At last year's AFC U-16 Championship, North Korea may not have been the most exciting team to watch on the football pitch. Neither were they the most free-scoring side. But they knew how to get the job done.
After all they made it to the U-17 World Cup at the back of just two wins in regular time at the U-16 Championship, where they were the defending champions. Placed in a relatively easy group with teams like Yemen, Thailand and Uzbekistan, the Korean outfit beat the first two teams to enter the knockout stages despite defeat to a motivated Uzbek side.
Playing against Oman in the quarter-finals, penalties sealed DPR Korea's entry into the U-17 World Cup after both teams were deadlocked at 1-1 at the end of regular time.
Their campaign may have ended in another penalty shootout, but as their coach Yun Jong-su pointed out during the tournament, the team was one "which constantly improved in the tournament".
Yun, of course, has had the experience of leading North Korean teams across age groups in big-ticket tournaments. Only a few years back, he was in charge of the North Korean men's national team as they chased qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. That bid may have been successful, but 'constantly improving' Yun's lads are now in the U-17 World Cup.
As the U-16 AFC Championship showed last year, North Korea, who thrive on retaining possession, like to start off in a classic 4-4-2 formation on paper, the team re-organise into a 4-5-1 while defending.
According to the AFC technical report for the U-16 Championships — co-authored by the AFC technical team comprising of Iran's Morteza Mohases, Jose Ariston Caslib of Philippines and AFC Technical Director, Andy Roxburgh — Yun lays "emphasis on rapidly retreating into a compact defensive block" when the opposition team attack.
Another key aspect of the team, according to the report, is putting "aggressive pressure" on any rival player with the ball who ventures into their half. The team liked to counter-attack with fast, direct running through the central area rather than the flanks, as was the case with most teams like India. The report also mentioned that the team lay an emphasis on tactical and positional discipline with players always ready to cover for each other.
The report picked out captain Kim Pom Hyok, a versatile player who is as adept going forward as defending, as one of the vital cogs in the machine that is North Korea.
Check out the full range of what Kim can do here:
Another key player for the team is midfielder Kye Tam, who featured in just one group stage match, but had a hat-trick to his name in the tournament played in Goa.
Here's why Kye has been hailed as one of the best players in the North Korean team by coach Yun Jong-su:
The North Korean team won't come into the U-17 FIFA World Cup with a lot of hype.
The Koreans will run into footballing royalty in the form of Spain and Brazil, who they were unlucky to draw in a loaded Group D. The last team in the group will be tournament debutants Niger. Just like hosts India, this edition of the U-17 World Cup will be Niger’s first ever FIFA finals appearance at any age group. However, teams would do well not to dismiss them. They underlined just how strong they are by dispatching five-time U-17 World Cup winners Nigeria in the second round qualifier. They went on to finish fourth in the 2017 CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations.
The real threat in the group, though, comes from Spain and Brazil, who won the UEFA U-17 Championship and the South American U-17 Championship respectively, arguably the toughest confederations. While Brazil have won the U-17 title thrice — 1997, 1999 and 2003 — Spain have curiously never won it. But given their pedigree, they would be a handful for any team.
North Korea will not be anyone's favourites to win the U-17 World Cup, come October. But that's exactly what they would want.
Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 16:33 PM