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North Korean women open against the United States in World Cup

North Korean women open against the United States in World Cup

North Korea may not allow its less-than-average national men's soccer team to participate in every international tournament, but the secretive Stalinist state has no such qualms about its high-performing women.
While the men are ranked No. 127 and didn't enter the recent Asian Cup, the women are No. 5 and have a chance of winning the fifth edition of the Women's World Cup, which opens on Sept. 10 in Shanghai.
North Korea has been crowned champions of Asia on two occasions, in 2001 and 2003, but has yet to make an impact in the biggest tournament. Appearances at the 1999 and 2003 World Cup both resulted in first-round exits.
North Korea won the Under-20 World Cup last year, thrashing continental archrivals China 5-0. A number of players from that triumph will be in action in the three-week World Cup.
Kim Kwang-min is the coach that has been charged with turning youth success into full-blown glory. But it will not be easy. The North Koreans have been drawn in Group B, which contains exactly the same four nations that it did in 2003 _ Sweden, Nigeria and the United States.
The toughest obstacle is presented by the United States, tournament favorites, two-time World Cup winners and FIFA's No. 1-ranked team. Sweden is No. 3 and was the beaten finalist four years ago. Nigeria completes the quartet. The top two teams will progress to the quarterfinals.
No strangers to controversy in the world of soccer and elsewhere, North Korea was at the center of a storm even before the draw was made. FIFA exempted the team from the draw and simply 'placed' it in Group B. This prompted accusations that it was done in an attempt to ensure that it couldn't face hosts China until the semifinals.
The controversy has only added to what was already certain to be a highly charged game in the western city of Chengdu when the two nations meet for their opening game on Sept. 11.
Not only are they political rivals, the pair also have history on the pitch. The United States has defeated North Korea in the last two World Cups with the scoreline 3-0 on both occasions, the only meetings between the two. The North Koreans are keen for revenge.
FIFA officials will be hoping the Asians behave with more decorum than they showed after the semifinal of the 2006 Women's Asian Cup.
The team was defeated 1-0 by China in the semifinal of the continental competition in July 2006. Denied a last-minute equalizer by the Italian referee, goalkeeper Hye Yong Han kicked the official and teammates Son Kyong Sun and Song Jung Sun proceeded to throw bottles at other officials as well as the Australian spectators.
Like their better known southern counterparts, North Korean players have seemingly inexhaustible reserves of energy, pressure their opponents all over the pitch and attack quickly and in numbers whenever possible.
Striker Ri Kum Suk was the star of the Asian competition and found the net five times in four games in Australia, performances which earned a nomination for the 2006 FIFA Women's Player of the Year. Now captain of the team, a repeat performance of Ri's 15 goals in the team's 2003 Asian Cup win will be welcome.
Great things are expected from Ho Sun Hui and Kim Kyong Hwa who have made the step up from the under-20 team. In midfield, much of the work is done by the dynamic Kim Yong Ae, a player with a healthy eye for goal.


Updated : 2021-07-29 13:27 GMT+08:00