The road to New Zealand
Having missed out on a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, Korea DPR entered the Asian qualifying tournament in October desperately seeking their return to the global showpiece in 2015. And they duly achieved that goal by reaching the final of the AFC U19 Championship, only to be edged out by Qatar by 1-0. The Young Chollima had to overcome a disappointing start of a 3-1 loss to the same team in the opener and a 1-1 draw against Oman, before scraping past Iraq by 2-1 to narrowly seal progression to the knockout stage. They saw off Japan on penalties in the quarter-final clash to claim one of Asia's four qualifying spots for next year’s tournament in New Zealand.
Strengths and style
On the surface, coach An Ye Gun's charges are a typical Korea DPR side, playing with trademark fighting spirit and soaking up pressure before hitting teams on the break. They employed a conservative game plan in the lead-up to the semi-finals, struggling to live up to their potential before sealing qualification with a penalty-shootout victory against Japan. But with the qualifying mission complete and with the players physically recovered from their travel fatigue, they emerged a different side against Uzbekistan, dominating the semi-final from start to finish as they ran out 5-0 winners.
Their most dangerous player is offensive midfielder Jo Kwang Myong, the tournament's joint top-scorer who netted five times including a hat-trick against Uzbekistan. Providing the ammunition is Ri Un Chol, while So Jong Hyok forms a formidable front-line with Kim Yu Song. The team may be lacking in international experience but the rivals will write them off at their own peril.
Not a familiar name even in Asia, coach Ye Gun cut an enigmatic figure at the AFC U-19 Championship. But he quickly proved that he is among the strongest youth coaches in Asia by taking his side through to the tournament final.
FIFA U-20 World Cup record
New Zealand 2015 will be Korea DPR's third FIFA U-20 World Cup campaign, having represented Asia at Canada 2007 and Colombia 2011. The Young Chollima failed to progress beyond the group phase in their previous two attempts.
What they said
“The most important thing I’ve learned from this tournament is that the players have to be physically prepared. If you are not in the right shape even if you are a good player, you will play bad. So we need to focus on more physical preparations and tactical trainings before the next tournament (FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015)."
Korea DPR head coach An Ye Gun