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DPRK - First Asia, next the world
( 2003-09-17 21:45) (fifaworldcup.com)

Despite Democratic People¡¯s Republic of Korea¡¯s dominance of the AFC Women¡¯s Championship since 2001, the Asian side remain virtual unknowns outside their region. But with another impressive victory over China in this summer¡¯s continental tournament, nobody is taking them lightly.

10 JIN Pyol Hui
Birth Date:
19 August 1980
Height: 163 (cm)  
Weight: 61 (kg)
Position: FW
Club: Wolmido (PRK)
Int'l Goals: 30
Int'l Caps: 75
7 RI Kum Suk
Birth Date:
16 August 1978
Height: 170 (cm)   Weight: 63 (kg)
Position: FW
Current Club: Sobaeksu (PRK)
Int'l Goals: 40
Int'l Caps: 65
In their only previous appearance in the FIFA Women¡¯s World Cup at USA 1999, a young North Korean side raised a few eyebrows in their opening match by defeating a solid Denmark outfit 3-1. However, consecutive defeats to hosts USA (0-3) and Nigeria (1-2) consigned them to an early exit.

The rest of the world has seen little of them since.

Head coach Ri Song Gun recently surprised the global football community by boldly declaring, "We are determined to win the World Cup in 2003."

While most may view Ri's optimism with a sceptical eye, those that have come to grips with her team recently will tell you that North Korea could very well turn out to be the surprise package at this year¡¯s finals.

Even in Asia, North Korea are a little-known team. Aside from the Asian Games held once every four years and the AFC Women¡¯s Championship every other year, North Korea have appeared in very few matches. But, despite their shy reputation, they have popped up to beat China in both 2001 and 2003 AFC Women¡¯s Championships as well as the 2002 Asian Games.

Women¡¯s football in Asia was largely dominated by Chinese Taipei, China and Japan up until 1993, when North Korea first upset the apple cart by reaching the final of the AFC Women¡¯s Championship. China proved too strong in the final, but that run nonetheless marked the beginning of a steady ascendancy in Asian women¡¯s football.

The next time DPR Korea threatened China¡¯s hegemony was at the 1997 AFC Women¡¯s Championship in Guangdong, China. Their dynamic, determined playing style had taken shape by now, and their quick penetrative counterattacks were the revelation of the tournament. They swept aside all before them, until Liu Ailing scored two brilliant goals in the final, and China ran out 3-0 victors.

At the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, they posed even more of a challenge and China were grateful to Fan Yunjie for a brilliant winning header in extra time.

The breakthrough against their northern neighbours came at the 2001 AFC Women¡¯s Championship in Chinese Taipei, in a 3-1 semi-final victory. That win brought to an end China¡¯s seven consecutive triumphs at the tournament, and it allowed the Koreans to lift the trophy, after defeating Japan in the final.

DPR Korea like to sit back and hit teams on the break. Their lightning fast counters usually end up with the ball at the feet of either Jin Pyol Hui or Ri Kum-suk. They are a menace for any defence and wrought havoc in the 2003 AFC Women¡¯s Championship. Ri Kum-suk tallied a remarkable 15 times, including a brace in the victory over China that handed them another trophy.

The sudden rise of DPR Korea has been aided by their national women¡¯s football league. According to head coach Ri Song Gun, the country currently has a 12-team domestic championship, and the national team can be quickly assembled whenever needed.

Successive wins against one of the world¡¯s top teams have given the Koreans a huge confidence boost ahead of this autumn¡¯s footballing extravaganza. Ri Song Gun asserts, ¡°Our goal is to win the World Cup. We look forward to showing the world the quality of North Korean women¡¯s football.
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