TEAM NAME: April 25 Sports Club
HOME GROUND (AFC Cup): Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, Pyongyang [Capacity: 114,000]
COUNTRY: Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea)
LEAGUE: DPR KoreaLeague
Head Coach: Hwang Yong Song (DPR Korea)
Last season achievements: Champions of Hwaeppul Cup
Latest match result: Won; Erchim Klub 0-5 April 25 SC (17 May 2017, AFC Cup Group I)
Much is not known of the enigma that is the nation of North Korea. However, football is one aspect where the country throws its doors open to the world fraternity, in seemingly compact proportions.
April 25 Sports Club was formed in 1949, the name standing as a tribute to the North Korean national holiday of the same date which signifies the creation of the Korean People's Army, which incessantly means the club is owned and operated by the militia itself.
4.25, as it is abbreviated, is one of the most decorated clubs of the land. Having won fifteen DPR Korea Leagues and three Republican Championships, the Reds have been no strangers to Asian club competition from the late 80s.
When the DPR Korea national team made its first entry into the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa since 1966 England, the club had the most representatives in the final squad with seven members. Also, the only goalscorer for North Korea in that World Cup, Ji Yun Nam plied his trade at April 25.
This year, April 25 have been the team to watch out for in the eastern zone of the AFC Cup. Already shipping in 14 goals in four games, the team has emerged unscathed but only qualified for the inter-zonal semi-finals over city rivals Kigwancha SC.
Disciplined and hardworking, traits reflecting those of the club patrons, one can expect well-drilled performances from 4.25 SC with each player knowing and delivering the exact task assigned to them on the field.
Playing in the AFC Cup after 25 years, April 25 SC topped Group I. Twin high-scoring wins over Mongolia's Erchim FC (6-0 and 0-5) could not be validated enough when they came up against compatriots Kigwancha, drawing on both occasions (1-1 and 2-2). However, for an Indian club, 4.25 remains ever a mystery and a definite threat.
The very tryst with continental football for 4.25 SC came in the 1985 Asian Club Championship where they were eliminated in the first round, ending as runners up to Hong Kong's Seiko in East Asia Group 1. In 1986, they were knocked out by China's Liaoning FC in a two-legged knockout in the very same stage.
Returning to the group format in 1987, China's 1st August trumped the North Koreans to qualify from the first round, finishing second again. 1988 proved to be lucky as they topped their group but finished third in the semi-final league.
Missing from the 1989/90 season, they came in 1990/91 and how! Unbeaten in the qualifying stages at home, 4.25 SC flew down to Dhaka for the group stages and were only beaten by eventual winners Esteghlal of Iran on their way to the semi-finals.
However, it was old Chinese nemesis Liaoning FC again who sent them packing 3-0 in the semis, also losing the third-place play-off against Indonesia's Pelita Jaya on penalties. The fourth-place finish still remains their performance till date.
Another group stage exit in 1991/92 and thereafter 4.25 went into obscurity, only to emerge in the current year of the competition.
Hwang Yong Song preferred going in with a 4-4-2 on both occasions against Erchim but when it came to Kigwancha, he shifted to a three-in-the-back system. Even that could not yield a result but that is the formation that can be expected at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium from the North Korean side.
The departure of midfielder Sim Hyon Jin does leave a vacuum but Won Song and Son Phyong Il do appear as able replacements in the squad. The experienced partnership of Kim Yu Song and An Il Bom will prove to be a headache for Bengaluru defenders and Om Chol Song's ability to impact a game coming on from the bench could prove to be the Blues' undoing.
|Players To Watch Out For|
Kim Yu Song: All of 22, Kim is the focal point of the 4.25 SC attack already. The marksman leads the goalscoring charts in this years AFC Cup with 9 strikes to his name. This includes 5 goals in one game against Erchim at home and a hat-trick away at Mongolia. However, he has only one goal against Kigwancha in the two matches played. Popping up inside the box, Kim has scored a healthy chunk of his goals through headers.
An Il Bom: Captain courageous, An Il Bom's left foot is a marvel in North Korean football. Lethal on set-pieces, his free-kicks and corners have helped his team to convert from dead-ball situations more often than not. Not only this, he also has two goals in the competition, showcasing his varied skill sets.
GOALKEEPERS: 1. Ri Kang, 2. Jang Kum Nam, 23. An Tae Song, 36. Ha Jin Myong;
DEFENDERS: 3. Ri Hyong Mu, 5. Pak Jin Myong, 6. Kwon Chung Hyok, 12. Kim Chol Bom, 14. Son Phyong Il, 26. Pak Myong Song, 29. Pak Song Rok, 30. An Song Il, 31. Kim Kwang Jin, 32. An Song Il;
MIDFIELDERS: 7. O Hyok Chol, 8. Han Song Hyok, 9. Kim Jong Chol, 15. Won Song, 20. So Kyong Jin, 22. Ri Hyong Jin, 24. Choe Jong Hyok, 27. Myong Cha Hyon, 28. Kim Kuk Bom, 33. Jong Chung Son, 34. Choe Chol Su, 35. Pak Ching Nam;
FORWARDS: 10. An Il Bom, 11. Om Chol Song, 13. Rim Chol Min, 18. Kim Yu Song.
Follow Swapnaneel Parasar on Twitter - @Swapyo