Meeting Hong Kyung-suk is a pleasant experience. Whenever any information of her achievement is feed to her, she smiles with sheer surprise- “oh really? I do not know.” The smile and innocence gives the aura of a person who makes her surrounding happy and charming.

The Korean-born coach of Bhutan Woman Football team is doing exactly that and it is no less than a wonder. She has transformed the perennial losing side, which once even conceded 18 goals in a match and scored just three goals in last five SAAF tournaments, into a force to reckon with. The transformed Bhutan beat trounced Sri Lanka by 5-0 in the group stage and secured the semifinal berth. 

However, even that win cannot describe enough of this phenomenal transformation. The side which never won a single match before that are now one step ahead of playing the biggest match of South Asia. 

Bhutan's women football team in Hong Kyung-suk's class.

But the 37-year old Hong gave credit to her disciples. “All I know is these girls are working hard. They played according to my plan. You may say, this success is the result of that hard work,” said the only woman coach of the tournament.  

Hong answered the question with her not so fluent English with the help of an interpreter, the media manager of Bhutan Cheki Wangmo, at the Nepal Army Headquarters on Thursday during Bhutan's practice. 

Bhutan started their international journey back in 2010 with a 6-0 against hosts Bangladesh in Dhaka and Hong is their sixth coach. The former South Korean defender played 56 games for his country scoring four goals. She was part of the 2003 World Cup playing side, played four Asia Cups, three Asian Games and won bronze medal at Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010. 

Bangladesh women football team in their practice session in Kathmandu.
courtesy of BFF

“I won bronze in Guangzhou Asian Games. That is the biggest success in my career,” said the 37-year old Korean. “I played football for 13 years. Later I started coaching back in 2013. On that occasion we beat China by 2-0 at Guangzhou.”

However, the World Cup was a horrific experience for her. Korea lost 7-1 to Olympic winner Norway. Hong said, “We played World Cup for the first time then. I came as a substitute in the last match of the group stage. I want to forget the experiences of that match. We were literally thrashed on that day.”

Korea was eliminated before the Norway game. They had lost to France and Brazil in their previous games. When asked whether the World Cup experience is helping in her coaching career, she replied, “Even playing one match in World Cup is a huge experience.” 

Hong, the three-time winner of the best player award, has won the Korean League twice and thrice she was part of the runner-up team. She revealed the story of how she came to coaching of Bhutan.

“I coached a university team in Korea before arriving here. During that time I got interested in Bhutan. I got the opportunity to work with Bhutan in last June. 

Hong has changed Bhutan like a Midas touch. She also revealed the secret about it, “These girls are very keen to learn. They work really hard. That is why success is coming. But I had difficulties in the beginning because I started with football basic training with them.” 

Bhutan will meet Bangladesh in the semifinal at the Dasharath Stadium on Friday. Bangladesh is in great form winning all three matches. The women in red and green started with a 3-0 win against Maldives before trouncing Pakistan by 6-0. They beat India, the five-time champions, by 3-0 in their final group match to top the group. 

But Hong is challenging Bangladesh. “We know how Bangladesh have been playing in the tournament. We have seen all of their matches. Bangladesh is one of the most powerful sides in the tournament. But we are ready to fight against them.