The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea produced an excellent result as they continue to prepare for South Africa, drawing 2-2 with a Greece team sitting pretty at 12th in the current FIFA World Rankings. The hard-fought draw will instil further confidence in a team which, of all the lesser-ranked nations taking part in the
The result against Greece was particularly notable for the double scored by Kawasaki Frontale striker Jong Tae Se. The goals were also of a particularly high quality. The first consisted of a feigned shot which outfoxed a defender followed by a venomous dipping shot that flew in off the crossbar. The second ended in a fizzing finish from a tight angle after a surging run to the by-line. The 26-year-old ‘People’s Rooney’ has set himself the ambitious target of scoring in every game at the World Cup, and looks to be sharpening his shooting boots at the right time going into the tournament. The striker exemplified the bold spirit engulfing the Korea DPR camp with a firm statement of intent: “I know Brazil have an array of brawny defenders, but I want to penetrate them with the physical strength which I have built up in Japan as well as my crafty moves in front of goal.” After putting his money where his mouth is against Greece, there is every chance that despite being well into his mid-twenties, the Chomilla hot-shot could turn out to be one the finds of the tournament.
One issue of concern arising from the match against Greece was the seeming difficulty North Korea had in defending set-pieces. With set-plays being such a prominent tactic in European football, the Chomilla could run into difficulties when up against the Portuguese, and when trying to mark Didier Drogba as a particular example. However, Kim Jong-Hun’s troops showed that they have more than enough guile and finesse to cause teams trouble in an attacking sense.
It is not only Greece who now know of the dangers Korea DPR possess. Former England Head Coach Sven Goran-Eriksson, now with group rivals Ivory Coast, also warned of the perils of underestimating the enigmatic Asian nation: “Pay attention to North Korea,” said the Swedish Tactician. “Nobody speaks about North Korea but they play good football. Physically they are better than anyone because they have been in the training camp for six months.” Eriksson’s last point is of particular intrigue, and is a testament to how importantly North Korea is treating the World Cup this year. Since June last year, after a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia confirmed their place in the tournament, Kim Jong-Hun has watched his team play a total of 12 friendly matches, five of which have been against fellow qualifiers. The players are determined to emulate the success of 1966, and the fact that they have been fully preparing for six months prior to the tournament is further reason to think twice before dismissing the Chomilla as cannon-fodder, being the lowest-ranked entrants.
The excitement of World Cup qualification has had snowballing effects back in North Korea. The rise in popularity of football and the ensuing frenzy resulted in the formation of a new two-phase ‘Super League’ for both the men’s and women’s game. Indeed, the Korea DPR women’s team can provide huge inspiration to their male colleagues after marching to the semi-finals of the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. The success of the national squads will have brought huge pride to the dictator-led nation so far. The AFC Young Player of the Year 2007 award won by Kim Kum-Il (the first Korea DPR footballer to win a top individual gong) was the first sign in recent times that a ‘golden generation’ of North Korean players could be on the horizon, and the rate they are progressing in the lead up to South Africa suggests that the team is about to peak at the right time.