The sheer magnitude and importance of the World
Despite New Zealand’s fairytale leveller, the achievement of Korea DPR against the greatest of all football leviathans, Brazil, arguably usurped that of Ricki Herbert’s men even though they were defeated by the five-time champions. The North Koreans’ organisation and discipline was mightily impressive, and the goal from Ji Yun-Nam in the closing stages was not only historic, it typified what the World Cup is about. It truly illuminated the fact the tournament is not just about the big nations showing off their superstars or the unbridled clamour to see the favourites play their brand of attractive football. It is about so much more than that, as the World Cup affords little-known players without the ludicrous riches of Europe’s pampered icons the opportunity to make a name for themselves, and to fulfill the dream of millions of schoolboys around the globe by playing football for their country at this hugest of events. And that is mind-blowingly special.
When FIFA decided to expand the tournament to 24 teams for the 1982 event, and then further to 32 teams in 1998, they are unlikely to have anticipated the true affect the expansions would have on the smaller nations. The decisions were more likely taken with the prospect of money-making at the forefront of the FIFA nabobs’ minds. Perhaps that suggestion is to do the authority a severe disservice, but the decisions have unarguably been beneficial to the romance of the competition and FIFA certainly recognise and revel in that now even if they did not when the first expansion was decided upon 28 years ago.
Yesterday’s most poignant moment that epitomised what playing for one’s country at the World Cup means to the minnows of world football, was during the national anthem of Korea DPR, when Jong Tae-Se was seen sobbing uncontrollably, bubbling with raw emotion as the realisation of what he had already achieved and what he was about to experience hit him like a high-speed train. It is equally poignant however, albeit in a completely different way, that the North Korean people back home were not able to share the moment and pride in their nation. Kim Jong-Il has apparently demanded that none of Korea DPR’s matches are to be shown live by state-run television in fear of humiliation, and highlights will only be broadcast if they win.
It is tragic that Mr Jong-Il does not have faith in his country’s footballers and pride in his own country. The team have in fact shown him up after their performance and result against Brazil, and his actions are completely in contrast to the spirit of the World Cup and what is being felt by South Africans for their side at the moment. Today sees the hosts take on Uruguay in Pretoria, and if they can emulate their performance in the opening game against Mexico , plus give a tad more, they will stand a good chance of clinching the victory that will send hundreds of thousands of people into chaotic delirium and transform more minnows’ dreams into wonderful reality.