Saturday 22 October 2016, 08:49

Sin Jong-Bok: I was confident we'd win it

A team's first and fifth penalty kicks in a shoot-out are often decisive. As such, the pressure on the takers is enormous whatever the stage, let alone in a FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup final. Yet Korea DPR coach Sin Jong-Bok felt sure that Ri Hae-Yon and Kim Pom-Ui would convert their strikes and they repaid his faith. While the former fired in her side's opening penalty to set the tone for her team-mates, the latter coolly stroked home the last of them to seal her country's second title at this level after the one captured in 2008.

Sin outlined his unwavering belief in the duo to just a few minutes after lifting the trophy aloft: "I know exactly what those two are capable of. I've been coaching them for years and I knew that they'd score."

Ahead of the game, the Korea DPR coach had predicted that it would be a "very tough final for everyone involved" and highlighted that his side were "fully prepared, down to the smallest detail", suggesting that the contest would be decided by the narrowest of margins. This prediction proved spot on and his team's preparations ultimately paid off: "Japan's technical level is higher than ours, I admit that, and they missed some golden opportunities. But they have some weaknesses too and we were able to capitalise on those. Everything went according to plan and I think we deserved the victory today."

Although the Japanese ended the encounter with more possession (60 per cent), shots (24 to seven) and attempts on target (five compared to three), the North Koreans stood firm to cement their status as the Little Nadeshiko's bogey team as of late. "The two good results against them in the AFC Championship meant we were full of confidence going into this game. We did what we'd set out to. Granted, we didn't score, but neither did they."

The air was thick with anticipation and tension when the whistle was blown to signal the end of normal time. As it was, Korea DPR held their nerve in some style, dispatching all five of their spot-kicks in order to prevail. Sin shed light on this success: "Generally teams start practising penalties once they have qualified for the quarter-finals, but we began back at home, before we left for Jordan. Perhaps that made things easier for the players. Either way, they were up to the task and got the job done. Our team play and mental strength was what helped us win this tournament."

Goalkeeper Ok Kum-Ju may not have saved any penalties in the final, but she was nevertheless a key figure in her team's run to glory. In her coach's words: "I know her well. I'd followed her fortunes in the domestic championship and saw her as the ideal keeper for this competition. I tried to instil confidence in her when I talked to her before the shoot-out. She probably put the opposition off by diving the right way. She had a great tournament on the whole."

Having lost to France on penalties in Azerbaijan four years ago, the manner in which it was achieved will have made this victory all the sweeter for the North Koreans. For Sin specifically, meanwhile, it represents the ultimate vindication of his efforts following his appointment, which came with morale at a low ebb in the wake of Costa Rica 2014, where Korea DPR were knocked out in the group stage: "When I took the reins, I watched back the team's matches from the previous edition to avoid us making the same mistakes."

Yet the freshly crowned champions have no intention of resting on their laurels, as their coach underlined: "We mustn't stop here. On our return home, we won't be thinking about financial rewards but rather about carrying on working hard so as to maintain the same level."