South Korea may be, together with Japan, the first Asian country to host the World Cup, when their turn comes in 2002. But their neighbours to the North of the Korean peninsula have already entered World Cup history with a famous victory in 1966.
It was no doubt the most famous goal ever scored in the history of Asian football : the goal by which North Korea dumped Italy out of the 1966 World Cup.
The structure of the World Cup in 1966 was vastly different than it is today. It was, in fact, the first time that an Asian country had ever qualified to reach the 16-team finals. North Korea had their path to the finals in England made considerably easier by the mass withdrawal of all the other Asian teams, and also the Africans, in protest against the allocation of only one place between the two continents.
North Korea still had to play-off against Australia, but this presented no problem as they won both matches, 6-1 and 3-1, to qualify to go to England on what was for them at that time something of a venture into the unknown.
Their preparations for the big event were not particularly extensive, either, as they played only a couple of warm-up matches in eastern Europe on the way west, and they arrived in England as a completely unknown quantity. They were drawn to be based in Middlesbrough, in north-east England, a hot-bed of football enthusiasm, where they struck an exotic and somewhat bizarre figure in comparison with their more worldly group rivals from the USSR, Chile and, especially, Italy.
But the Teesside fans are known for their support for the underdog and the locals' hearts were won over in the first match as the Koreans resolutely resisted the Soviet might for 30 minutes before going down 0-3. Their growing popularity then had a tremendous boost as Pak Seung-Zin grabbed a last-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Chile.
But Italy were always expected to be a completely different proposition for the Koreans. The Italians, with star players such as Gianni Rivera, Gacinto Facchetti and Sandro Mazzola, were among the tournament favourites, and their perfected application of the catenaccio defensive tactics made them extremely difficult to penetrate. They were a little uncertain after having lost 0-1 to the USSR following their initial 2-0 defeat of Chile, but confidently anticipated to beat the Koreans to advance to the quarter-finals.
But the Azzurri were in for a shock and the local fans, who had adopted the Koreans almost unanimously, were to witness one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history.
From the start, the small, deft Koreans proved generally too quick and lively for the Italians and played like a team inspired. Moreover, Italy were down to ten men after only 34 minutes, Bulgarelli injuring himself in fouling Pak Seung-Zin. North Korea were on top, and Italy struggling.
Four minutes before half-time, Pak Seung-Zin beat Rivera to a high ball and headed back towards the Italian goal. The ball came to striker Pak Doo-Ik on the edge of the Italian penalty area, he moved forward and released a shot from 15 metres. Goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi was too slow to get down to it, and was beaten for the only goal of the match.
Italy sweated and heaved to get back into the game but could not break down the Korean resistance, as the Asians hung on resolutely to their lead. The final whistle came from French referee Pierre Schwinte and both sides could hardly believe what had happened - while the fans, delighted with their new favourites, celebrated a most improbable victory.
Italy returned home under cover of darkness but could not escape a furiously mocking press and a reception of rotten fruit and vegetables hurled at their players at Genoa airport, while North Korea went on to a quarter-final at Goodison Park, in Liverpool. There, 51,780 fans wondered if they were going to see another sensation as Pak Seung-Zin, Dong-Woon and Seung-Kook scored three Korean goals in the first 22 minutes, much to the delight of a few thousand fans from Middlesbrough who had come to cheer on their adopted heroes.
But as the Koreans, somewhat naively perhaps, continued to attack, Portugal's star striker Eusebio had his finest hour. The Black Panther from Mozambique struck four goals and created another to give Portugal an unforgettable 5-3 victory.
The Koreans took their defeat well, happy and amazed to have made it to the last eight, and aware that they had already achieved something special. They have never played in a World Cup finals since - but Pak Doo-Ik's goal ensured that the name North Korea will always have a unique meaning in World Cup history.