Champions DPR Korea, challengers Korea Republic ready for finale
Chonburi: Another AFC U-16 Women’s Championship final, another appearance for DPR Korea.
Since making their debut at the 2007 tournament in Malaysia, there has never been a final without them – a remarkable record made even more impressive by the fact they have reached an additional three finals at FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups, becoming champions twice.
This year’s tournament has extended the streak, with the two-time winners set to face neighbours Korea Republic in Saturday’s decider after they eliminated 2015 runners-up Japan on penalties in the semi-final.
According to head coach Song Sung-gwon* (picture above, right)*, the secret to DPR Korea’s unprecedented success lies in the way the players are developed.
DPR Korea have a proud record in the AFC U-16 Women's Championship.
“(Our success) is because of the football education system in our country,” he explained
“We have a very good football education system - one which I am very proud of.”
Following their 1-0 semi-final win over China PR, Song’s charges have already secured qualification for next year’s U-17 World Cup in Uruguay but, with Korea Republic waiting in the final, the boss insists only lifting the trophy will satisfy him.
“To tell you the truth, we came here to be champions. It’s very important to win this tournament, and I trust the players to do it,” he said.
DPR Korea celebrate after beating China PR in their AFC U-16 Women's Championship 2017 semi-final on Wednesday.
DPR Korea - who spent three months training together prior to the tournament – resoundingly beat Bangladesh and Australia in their opening matches before suffering a 2-1 loss to Japan.
Many – including Song – expected a re-match against Naoki Kusunose’s side in the final, but he believes Japan’s semi-final loss is DPR Korea’s gain.
“Actually, I expected that Japan would play in the final against us, so that we could get revenge for our earlier match, but unexpectedly (the opponents will be) Korea Republic,” he revealed.
“We were prepared to play Japan, but I think it will easier to play against (Korea Republic).”
Korea Republic will be playing in their first AFC U-16 Women's Championship final since 2009.
One man who may disagree is Korea Republic head coach Hur Jung-jae.
The cool-headed boss, though admittedly relieved to have already secured a place in Uruguay 2018, said his team are yet to fulfil their full potential.
“I don’t know how you will feel if I say this, but – honestly speaking – I’m still not totally satisfied with our performance,” he said.
“I’m happy for the results, and happy that we did not lose any games or concede any silly goals, but I’m not quite happy with our actual team performance.”
Hur also revealed that a pre-tournament prophecy had come to fruition, before acknowledging the strength of his final opponents.
“Before coming to Thailand we had a media day in Korea for this team, and I told the press that I’d like to meet DPR Korea in the final. It happened, and I’m happy about that,” he said.
“We have to admit that their physical ability and their philosophy is very good. One of the best in the world, and much better than us. If we try to play against them the same way, it’s going to be very difficult for us.
“We plan to play a bit more defensively and secure the game – especially in the beginning – and then we have to adjust to what the game shows us and make good decisions under the circumstances.”
Korea Republic’s appearance in the final is their first since 2009, when they caused one of the tournament’s great shocks, scoring an emphatic 4-0 victory over a highly-fancied DPR Korea side in Bangkok.
Now, having returned to the summit, Hur urged his players to give everything to the cause, and to leave nothing in the tank.
“In sport, the difference between becoming a champion and runners-up is huge in the end,” he said.
“Even though you’ve done so well in the competition, just losing in the final makes such a big difference to the reward and feeling you get after the game.
“If you get complacent you don’t develop. Once you’re satisfied and you’re not hungry, you’re not going to achieve more. This is the message that I’m giving my players.”
DPR Korea v Korea Republic: AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Head to Head
Road to the final: AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Thailand 2017
9-0 v Bangladesh
2-2 v China PR
7-0 v Australia
3-0 v Thailand
1-2 v Japan
7-0 v Laos
1-0 v China PR
1-1 v Japan (KOR won 4-2 on pens)
DPR Korea v Korea Republic
Third Place Play-off
China PR v Japan
(Matches at Chonburi Stadium)