North Korea keeper wanted to be striker

SEOUL - Ri Myong-guk always wanted to be a striker for North Korea's football team but when his country decided he should be a goalkeeper instead, Ri did not hesitate to answer the call.

That is, at least, according to a rare in-depth profile of one of the country's top athletes by North Korean news website

Ri, it said, had joined the Pyongyang team with dreams of scoring goals but when coach Kim Myong-chol suggested he take on the less glamorous role of goalkeeper, Ri threw himself into the task.

"He decided the shortcut to raise the Republic's flag in the world's skies was to become a goalie rather than a striker," the site reported.

Ri worked hard to transform himself, jumping and rolling around on the field several hundred times a day to catch the ball.

"With that blood boiling effort, he grew up to be a proficient goalkeeper in a year and was picked to be the goalie for the national men's team," it added.

North Korea rarely divulges personal information about its athletes, and little is known about the players who have qualified for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

The report said Ri, the "Gatekeeper of the Iron Wall", was a shrewd player who made decisions quickly, adding that his father was also a goalkeeper while his mother played volleyball.

Ri also inspired his team mates when games became intense by singing the North's rousing national anthem, the report added.

North Korea joined neighbours South Korea along with Japan and Australia in qualifying directly from Asia for next year's World Cup finals.

The North's last appearance was at the 1966 tournament in England, where they shocked Italy 1-0 to reach the quarter-finals before losing 5-3 to Portugal.