“I knew I was going to score, and what a great feeling it was when I did!”
Ja Un-Yong was still on a high as she spoke to FIFA.com just a few minutes after notching a stoppage-time winner for Korea DPR against Ghana to book her team’s place in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
In a decidedly tense affair, the North Koreans appeared to be in control of the quarter-final showdown until their African opponents conjured up an equaliser with under ten minutes to play. But as the final seconds ticked by, and the spectre of a penalty shoot-out loomed, Ja Un-Yong pounced on a loose ball in the box. Her dramatic goal secured a memorable victory for the winners of the inaugural U-17 Women’s World Cup, whose last-four appearance is a major improvement on their performance at Costa Rica 2014, where they exited at the group stage.
“We’re here to lift the trophy,” was Ja's decisive verdict. “We performed really well and we deserved to win today. The result was up in the air until the last few seconds, but I knew we were capable of finding a goal before the final whistle went.”
The precocious forward has played a part in all four of Korea DPR’s matches, coming off the bench each time. Her coach, Sin Jong-Bok, regards her as an impact substitute, a role in which the 15-year-old has never disappointed her team-mates and coach.
“I’ve got used to coming on in the second half,” she said. “When I join my team-mates out on the pitch, I try my best to carry out the coach’s instructions, whether I’m attacking or defending. Today, that worked out for me, because I scored the winning goal. I feel like I’m dreaming, and I hope to continue dreaming until we lift the trophy. To achieve that goal, we have to first beat Venezuela in the semi-finals.”
A special celebration
Sitting beside her in the interview, Kim Pom-Ui, who had been listening intently to her compatriot, allowed herself a few seconds of thought before assessing her own role in Korea DPR's latest victory. “It was a hard-fought win, but the most important thing at the end of the day is that we got the result we needed," she said. "My task is to create opportunities and provide our attackers with good service, but if I get a chance to score, I don’t hesitate.”
The young midfielder has become known for her remarkable composure at crucial moments during this tournament; when she and her team-mates trailed to England during the group stage, for example, she calmly equalised with a well-struck free-kick. Against Ghana, that coolness was in evidence again as she slotted home a high-pressure penalty kick at a decisive moment.
The talented No9 was part of the North Korean squad that travelled to Costa Rica 2014, and although she remained on the bench throughout, it increased her experience and boosted her confidence. “I got a taste of the atmosphere,” she said. “I was young, but once I got back home, I kept working away at training to earn a spot in the team. And now we’re in the semi-finals.”
Kim Pom-Ui’s enhanced confidence saw her notch four goals at the 2015 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship, from which Korea DPR emerged victorious. “After that tournament, our goal was to reach the U-17 World Cup and go as far as possible. We’re not going to stop here; we want to go all the way.”
There are just two more hurdles for the North Korean playmaker and her team-mates to negotiate before that they can achieve that objective, at which time fans may get another look at the entertaining celebration that followed her goal on Thursday. “We’d already agreed to do it if I scored. I put away the penalty and then I stretched my arms out like a plane and ran, and the girls all copied me. I’m sure it looked great, and we hope to get the chance to repeat it in our upcoming matches."