon."

'We never give up'
If the coach's assessment of the player's performances sounds harsh, he must surely have taken heart from the fact that Korea DPR are playing a coherent team game in which few stand out above the rest, as Ri herself is quick to admit. "Firstly, we never give up on a cause and more than that we play as a strong unit," she said. "We move the ball well and everyone on the pitch has the ability to make an impact."

Judging by their performances so far, there is no doubting captain Ri's assessment. Ri Un-Suk, who led the Korean U-20s to world glory last year in Russia, was named Player of the Match against Nigeria and Kim Kyong-Hwa, Kim Yong-Ae, Kil Son-Hui and goalkeeper Jon Myong Hui have looked as good as any of the much-lauded stars of USA, Germany and Brazil over the first two rounds of matches.

The improvement from the side that went out in the first round of USA 2003 - to the very same teams they have met in the group stage here in China - is nothing short of staggering. Although coach Kim may be expecting more from his charges in their upcoming game with struggling Sweden, their performances thus far have not gone unnoticed by others who appreciate good football.