What if the four national associations of United Kingdom had a united team for the FIFA World Cup™? Could English players, winners in 1966, have lifted the coveted Trophy more than once? What about the likes of George Best or Ryan Giggs, who never had a chance to shine in the world football's showpiece event? What impact would they have had on the FIFA World Cup or on a British team?
It might be meaningless to make such suppositions in the history of football. But this kind of thing really happened in the Far East just 16 years ago.
In a buildup to the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship , the Asian champions Korea Republic and runners-up Korea DPR agreed on building a unified team for the finals in Portugal. Nine players from each country trained together under the guidance of North Korean coach An Se-Uk, who was assisted by Nam Dae-Sik of South Korea.
Instead of the emblems of their respective associations, the 18 boys wore a symbol of peace on the chest: a blue image of the Korean peninsula printed on white background. Although the nations are called Joson (North Korea) and Hanguk (South Korea) domestically, political terms like Republic or Democratic People's Republic were omitted - hence the name of the team was just 'Korea'.
The Koreans were off to a flying start, beating the favourites Argentina 1-0 in Lisbon thanks to a 30-yard strike from Cho In-Chol in the 88th minute. Another North Korean was hero of the second match against Republic of Ireland. Trailing 1-0 by the 89th minute, Choi Chol drove in an unlikely equaliser to earn the Koreans a priceless point ahead of the last group game with hosts Portugal.
Despite losing to the eventual champions by a single goal, Korea managed to advance to the quarter-finals. Although their journey soon came to an end with a 5-1 defeat in the hands of Brazilians, the achievement is still remembered as a golden moment of the sporting relationship between two Koreas.
2007: an historic year
Sixteen years later, Korea DPR and Korea Republic are again on the world stage together , although they are participating as separate nations this time. Both the North and the South will visit Canada for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in June, and the South will welcome the North in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in August/September .
It will be the tenth time that Korea Republic (including Portugal 1991) take part in the U-20 competition, while this is the first time for their Northern neighbours . The figures look a little more even at U-17 level, however, as Korea 2007 will be the third and the second campaign for the South and the North respectively.
History shows that the best result since Korea Republic's sensational run to the semi-finals at Mexico 1983 was the unified team's quarter-final finish 16 years ago. Since then, the North and the South have met each other a few times at various levels, most recently a friendly at Seoul's FIFA World Cup Stadium in August 2005, which was played amidst a friendly atmosphere.
In an attempt to further the relations between the two countries, Korea Republic invited Korea DPR's U-17 team to Jeju. The North Koreans are planning to visit the southern island on 20 March and play a couple of friendlies against their hosts during their month-long training camp.
Of course, both sides could face each other in the competitions later this year - and it will be interesting to see whether the TaegukWarriors can tame the Chollimas (winged horses), or whether the Chollimas will simply be too quick for the Warriors to catch.