From the inaugural FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2003 onwards, Germany and USA have shared the majority of global crowns – five in total – between them, and for that reason are always highly fancied to lift the trophy. The only time that this monopoly was broken was in 2006, when impressive debutants Korea DPR emerged victorious in Russia.
Since that triumph, the Asians have been an ever-present at the prestigious tournament, falling to the eventual champions on each occasion: in the final versus USA in 2008, and in the quarter-finals in both 2010 and 2012, against Germany and USA respectively.
“We know that those two teams are favourites again,” midfielder Choe Yun-Gyong told FIFA.com. “It actually doesn’t bother us to fly under the radar at the tournament. But we’re also aiming to become world champions, even if we’re not viewed as favourites.”
The North Koreans do appear to have the personnel required to lay a claim to the U-20 throne. Indeed, with two wins from their Group A fixtures against Finland and Ghana, they currently find themselves two and three points better off than the Germans (4) and the Americans (3).
One of their key assets is Ri Un-Sim, a prolific goalscorer who won the adidas Golden Shoe at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 and who is keen to repeat the feat at U-20 level.
“It’s a great memory – I’m really proud of winning that award,” she told FIFA.com in the aftermath of a match in which she bagged her first two goals of Canada 2014 against Ghana.
“You get a taste for it, and I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure I finish top scorer yet again. But if I had the choice, I’d easily swap the goals for a winners’ medal,” she added.
Taking into account her own display and the all-round team performance versus the Africans, it is certainly not unthinkable that Korea DPR might attain both objectives.
During their opening match with Finland, Ri was involved in the build-up to her team’s two goals, but was unable to find the target herself before being substituted.
It was Kim So-Hyang and Choe Yun-Gyong who therefore took charge of delivering the all-important goals, the pick of which was the latter’s spectacular long-range effort which flew past Vera Varis into the Finnish net.
"It’s something that I work on quite regularly, and I’ve got one of the most powerful shots in the team,” explained the confident teenager, who came close to scoring in similar fashion from even further out against the Ghanaians.
“In those moments, you don’t have too much time to think about it, but you know that you’ve made your family and your country proud.”
Fans back home were again given something to shout about during the second group encounter, when Ri Un Sim buried a brace of headers and directed a third against the crossbar, before Jon So-Yon’s late penalty made it 3-0.
Korea DPR coach Hwang Yong-Bong has made it clear that Ri is a crucial cog in the AFC representatives' starting XI. “It’s important to have someone in the side who’s capable of changing the game at any moment. She’s our first-choice forward, and she’s living up to our expectations, as she did at U-17 level,” he said.
“She’s learning as each match goes by. She can still develop further, and that’s hopeful for her and our future,” he continued.
As far as the immediate future is concerned, Hwang’s charges now face host nation Canada in Montreal with a place in the quarter-finals at stake. Should they negotiate that hurdle successfully, they will again lock horns with some familiar foes, namely Germany or USA.