Pyongyang: The race to claim a place amongst Asia’s elite appears to be well and truly heating up in Pyongyang as the AFC Women’s Asia Cup Jordan 2018 Group B qualifying campaign reaches its final stretch.
Following their failure to secure the all-important three points against rivals Korea Republic in Friday’s historic encounter, DPR Korea coach Kim Kwang-min has rallied his charges to refocus as they prepare for a top-of-the-table clash against an Uzbekistan side which has registered just one point less than the home side.
“It is important for us to get a good start. When you look at the last match, I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to set an example, to keep our focus, early on in the game. They (Uzbekistan) still have a chance to qualify so they will want to get the victory, but we need to rely on our abilities and more importantly, mentally, we need to remain focus to get the job done throughout the 90 minutes,” Kim said.
DPR Korea’s opponents on Sunday have been growing in confidence after registering two opening victories, their most recent of which – a 7-1 thumping of India – helped them cement second place in the group standings.
Undeterred by the prospect of facing the two best ranked teams – DPR Korea and Korea Republic – in his remaining two matches, Uzbekistan coach Babakulov Sherali acknowledges that his troops will need to deploy a different approach against the hosts.
“Yes, you will see a totally different football match against DPR Korea. Of course, we have our main goal and we need to reach this goal. We want to qualify for Jordan, so for us the two next matches will be crucial,” explained Sherali.
“DPR Korea play 4-4-2. They are very well organised and disciplined. But we have been studying them very closely. We have been watching videos of them, back home and from the matches here, so we are well prepared.”
When quizzed if his side will adopt a more defensive approach, the 33-year-old replied: “I want to emphasise that we play football, real football; we don’t believe in time-wasting or play-acting, we will play real football to show the DPR Korea team and their fans what Uzbekistan football is about.”
In the other Group B match, Korea Republic head coach Yoon Deok-yeo has called on his players to put their celebrations on hold, insisting that there is still plenty of work ahead as he looks to mastermind a dominant victory over Hong Kong to strengthen their chances of qualification.
“Hong Kong showed their ability against DPR Korea and Uzbekistan. It won’t be an easy game so we need to stick to our game plan. As I said before, every goal in this competition is important so we need to keep our focus to complete the task.
“Getting the goals is our main objective right now for the next two matches. We know the high stakes but we are confident of getting the job done.”
Despite her side now nnot being able to qualify, Hong Kong coach Chan Shuk Chi wants her side to relish the opportunity of playing world-class opponents.
“It won’t be an easy match. Korea Republic are a very organised team with many professionals, playing in either local or overseas leagues. As a unit, they are creative and aggressive and individually their players have excellent technique.
“I have seen an improvement in our players with each match, and I want to see us continue developing on Sunday. We can only improve if we play against the better teams and Korea Republic are one of the best teams in the world.”
Pyongyang: A capacity 42,500 fans filled the Kim Il Sung Stadium, in Pyongyang on Friday for the historic 1-1 draw between DPR Korea and Korea Republic in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup Jordan 2018 Group B qualifier.
While matches between the two neighbouring countries tend to generate world-wide interest, this was the first time in history the two women sides played in DPR Korea. Adding to the mix, the Group B tie was made even more significant with a coveted place among Asia’s elite in the Women’s Asian Cup Jordan 2018 on the line.
“There was no way I was going to miss this match. For us here in DPR Korea, this was one of the biggest matches in our history,” said 72-year-old, Kim-ho, a lifelong DPR Korea fan.
“I have three great memories of DPR Korea football. The first was the 1966 FIFA World Cup, the other was the 2010 FIFA World Cup when our men’s team qualified, and the last was when our women’s team beat Korea Republic in the East Asian Games in 2013. Tonight may not be a World Cup, it is just a qualifier for the Asian Cup, but I have another great memory right here in Pyongyang.”
The Local Organising Committee (LOC), formed largely by DPR Korea Football Association administrators, government officials, local specialists and volunteers, were pleased with the organisation of the high-profile match. Yu Yong-mok, Local General Coordinator for the Group B qualifiers attributed the LOC’s success to the close integration of efforts between the various standing committees, which include security, match operations and spectator management.
“We wanted to host the qualifiers for two reasons. Firstly, the people in our country love their football so these qualifiers give them an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of national team. Secondly, we want to continue to develop football in our country and the qualifiers help to strengthen our national team.
“Working together, I believe that we can be proud with how we have managed the qualifiers so far, but as in all things, I believe we will keep improving as the competition continues.”
With the just the solitary spot guaranteeing qualification, the media frenzy was also evident in the Korea Republic, with nearly a dozen media representatives flying across the border to report on the match.
“It has been 27 years since DPR Korea and Korea Republic last played here but back then it was more of friendly match between the men’s team. It is possible that this was the first international or official match between the two countries, said Jeon Hyeonjin, a reporter from Korea Republic news agency Munhwa Ilbo, who travelled to Pyongyang with a photographer.
“Back home in Korea Republic, there is also an ice-hockey women’s match taking place against DPR Korea so it is fitting that this match is taking place here.”
There is little doubt the rivalry between the two sides added to the sheer quality and intensity over the 90 minutes, but there was also an immense sense of respect shared between the two teams as they exchanged pleasantries and handshakes shortly after the final whistle.
Although the fixture ended in a stalemate, the historic encounter will forever be remembered as the night when the world was spellbound by the women’s game in Asia, made possible by the ever-improving platform the AFC’s competitions presents to prepare the continent’s best to grace the biggest stages.
Pyongyang: With a trophy cabinet few in the continent can match, Group B hosts DPR Korea enter their opening AFC Women’s Asian Cup Jordan 2018 qualifier against India on Monday as favourites, but head coach Kim Kwang-min has cautioned his charges to approach the South Asians with the same focus and discipline that has seen his side emerge as a dominant force on the world stage.
“It is very important for us to have a good start when we play India. We must admit that we have little information about them so it is crucial to prepare well and play at our best. We have set our sights on qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 in France and we need a good result against India to have the assurance that we can succeed in this qualifying campaign," said Kim.
Meanwhile, India’s head coach Sajid Yousuf Dar is conscientious of the threat posed by DPR Korea and is hoping his side’s team spirit will transform their stellar regional form into greater success on the continental stage in Pyongyang.
“It will be an uphill battle to face the hosts in the first match. They are one of the best teams in Asia and they are very good going forward and equally sound at the back," declared the former All India Football Federation (AIFF) youth coach, who guided India’s women’s side to gold at the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Women's Championship and the South Asian Games last year.
“It will be a challenge for our players, but we are working hard and improving on the technical aspects of our game to overcome the challenge. On video, DPR Korea have a solid defence and a fluent attack. We aim to strengthen our ability to play as a team and focus less on individual skill to give them a good fight,” added the 42-year-old Kashmiri native.
In the other Group B match, Hong Kong will take on Uzbekistan with both teams looking to make a strong start in a formidable group which also includes heavyweights Korea Republic. Neither side has appeared in the finals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup since the introduction of the qualifiers phase in 2006, but Hong Kong coach Chan Shuk Chi believes her side can gain an early advantage after carefully studying her opponents.
“Uzbekistan are physically a very strong side. They are especially aggressive in pressing when we have the ball so we will have to be compact with our approach, particularly in defence and look to break on the counter attack,” explained coach Chan who recalled vividly their previous encounter against Uzbekistan in the qualifiers for the 2014 Rio Olympics.
“They deploy a very direct style by playing long balls and we will try to close them down quickly to prevent any long passes behind our back line.”
Equally eager to establish a quick foothold in the group, Uzbekistan coach Babakulov Sherali is adamant his side is well positioned to collect all three points against his East Asians opponents. “Hong Kong are a team we know very well. We have played many times over the years from the age-group levels to the senior team. We have won almost all our previous encounters with them. Tomorrow’s match is no different, we are very confident we can do well against them,” said the 33-year-old.
Matchday One April 3, 2017, Monday
Group B DPR Korea v India Kick-off: 1500hrs Venue: Kim Il Sung Stadium, Pyongyang
Hong Kong v Uzbekistan Kick-off: 1800hrs Venue: Kim Il Sung Stadium, Pyongyang