Battle of strikers as DPR Korea clash with Thailand (July 17 2006)

By Etsuko Miyazaki THE-AFC.COM

ADELAIDE: A battle of strikers awaits fans at the Hindmarsh Stadium tomorrow when two-time champions DPR Korea kick off their title defence against ASEAN opponents Thailand.

DPR Korea’s meteoric rise in Asian women’s football has been underpinned more or less by the awesome goalscoring abilities of one woman – Ri Kum Suk.

With a chart-topping tally of 15 goals in 2003, Ri first came to attention after finishing as the top-scorer in 2001 when DPR Korea shattered China’s invincibility in the semifinals enroute to a 2-0 win over Japan in the final.

Ri fired the first goal on that eventful day in Taipei to set in motion the events which would eventually see DPR Korea lay their hands on the coveted Asian women’s football title.

The win only served to whet the 27-year-old’s appetite and she was again the match-winner two years later in Bangkok with two well-taken goals, the second of which in extra-time helped edge China 2-1 in the keenly contested final.

Of the four goals pumped against Vietnam in the final of the Asian Games in Busan, Ri’s was the third, continuing what had by now become a habit with her but making her name a dreaded one among defenders around the world.

So it stands to reason that DPR Korea’s third consecutive tilt at glory in the AFC Asian Women’s Cup here will depend overwhelmingly on the lethal forays of Ri, who is also the captain.

Thailand seem to have found their answer to Ri in Pitsamai Sornsai. Though lacking the vast experience of her Korean counterpart, the 17-year-old has built up something of a reputation in the ASEAN region as an uninhibited and classy finisher.

Sornsai broke through to the senior team after a dazzling performance in the AFC U-17 Championship in which the side finished third after shocking Korea Republic 2-1.

The two teams will be renewing their rivalry after a long gap. They last clashed in this tournament in 1989 in Hong Kong and DPR Korea then had no problem in imposing their superiority with a 5-0 win.

The Thais are the youngest of the nine sides in the tournament and it remains to be seen what plans coach Suphon Yapaha’s has to breach a water-tight Korean defence marshalled by FIFA Women’s Player of the Year candidate Ho Sun Hui.

Thailand, who edged Myanmar 2-1 in the opening game on Sunday, will also have to think up of ways to blunt the scoring instincts of AFC U-19 Women’s Championship MVP Son Hui Kil and Om Jon Ran.

To his credit, the coach was under no illusions of what awaited his charges. “DPR Korea are a very strong team like Australia and Korea Republic,” said Yapaha. “It will be a tough game.”

“We will be playing for a win but I will be happy to settle for a point.”

The match kicks off at 12 noon local time.