FIFA Ranking (Apr 10): 106
Previous Appearances: 1 (1966)
If you are only going to have one World Cup appearance under your belt then you could do a lot worse than North Korea’s 1966 adventure. The Chollima’s 1-0 victory over Italy in the final group game is one of the most famous shocks in the history of the World Cup, or any other tournament. The quarter-final against Portugal almost matched it. The East Asians raced into a 3-0 lead in Liverpool before the mighty Eusebio and fatigue intervened to give the Iberians a 5-3 win and a place in the last four. Now, after 44 years, they are back.
How They Qualified
It was a long journey from Pyongyang to South Africa. Joining in the second round of qualification with a two-leg thrashing of Mongolia, it was the third round of qualification where the real test began. North Korea went through those six matches against their southern neighbours, Jordan and Turkmenistan by scoring just four goals and conceding none. That defence was breached in the final round but wins at home to Saudi Arabia and a home and away double over UAE gave the team the platform to finish second behind South Korea. With draws at home to Iran and away in Riyadh on the final day of action, North Korea squeezed into the South African spots.
The statistics don’t lie. North Korea’s modern success stems from a solid backline. A five-man defence conceded just seven times in 16 qualifiers and it is a defence that isn’t afraid to stay behind the white line. The team counter-attacks at speed and is capable of catching out an opposition that strays too far forward.
A lack of firepower is perhaps something that was evident in qualification. Goals are hard to come by as is experience. North Korea has had little chance to play teams from outside Asia and has even declined to participate in the Asian Cup. Recent trips to France and planned sorties to Brazil and Africa should go some way to addressing that problem but the fact remains that most North Korean players are internationally inexperienced.
Kim Jong-hun is a brooding presence on the sidelines but don't let Kim's quiet demeanour fool you, the no-nonsense manager is capable of blowing his top and has received more international red cards than his players. Kim, a former international who took his team to the World Cup at his first attempt, is respected by the players though rumours abound in Pyongyang that his position isn't as secure as it should be.Star Men
Jong Tae Se (Kawasaki Frontale)
|'The People’s Rooney' as he has been labelled by the Seoul media prefers to compare himself to Didier Drogba. Fast, powerful and direct in the search for goals, Jong has had trouble finding the net for the national team of late but is in great form for Japanese title hopefuls Kawasaki Frontale.|
Hong Yong Jo (FC Rostov)
|If Jong is the battering ram of the north’s attacks, Hong is the brain and the one who makes things tick. Barely a counter-attack, fast or slow, doesn’t go through the Russian-based star. His set pieces aren’t bad either.|
An Yong Hak (Omiya Ardija)
|The holding midfielder goes about his job quietly in the middle of the park. An intelligent player, who rarely puts a foot or a pass wrong and makes those surrounding him look good. The kind of player that every team needs.|
Best Footballing Moment
Can only be that winner from Pak Do-Ik at Ayresome Park back in 1966. It was a goal that sent DPRK into the annals of World Cup history and the Italians back home to be greeted by a hail of tomatoes.
Off The Pitch
Famous for: Unique local brand of Stalinism called 'Juche'; being the only country to have a head of state who isn't alive any more (Kim Il-Sung, the Great Leader, is the Eternal President.)
Most likely to: Have more bodyguards and shady men in sunglasses per capita than any other team at the tournament.
World Cup Objective
Nobody north or south of the 38th Parallel will be expecting another appearance in the last eight. Getting out of the group stage will be a huge success.