Though North Korea started their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-16 qualifying campaign by routing Cambodia 7-0, they are unhappy with their display and have vowed to dish out the fireworks when they face Singapore tonight at Jalan Besar.
“Our performance can be improved from our last match. We have to be more disciplined and mentally stronger in our next match,” the North Korean team spokesman said yesterday.
Their assessment does not bode well for the Republic’s U-15 side, still reeling from a 5-0 hammering by Thailand in their opening Group H game on Wednesday.
As Singapore U-15 coach V. Selvaraj said, the thrashing has left his players feeling “a little down”.
But it will be a daunting task against the North Koreans. Their line-up feature 15 players from a 21-strong squad who finished second in the AFC U-14 tournament last year, losing 3-0 to Iraq. The current team were selected two months ago and this tournament is their first overseas competition.
In their trouncing of Cambodia, they proved that they have a solid defence and are physically fit and aggressive. They are led by midfielder Kung Jin Song, who scored a hat-trick against Cambodia.
Yet, the North Korean spokesman continued to insist that the squad sent to Singapore are not their best side.
He said: “There are many other players (back in North Korea) who are better than them.
“These 21 players are not the best in their age group. The only thing is that this head coach thinks that this team of players are the best. That is the head coach’s individual opinion and he is the key person.”
Selvaraj is well aware of his opponents’ strengths, saying: “They are aggressive, they do a lot of link-up play, they can shoot, they are fast, and their players are taller. North Korea will give us less time and space with the ball.”
Against Thailand, the Singaporean youngsters were outclassed tactically and physically.
But Selvaraj is rallying his young charges so that they do not fear the North Koreans.
He said: “We should have the courage to attack and quickly go forward.
“Most importantly, when we have the ball, we should not give it away easily.
“I’ve told the boys that this is a good opportunity. It’s not often that a Singapore team get to play against the best team in Asia.”
North Korea are favourites to top Group H. Only the winners of each of the 11 qualifying groups are guaranteed a spot in the finals in India next September.
This article was first published on September 4, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.