North Korea

Why has North Korea shined at women’s soccer?

So, get this: North Korea’s women’s soccer team is ranked in the top ten globally. Yes, they are ranked higher than major players such as Brazil and Australia. And, guess what? They’re preparing to solidify their position by facing Japan in a playoff for a spot at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

After a four-year hiatus due to the pandemic, North Korea, also known as the DPRK, is back in action. They have reclaimed their position as the ninth-best team in FIFA rankings and are demonstrating serious potential to dominate the region once more.

Believe it or not, this team has a long history. People often wonder how a closed-off country like North Korea can produce such a strong team. As it turns out, women’s soccer plays an important role in their society. Qualifying for the Olympics for the first time since 2012 would be a significant accomplishment for the entire country.

It all began in 1989, when Kim Jong-il, the future supreme leader, praised the women’s team, despite their defeat to China. He recognized their potential and decided to put resources into developing them. In North Korea, sporting success is inextricably linked to political goals. A winning team represents national strength, boosting morale and trust in the government.

And North Korea’s strategy paid off handsomely. They have won several Asian Cups, Asian Games, and East Asian Championships. Their triumph at the 2006 Under-20 Women’s World Cup was a crowning achievement. Furthermore, their dominance in regional competitions has kept them in FIFA’s top ranks, rising to fifth place in the mid-2000s. 

Physicality and technical control are essential to their style. The intense training they receive from a young age allows them to continue honing their skills and soccer knowledge. Interestingly, their play style reflects the militaristic ideals promoted by North Korean ideology. And it appears that Kim Jong-un is eager to continue this trend, especially given the current political and economic uncertainty.

Their latest performance speaks volumes. They’ve won ten of their 12 games since returning to action, drawn one, and only lost once, a 4-1 defeat to Japan in the 2023 Asian Games final.

They’ve recently won strongly, defeating South Korea 4-1, edging China 2-1, and scoring double digits in four games. It’s clear that they’re back on track and aiming high.

But they face a difficult challenge. Even with some key players injured, Japan still has a strong squad full of top-tier talent. While the majority of North Korean players compete domestically, many Japanese teams compete in elite leagues around the world.

Because of the current situation, North Korea’s home game must be played elsewhere, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has stepped in at the last minute to host it. Japan is also not immune; their players will have to travel long distances to attend the match. Plus, that 4-1 loss to Japan in the Asian Games. Japan scored three goals in just six minutes. Definitely something they’ll want to analyse and learn from.

Japan may be considered the favourite, but it is far from certain. The way things are going, North Korea’s team appears to be firing on all cylinders, driven by some lofty goals.

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