Wednesday 30 November 2016, 11:55

Penalty queen Jon’s nerves of steel

Taking a penalty is one of football’s most extreme situations, as it not only represents an excellent scoring opportunity but can also determine the outcome of the entire match. The fateful kick is taken just 12 yards from goal – close enough to give the penalty taker a distinct advantage over the opposing team’s goalkeeper.

"In Brazil we always say that penalties are so important that only the president should take them," A Seleção’s 1994 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Carlos Dunga once said. While Jon So Yon does not consider the situation to be quite that dramatic, she is nonetheless well aware of its significance. "There’s no doubt that if the ball goes in, it can decide the entire match,” she said, “but it’s always a big responsibility, as the entire team is counting on one player."

The defender knows exactly what she is talking about, having scored five times for Korea DPR in 11 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup encounters – each time from the spot. She first took on the role at Canada 2014, converting penalties against Nigeria, USA and Ghana. "Set pieces are my speciality, and if I can help the team that way then it gives me even greater satisfaction,” she explained. “Having said that, I don’t mind if I score myself or provide the assist. What matters most is that we succeed."

She has taken – and converted – two more penalties at this year’s tournament in Papua New Guinea: one in the group stage against Brazil and another in Korea DPR’s semi-final encounter with USA. As if that was not enough, Jon So Yon also steps up in almost every dead-ball situation, including corners and free kicks. "I think of my entire family when I take a penalty, as I’m shooting for them," the 20-year-old said. "My dad is a coach in North Korea’s top flight and watches all my games. He’s always giving me tips."

I think of my entire family when I take a penalty, as I’m shooting for them.

The Asian side’s next opponents are France, who have become something of a bogey team for the North Koreans after bringing two of their recent World Cup campaigns to an end. Jon was in the starting line-up both when her side lost 3-2 to Les Bleuettes in the match for third place two years ago and when the Europeans won 7-6 on penalties in the final of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2012. These results and the 1-1 group stage draw in Azerbaijan mean that Korea DPR have yet to beat France in a women’s youth tournament. "I remember that final particularly well,” Jon said. “I had already been substituted and could only watch everything unfold at the end, which made it even worse."

Jon and eight of her team-mates from that day – Kim Phyong Hwa, Ri Un Sim, Ri Hyang Sim, Ri Un Yong, Kim Un Hwa, Rim Yong Hwa, Ri Kyong Hyang and Kim So Hyang – are now determined to make amends for that dramatic defeat, while current France squad members Marion Romanelli, Onema Geyoro and Cindy Perrault were on the winning side that day. Jon remembers two more of the opposing team particularly well. "One of them played up front and is now captain, and the other played at right-back." The players in question are Delphine Cascarino, who has been among the biggest stars at this U-20 Women’s World Cup in Port Moresby, and Juliane Gathrat.

The North Koreans will seek revenge at the National Football Stadium on Saturday in their quest for a second World Cup crown after 2006. "We’ll give it our all in the final as it is a unique opportunity, but our journey isn’t over yet,” Jon said. “We know the French are very strong, but I’m sure we’ll be world champions in the end."

And what if Korea DPR are awarded a penalty? "Then I’ll step up and score – I’m certain of that."