Kim Jong-Hun has whittled his group of players down to a final 23 to represent the
April boast 10 domestic titles, plus several appearances in the Asian version of the Champions League. The team was formed in 1949 in homage to the founding date of the People’s Army, and the militaristic ethos has been with the club ever since. The players pride themselves on a high-discipline and high-dedication attitude, and this will serve the national team well in a Group in which full focus and effort will be required if they wish to make an impact. Coach Jong-Hun, himself a former player with April 25, has included seven players from the Nampo’o outfit. The most notable of these must arguably be Mun In-Guk – a fan’s favourite who embodies every philosophy the club stands for. As the second-most capped player in the squad with 42 appearances, the midfielder is sure to be a key cog in the engine room at next month’s tournament. The lynchpin has formed a successful partnership with Pak Nam-Chol and Ji Yun-Nam at club level, and with both the latter also making the final squad the trio could well form the heartbeat of the North Korean starting XI in South Africa.
Korea DPR continued their World Cup preparation in fairly impressive form last Saturday, narrowly losing 1-0 to Paraguay in Nyong. Despite the South Americans being the better side, it was only a Roque Santa-Cruz penalty with four minutes remaining that separated the two sides, again proving that the Chomilla have what it takes to compete with regular World Cup frequenters. Results such as this will only add to the already evident air confidence that surrounds this crop of players, and the sense of anticipation was alluded to by midfielder Park Song-Chol: “I wasn’t even born when my country played in the 1966 World Cup and I am desperate to go to South Africa this time around. It is a chance of a lifetime.” However, such is the competitiveness among the squad; the talented playmaker was one of the fringe players who missed the last cut.
Another significant omission is that of FC Wil midfielder Kim Kuk-Jin. Along with talisman Hong Yong-Jo, Kim plays his club football in Europe, and was another player looking forward to the honour of representing his country at the finals in South Africa. Indeed, the midfielder earned his move to Europe on the back of impressive displays as a livewire youngster during the 2007 U-20 World Cup in Canada. However, purely plying his trade in Europe appears to have not been enough to convince his Coach to include the Swiss-based player in his final squad. This will be a blow to the pint-sized midfielder, who previously mused with passion that: “All Asian participants are desperate to showcase their progress in front of the world and only some solid achievement in the World Cup can show we are among Asian’s best.”
Even the Coaches of the biggest footballing nations have had to jettison many players considered as important, and North Korea are no different. Kim Jong-Hun has stuck to the personnel he knows best, and to those whom he knows will give the team the commitment required if the nation wants to emulate the success of the 1966 World Cup in England. The success of 1966 is considered as the pinnacle of North Korean football (sound familiar, Three Lions fans?) and is used as inspiration for the current squad, to the extent that their team bus for the finals is clad with the phrase: “1966 again! Victory for DPR of Korea!”
Having qualified largely due to a miserly defence, their resilience coupled with a willingness to take a bullet for their country should result in Korea DPR providing no easy game for any of their opponents. Kim’s statement that “we fear no one, regardless of our opponents” suggests that the Chomilla are ready to cause an upset in a group that is guaranteed to see at least one big nation fall at the first hurdle.