Group G: North Korea
Recreating their own personal glory of 1966 looks to be mission impossible for North Korea. Or is it?
The team with a 100 per cent record of reaching the quarter-final stage at the World Cup are given little chance of collecting even a single point in South Africa.
A group with Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal was North KoreaÃ¢ÂÂs reward for slugging it out through three rounds of qualification over a period of almost two years. Progressing to the second round would be as big a shock as 1966 when, in their first and only appearance on the global stage to date, DPRK defeated Italy in Middlesbrough to book a quarter-final match with Portugal. Incredibly, the Chollima raced into a 3-0 lead at Goodison Park before succumbing to the magic of Eusebio and losing 5-3.Ã¢ÂÂ¨
After a dismal failure to qualify for the 1994 tournament, no attempts were even made in 1998 and 2002. The team returned in 2006 but were undone by bad luck and poor goalkeeping. The nucleus has stayed together, however, and one thing can be said about this North Korea team: it is as united a unit as they come.Ã¢ÂÂ¨
This was evident when surviving the Asian version of the Group of Death in the final round of qualification. Saudi Arabia, Iran, South Korea and UAE had 15 World Cup appearances between them but North Korea shocked the West Asian nations by finishing second. A goalless draw in Riyadh Ã¢ÂÂ a typically redoubtable defensive performance - on the final matchday was enough.
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Training time together is also ample. The majority of the team play in the league north of the 38th Parallel. Standards and attendances may be low but three overseas-based players add a little class and international experience.
Ã¢ÂÂ¨Striker Jong Tae-se grabs the headlines. Japan-born but educated in the North Korean system, the Kawasaki Frontale frontman is fast, fierce and powerful. He says he is not ready for his desired destination of the Premier League but Ã¢ÂÂThe PeopleÃ¢ÂÂs RooneyÃ¢ÂÂ could prove himself wrong this summer.
Russian-based Hong Yong-jo provides the guile behind the single striker and the set-piece threat while An Yong-hak is a terrier in the middle. Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨
Well-organised, hard-working and with teamwork to die for, the East Asians will be no easy beats in South Africa. The proverbial 110 per cent will be given for the full 90.
Expectations are low, as is pressure. The fact that the team is in such a tough group allows for their natural defensive game.Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨
Ã¢ÂÂ¨It is clear that the team has problems scoring goals Ã¢ÂÂ 11 were scored in 14 games in the second and third rounds of qualification.
The majority of the team has little international experience. A crash course against South American, African and European teams in the build-up to June may be too little too late.
Interesting fact #1
Six of North Korea's squad play for April 25, one of the most successful teams in the country and named after Military Foundation Day. The club belongs to the Korean People's Army.
Interesting fact #2
North Korea are the only nation in this year's World Cup finals not to feature in the top 100 of the official FIFA rankings.
The Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ã¢ÂÂ¨Coach: Kim Jong-hun
Kim did a sterling job during qualification and was mobbed by his players as the final whistle sounded in Riyadh. Links with the likes of Guus Hiddink and Sven-Goran Eriksson have weakened his position but he is feisty, as he demonstrated in Seoul last April. Kim walked out of the press conference after blasting the referee and accusing South Korea of giving his star players food poisoning.
Key Player: Jong Tae-se
The 24 year-old wants a goal a game in South Africa and no defender will relish playing against the whirlwind of a striker.
Probable Team (Ã¢ÂÂ¨5-3-2):Ã¢ÂÂ¨ Ã¢ÂÂ¨Ri Myong-guk;Ã¢ÂÂ¨ Ji Yun-nam, Ri Jun-ilÃ¢ÂÂ¨, Ri Kwang-chon, Pak Chol-jinÃ¢ÂÂ¨, Cha Jong-hyok; Kim Yong-jun,Ã¢ÂÂ¨ An Yong-hak, Mun In-guk; Hong Yong-joÃ¢ÂÂ¨, Jong Tae-se
Brazil, June 15, 7.30pm, Johannesburg
Portugal, June 21, 12.30pm, Cape Town
Ivory Coast, June 25, 3pm, Nelspruit
Qualified 2nd in AFC Group 2
United Arab Emirates (A) 2-1
Korea Republic (H) 1-1
Iran (A) 1-2
Saudi Arabia (H) 1-0
United Arab Emirates (H) 2-0
Korea Republic (A) 0-1
Iran (H) 0-0
Saudi Arabia (A) 0-0
World Cup record