Mysterious and unorthodox, Hwang Yongbong is a tactical genius who seems to always have an ace or two up his sleeve.
Indeed, whenever the need has arisen during the Fifa Under-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016, the North Korea strategist has pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
A prime case in point, out of the many examples available, came during the group stage, when Nicollete Ageva scored the hosts’ first and only goal of the competition to leave North Korea trailing after a quarter of an hour.
Five minutes later, Hwang made a double substitution.
Ri Un-Yong was one of the players introduced, and before half-time, she had bagged a brace, putting her side on course for an eventual 7-1 rout.
“I make no distinction between my starting 11 and my bench.,” Hwang said. “Whenever I make such switches, it’s always to try to help the team.”
On top of his versatility, another feather in his cap is the mental strength he has instilled in his charges.
Shrugging off the aforementioned early setback, his team positively smothered Papua New Guinea, harrying them, spraying the ball about and linking up with aplomb en route to running out emphatic winners with 70 per cent possession.
Four days later, however, that figure was reduced to 46 per cent against Spain in the quarter-finals.
On that occasion, the Koreans played a patient waiting game, capitalising on Spain’s mistakes to seize the upper hand.
Although the plucky Spaniards fought back bravely to extend the tie to extra time, Hwang’s game plan paid off again when Kim Phyong-Hwa pounced on a poor clearance from a corner and curled home from outside the box.
The cornerstone of the coach’s approach could not be simpler: it is all about teamwork.
Each and every one of his players has been performing her role to perfection, whether as a starter or as a substitute, and they have all been chipping in both in terms of defensive duties and in front of goal.
The right flank is the focal point of most of his team’s attacking moves.
Their calm and collected style means that they rarely sweep forward on the break: on the contrary, after gaining possession, they slowly but surely probe to find openings.
They have done so with supreme success: tellingly, North Korea racked up more forays into the opposition box in the quarterfinals than any other country.
Once we factor in their energetic pressing, their compact unit and the number of players they get around the ball when they are under threat in and around their own box, it is clear that Hwang has plenty of grounds for optimism ahead of today’s semi-finals, when his well-oiled machine will take on USA for a place in the decider.
The following statistics shed some light on Korea DPR’s prolific exploits in their run to the last four.
- 63 per cent – The percentage of Korea DPR’s shots that have hit the target, putting them top of the tournament charts in that respect. Second on the list, but significantly adrift, are Japan with 42 per cent, while upcoming opponents USA have found the mark with just 32 per cent of their attempts.
- 9 – The number of Korean players to have got on the scoresheet in PNG. Their leading scorer is Kim So-Hyang with four goals.
- 7 – The number of times Hwang’s on-song side have notched from set-pieces, either directly or indirectly. Penetrating passes in behind defenders have been their next-most lethal weapon, leading to six of their goals. – Fifa.com