North Korea: Back in the World Cup after 44 years

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) will look for a repeat of their only other World Cup appearance when they hit the pitch this summer in South Africa.

The squad known as the Chollima’s (a Korean Mythical Horse), nearly shocked the world when they made their debut at the tournament in 1966, in England.

They defeated the heavily favoured Italians, only to blow a 3-0 lead against Portugal in the quarter-finals.

Since then the reclusive communist nation has fallen off the map in terms of football, and has passed up multiple World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers, most recently throughout the 90’s.

The squad ranked 105th by FIFA heading into 2010, and will be hard pressed to crack the final eight this time around.

Especially since they are slotted into Group G, also known as “the group of death”, alongside powerhouses Brazil and Portugal, as well as the competitive Ivory Coast.

Much of the line-up for North Korea play in the country’s domestic league, and are unknowns outside of East Asia.

North Korea rarely plays friendlies, and most of the players are in their 20s with little international experience outside of qualifying matches. 

Yet despite this, there is a quiet confidence amongst the team.

The country’s leader Kim Jong-Il has instilled strong support amongst North Korean citizens.

Jong-Il has even credited himself with delivering tactics to the team during qualifiers, and coach Kim John-Hun has verified these statements publicly.  

No matter who’s teaching them their strategies, the Chollimas should be viewed as defensive specialist looking to wear down opponents and jump on their mistakes.

An oppressive nation has produced an oppressive backfield. In their final 14 games of qualifying, North Korea scored 11 times, but allowed only five goals.

They usually set up in a 5-3-2 formation, focusing on organized and disciplined teamwork.  On some occasions they will even employ an unorthodox 3-3-3-1 formation.

The key for the Chollimas will be to surprise teams with a quick counter-attack, and plenty of speed.

The team only has three international players, but two of them are very capable of putting the ball in the net:

Jong Tae Se (of the Kawasaki Frontale, in Japan), is known in Korea as “The People’s Rooney.”  He is fast, powerful striker, who drives the net with raw aggression.  He has scored 14 goals in 21 international appearances for his country.

Hong Yong Jo (of FC Rostov, in Russia) is the team captain.  He is more of a playmaker, and fills the role of set-up man.  Like Jong Tae Se he also possesses great speed but is more of a finesse player who leads the attack.

Other notables include another Japanese import An Young-Hak (of Omiya Ardija), a central defensive midfielder, and Choe Kum-Chol, described a young sparkplug, full of energy off the bench.

 The 23 year-old has six goals in just 18 appearances with the squad primarily as a substitute.

One thing is for certain, North Korea will need that kind of timely goal scoring as well as some luck to survive Group G and relive 1966.

Maybe then the nation can once again shock the world under positive circumstances.