It’s been 44 years since North Korea appeared in the World Cup and fans of the side will be hoping for a performance in South Africa akin to what the national team was able to do back in 1966. In that World Cup, the North Koreans shocked the world by defeating Italy 1-0 and advancing to the quarterfinals of the tournament. There the stage was set for another giantkilling as the team were 3-0 ahead of Portugal. However, the great Eusebio inspired a comeback that has gone down in the annals of World Cup history and North Korea were eventually beaten 5-3 in one of the tournament’s most memorable matches.
The odds are against such an inspiring performance this time around in a group that features three heavyweights in the form of Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast. Any result against these world football giants would be a shock that would surpass the team’s exploits in England ’66. The most likely scenario will see the team play spoiler by keeping down the opposition’s scoring due to a tight defense.
TALE OF THE TAPE
FIFA Ranking: 106
World Cup Appearances: 1 (1966)
World Cup Record (W-D-L): 1-1-2
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals, 1966
Road To South Africa: Qualified with a 2nd Place Finish in Asia’s Group 2
As mentioned before, this is a side that doesn’t leak many goals. In fact, their backline was breached only 7 times in 16 matches during qualifying. This is a side that also has a huge work rate and possesses some decent team speed as well. Though perhaps not as mysterious as everyone thinks as opposing teams must have picked up some DVD’s of their qualifiers or studied a recent friendly against Mexico, this is still a side that most of world football knows little about.
Though the defense is stingy, goals are hard to come by for this team and if you discount the 9 goals they scored against Mongolia in an early round play-off then their return is a modest 11 goals in 14 matches in the later rounds. There is no world-class talent in the team, and only a couple players ply their trade outside of North Korea.
Kim Jong-hun is considered a hero in the country after guiding his team to their second ever finals appearance. Tactically, the North Korean boss rarely strays away from a 5-3-2 formation and in such a difficult group in South Africa that probably won’t change. Whether Jong-hun will decide to vary up his tactics depending on how a match evolves remains to be seen.
The Key Men
Hong Yong-Jo is the team’s star player. The FC Rostov striker scored four times during the qualifiers for North Korea and if they are to get on the scoreboard in South Africa the 28-year-old will more than likely be involved. Another player to keep an eye on is Japanese-born Jong Tae-Se who plays for Kawasaki Frontale. Tae-Se is a powerful frontman who is highly-rated in Asian football.
While not as much of a mystery as their 1966 counterparts, the North Koreans are still for the most part an unknown quantity. Their best hopes for success will rely on this and the fact that they may well be overlooked in this group.
The Key Match
The opener against Brazil on the 15th of June should be an intriguing contest especially if the team are successful in keeping the score down. If so, then confidence could be gained for the remaining two matches.
Why You Should Watch Them
For starters you should watch them because their own citizens probably will only be treated to edited highlights in this secretive, police state if the rumors are true. Though they won’t offer up an aesthetically-pleasing brand of football, it will be a fascinating sight watching this side take on some of the world’s top national teams.
Guest Panelist: John Duerden, Journalist and Asian Football Expert
John tells One Game, One World:
“Obviously, the group is a very difficult one for North Korea. Nobody expects the team to do anything against Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast.
One Game, One World Final Say
In a group that may very well see second place decided by the slimmest of margins and perhaps ultimately on goal difference, the performances of North Korea may actually take center stage. Will they ship goals by the bucket load or will their defensive style frustrate the potent attacks of their far more illustrious opponents?
Finishing last in this group seems like a foregone conclusion, but do the team have the ability to emulate their compatriots who in 1966 shocked the world? The answer is probably no, however a stingy defense could mean that The Chollima end up playing a bigger role than initially thought in Group G.