Germany’s Gerstner one win away from glory with DPR Korea
Nanjing: DPR Korea’s women’s football has a proud history of success. Three-time Asian champions at senior level, and four-time world champions at either U-17 or U-20 level, they have consistently produced highly competitive teams at all levels.
Their squad at this year’s AFC U-19 Women’s Championship is no different, roaring to the final with four successive wins and zero goals conceded, but there is one feature of the class of 2017 that is different to those that have preceded them.
For the first time at the tournament, DPR Korea have a foreign coach, with Germany’s Thomas Gerstner at the helm.
The former Bundesliga defender, whose 15-year career included spells at VfL Wolfsburg and Arminia Bielefeld, relocated to Pyongyang in May to take charge of a team which featured several of the players who won the FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup in Jordan last year.
He revealed that it was his friendship with DPR Korea men’s national team coach Jorn Andersen, who spent the bulk of his playing career in Germany, which precipitated his move.
“It happened because my friend is the men’s coach in DPR Korea and we stayed in contact all the time,” he said.
“We did our Pro License in 2002 together and there we were best friends.
“I contacted him when he signed for DPR Korea and he told me he had heard they were looking for a coach for the women’s team.
“At first it was the women’s seniors, but then because they are not qualified for anything, they asked if it was possible to coach the U-19s because of the competition this year.”
Gerstner, who has experience as a head coach or assistant at six different professional clubs in Germany and Austria, had never taken charge of a women’s team before, but said he was well aware of the qualify of his new players before he took the job.
“I saw it before when I was in my home country, then when I arrived I requested all matches of U-17s and U-20s in the World Cups last year, and I looked at them and analysed them,” he said.
“I showed our team the (2016 U-17 Women’s World Cup) final and they were surprised because they have never seen their own match.
“They were surprised at how good Japan were in this match and I told them ‘we have five months’ time now to prepare to be as strong as Japan, or stronger’ and everything worked from there.”
DPR Korea’s AFC U-19 Women’s Championship campaign has gone from good to better. They began their tournament with a 9-0 thrashing of Thailand, before claiming successive wins against Uzbekistan, China and Australia.
Gerstner has maintained a positive outlook in Nanjing, and he has spoken a number of times throughout the tournament about the access he had to his players during their five-month preparation.
The team train up to six days a week while in camp, something he believes is a perfect working environment for a head coach.
“In another country I might not (coach a women’s national team), but there I will do this because we have the best possibilities,” he said.
“Every day we can train with this team and really, there’s no difference between women’s or men’s football. In other countries there is, but here, no difference.”
DPR Korea will claim the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship for second time if they beat Japan on Saturday, before traveling to France to defend their FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup crown in August next year.