Victory at the inaugural edition of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup has firmly established Korea DPR's status as superpowers of the women's game, a position exclusively held until now by the United States, Germany and to a lesser extent Brazil. Two years on from their triumph at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Russia, the Koreans have repeated the feat here at New Zealand 2008.
This double success underlines the tremendously gifted crop of players the country has produced in recent years, while two world title wins in what is undoubtedly a golden period in Korean women's football is sure to inspire future generations. Nor could the Asians' procession to the two coveted trophies be attributed in any way to good fortune. Choe Kwang Sok's Steel Rosebuds won all six of their matches at Russia 2006, conceding just once along the way. Meanwhile Ri Ui Ham's charges drew two of their six encounters here on Kiwi soil, both in the group stage, and won their other four on the way to a well-deserved world crown.
"Thanks to the results of our predecessors, since then we've had a reputation to live up to," said Korea DPR starlet Jon Myong Hwa in the wake of her side's semi-final win over England. "There's a great deal of expectation surrounding our side. I know we've got what it takes to meet those expectations because every minute we spend together on the pitch makes us grow as a team."
Three days later and the task was complete, a mission masterminded by Ri Ui Ham. "
We came here with just one objective: to win the title,
" said the Korean coach, the trophy in his arms. "That's what we trained for. We worked hard for a long time with that goal in mind and we arrived here in perfect condition. That work has paid off because we've improved with every game."
Quite so, as those who watched the North Koreans open their campaign with a discreet 1-1 draw against African hopefuls Ghana, a match they went very close to losing. Their next game was a solid 2-1 win over Costa Rica, before Jon Myong Hwa and Co rounded off the group stage with another 1-1 draw - fighting back to equalise after then tournament favourites Germany had grabbed their customary early goal. Buoyed by this performance the Asian champions put in a ruthless display in disposing of quarter-final opponents Denmark.
"They are very clinical. Every individual error you make against them leads to a goal," said Danish supremo Bent Eriksen, whose side were dismantled 4-0. "And they don't make any mistakes themselves. That being the case, it's difficult to even score against them, let alone beat them." Last-four opponents England did manage to find a way past Korea DPR keeper Hong Myong Hui, but the two first-half goals already conceded meant Rebecca Jane's 75th-minute strike was merely a late consolation.
The final obstacle in Korea DPR's path to the title was a physically powerful United States side, victors over the Germans in their semi-final. After conceding an unfortunate own goal by their usually reliable shotstopper within two minutes, the Korean girls showed their endless reserves of physical fitness and cool under pressure to turn the scoreline on its head and claim the first ever FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup title.
"It was a difficult game, as we'd expected," said victorious coach Ri after the final whistle. "But even though we went a goal down very early on, my players showed their strong character to come from behind and take the victory."
With the latest edition of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup set to begin in Chile in a matter of days, a second global title in just two years should provide a timely boost for holders Korea DPR. A strong showing is expected from the Steel Rosebuds on South American soil and, given the evidence of Russia 2006 and New Zealand 2008, another world youth success is a distinct possibility.