PRETORIA - Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his North Korean team mates as the national anthem echoed around Ellis Park, proud striker Jong Tae-se let the tears flow as it dawned on him his World Cup dreams had come true.
Making their first appearance at the World Cup finals since a fairytale run to the quarter-finals in 1966, North Korea were beaten 2-1 by Brazil on Tuesday but emerged with great credit after holding the five-times world champions goalless in the first half.
Jong, whom Asian media have dubbed the 'People's Wayne Rooney', had a tough game against Brazil's world-class defenders but said he had the time of his life.
"When the national anthem played as we lined up with Brazil, I felt like the scene was as if pictures from two different events had been copied and pasted together," Jong said in an interview conducted by a cameraman travelling with the team for an educational documentary programme.
"That moment was that surreal to me, as if I were dreaming. But it was a real situation, and I was overcome with tears of joy."
Jong barely got a sniff of goal during the game but his clever header sent Ji Yun-nam barrelling into the box and the impish midfielder scored a stunning consolation goal.
"I was really happy during the 90 minutes looking at Lucio and Maicon, the world-leading players who dominated the Champions League, running beside me," Jong recalled.
"So I wished the game would continue forever though we were being defeated."
Jong, who was born in Japan but is staunchly proud of his North Korean heritage, has been the friendly face of the team in South Africa, addressing the media in English and answering questions in a variety of languages after the Brazil game.
While the North Koerans are bottom of Group G after their opening defeat, Jong said they would go into the remaining games against Portugal and Ivory Coast with absolutely no fear.
"I think we were lucky to face Brazil in the first round because, since we've already experienced the world's top level football, we can now go out on to the field without any fear no matter how strong the opponents are," he added.
"My personal goal during this World Cup was to score a goal. I hope I can score that one during next match which we must win to advance to the final stages."
North Korea face Portugal in Cape Town on Monday, a rematch of their 1966 classic in which the Asian side led 3-0 after 24 minutes before being beaten 5-3.comments