Kim Jong-il: The Success Behind DPR Ladies Football?

The talent is there for all to see but the forces behind DPR Korea's success in women's football is hidden from view.

The phenomenon of DPR Korea's women footballers is a strange paradox. In dominating Asia and the world at various age groups, DPR Korea have paraded three generations of unconcealed talent.

Yet, they remain an enigma, very much like their "Great Leader" Kim Jong-il, to whom DPR Korean players and officials often attribute their success. How they have achieved their success is a mystery because few outsiders have had a chance to go into the insular Communist country to observe the grooming and training programmes of the DPR Korea Football Federation.

However, an aspect that not even the secretive DPR Koreans can hide is that the country has produced some of the most talented female players on earth, at all levels of development. The senior team started the trophy chase in June when they won the AFC Women's Asian Cup in Vietnam.

The country's success, however, was not restricted to Asia with the juniors winning the FIFA Under 17 Women's World Cup in New Zealand in November. Earlier this month, the DPR Korean under 20 women reached the final of the FIFA Under 20 Women's World Cup in Chile, narrowly failing to repeat their triumph of two years ago after losing 2-1 to the United States.

If you ask a DPR Korean the reasons for their success, almost always it is down to the inspired leadership of Kim Jong-il, who apparently keeps close tabs on the country's football teams. Jang Su-myong, who represented the DPR Korea Football Federation at November's AFC Women's Awards night, was flowing in his praise for the country's leader.

"We have to thank our Great Leader Kim Jong-il, who gave us on-the-spot guidance that helped us do well in tournaments this year," said the Federation treasurer after collecting the trophy for AFC Women's National Team of the Year. "Imagine a leader who takes the time to advise the football team. He shows he cares about us."

His compatriot Kim Kwang-min, who took the AFC Women's Coach of the Year Award after winning the Asian title in Vietnam, was equally fervent in his tribute to the reclusive leader. He said: "The reason we did well was the inspiration of our Great Leader Kim Jong-il. And there is a lot of expectation for us to do well so the players want to play their best and also inspire the next generation of players."

While the desire to please Kim clearly provides the motivation for DPR Koreans, their success on the field must primarily be credited to a detailed and systematic training programme. Though the programme itself remains hidden, the results have been on display for the entire world to see.