• Thomas Gerstner made history as Korea DPR’s first foreign coach
  • Led the reigning U-20 Women’s World Cup champions to France 2018
  • Gerstner says the team’s aim is to “retain global title”

For any coach, managing a world champion team would be a challenge. This is indeed the case for German Thomas Gerstner, whose side are none other than two-time and reigning FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup champions Korea DPR.

Somewhat surprisingly, the 51-year-old former Arminia Bielefeld boss was appointed head coach of Korea DPR U-20 side in May, making him the first foreign coach in the team’s prestigious history. Having spent the past six months with his new side, during which he took them through Asian qualifying to next year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in France, Gerstner took time out to talk with FIFA.com about his experiences at the helm.

"It is never an easy task to be the coach of the world's strongest team," said Gerstner, whose first test came in October's 2017 AFC U-19 Women's Championship, which also served as qualifying for France 2018.

"When we entered the Asian campaign in Nanjing [China], our goal was not only booking a place at the World Cup, but also winning the tournament. That is the Korea DPR team. They want nothing but to be champions."

Progress made on Asian scene
Gerstner's side had a smooth qualifying campaign at Nanjing 2017 when they booked passage to France, as well as in the tournament final, with four victories. All the more impressive was the manner in which Korea DPR cruised through.

They won the group with three emphatic wins, before a 5-0 rout of Australia sent them progressing to the world stage. However, a 1-0 loss to Japan in the final saw their ambitions of a second continental title evaporate.

Despite the defeat, Gerstner looked to the positive progress the team has made under his tenure. "When I took over the team, the players' physical conditions were not ideal," he said. "And in terms of tactics, they played too many high and long balls.

“But five months later, we earned a lot of praise through our performances in Nanjing. The players now play much faster and always go forward when possible."

For Gerstner, it is the team's displays rather than the result against Japan that give him confidence for the future. "Korea DPR also met Japan in last year's FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup final, which they won [on penalties]. But Japan were the better side and produced far more chances despite the loss.

“It proved a different story in Nanjing. Japan were the winners but my team had more shots. You could see how much the team has developed."

Talismanic Sung
Forming the experienced core of Gerstner's side are several players from Korea DPR's title-winning squad at last year's FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. Topping the list is Sung Hyang Sim, who bagged both the tournament top-scorer and Most Valuable Player awards in the Asian campaign.

"Hyang Sim is a very good player with excellent techniques," Gerstner said of the team's attacking star, who earned the Silver Ball award as Korea DPR’s U-17 side prevailed at Jordan 2016.

"She is very fast and has the instincts of a real predator. She knows how to put the ball in the net and never gives up. She could be among the candidates for the top goalscorer in the World Cup if she maintains her prolific form."

"Meanwhile, of course, the entire team did a brilliant job during qualifying. Each player contributed to the team's successful qualification. Next year the team's chief tasks are not winning individual awards but retaining the global title.”