28 August 2012
Kim Un Hwa counts her blessings
Oh really? I'm not the first?" There was almost a hint of disappointment in Kim Un Hwa's voice when FIFA.com told her that, despite having just put on a phenomenal performance against Argentina, she must be content with sharing a page in the record books of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. The reaction of the rookie Korea DPR striker was understandable, given that she had just banged in five goals during her side's 9-0 demolition of the South American side.
Nevertheless, the Asian dangerwoman is in illustrious company. She shares the tournament record for the most goals scored in a single match with legendary Canadian striker Christine Sinclair, whose five strikes against England in 2002 are in addition to the 143 she has bagged at international level.
But while Kim Un Hwa must be delighted to be mentioned in the same sentence as one of the greats of the women's game, she is clearly not satisfied with sharing the spotlight and, since the start of Japan 2012, has set about making her own mark on the tournament. The North Korean stepped off the bench to open her account against Norway and has now justified a starting berth in the next game with a five-star performance against La Albiceleste. "I never imagined I could achieve something like that," she savours, with a smile as wide as the winning margin displayed on the scoreboard. "All I was thinking about was making the right choice whenever I had the ball at my feet."
The youngster has done well to find her feet so quickly after making her debut on the world stage. For unlike many of her team-mates who already have several international tournaments under their belts, Kim Un Hwa is a newcomer to the Chollima camp. "This is my first World Cup so at first I was a little worried," admits the Wolmido forward. "I wondered whether the top level was going to be too hard for me. But when I got on the pitch, I said to myself, 'It's not so difficult after all, I can do it'. I was no longer stressed at all."
This liberated feeling no doubt comes from rubbing shoulders with experienced team-mates such as Jon Myong Hwa, Yun Hyon Hi and Kim Un Hyang, who have already shone in previous FIFA U-17 and U-20 Women's World Cups, the Women's Olympic Football Tournament and even the FIFA Women's World Cup™. "What I've learned from them isn't really about technique, but rather about how to behave when testing yourself at the highest level," said the North Korean, who will celebrate her 20th birthday on 30 September. "The concentration before matches, the work rate during the match, and knowing how to stay focused and to ask questions of yourself after matches, even when you win. All of these lessons are very useful."
Eager to please
While Kim Un Hwa will undoubtedly take a lot away from the tournament in terms of experience and accolades, she is already giving plenty back too. By putting smiles on faces, for one thing. "Knowing that in some way I'm helping to bring happiness to people, it's a great reward," she says when asked to describe what it feels like to be a serial goal-getter. "Every time I scored, I thought about the people in our country who are watching the game on television and who must be proud of us. We could hear our fans singing and shouting throughout the game. We're happy to please them. There were only a few hundred of them in the stands, but they represent the millions of others who are rooting for us back home."
Provided Kim can stay on the goal trail, she is sure to continue making people happy. And what of her team-mates Kim Su Gyong and Yun Hyon Hi, who despite having found the net four and three times respectively, find themselves overshadowed by their compatriot in the scorers' standings? "There's no competition between us!" Kim interrupts, bursting into laughter. "I'm happy whenever I score, but if it's better to pass the ball when I'm in front of goal, then I won't hesitate for a second. My objective is victory, not goals." Even so, a few more strikes from Kim Un Hwa are sure to take her and the Chollima a long way.