A real handful against England in last Friday’s Group F opener in Medellin, Korea DPR striker Pak Song-Chol is a shy, retiring presence off the pitch.
There are some subjects that are guaranteed to get a reaction from the unassuming front man, as FIFA.com found out for itself when discussing the draw for what is regarded as one of the toughest sections at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011.
While most people pointed to the presence of England, Argentina and Mexico, Korea DPR were largely overlooked, an observation that drew an immediate response from the North Korean forward.
“I can understand why everyone focuses on these teams because they are three of the biggest names in world football,” he said before talking up his side’s chances. “I know, though, that we are good enough to take them on. We believe in ourselves, and every player has belief in everyone else. We’ve got talent too and don’t forget that we’re also the reigning Asian champions.”
With him as a spearhead and with able assistance provided by Jong Il-Gwan, who was voted player of the tournament at the 2010 AFC U-19 Asian Championship, the Young Chollimas have the cutting edge to back up Pak’s defiant words and make an impact on the global scene.
“We haven’t come here saying we just want to save face,” continued the Rimyongsu man. “We want to win our three games. People think we’re the weakest team in the group but we’ve come here to win or to qualify for the second round at least. We showed that in the second half against England, when we did all we could to win the game. We’ll be going into the Mexico game in the same frame of mind.”
Pak’s dribbling and speed caused the England defence no shortage of problems, though he will be disappointed not to have taken either of the two chances that came his way.
“I really wanted it,” he said of those missed opportunities. “If I’d managed to take just one of them, we’d be in a better position today. It’s infuriating and frustrating because when you don’t get many chances in a game, you absolutely have to take them.”
As frustrated as Pak was by his finishing, he was nevertheless pleased his side took a point from the English and kept a clean sheet in the process: “We managed to create some openings and that shows we’re well organised. And, above all, we were resolute at the back, which is our strong suit.”
Aside from his attacking duties, Pak is well aware of the defensive role he has to play in the team. “We defended well, which showed that not only are the players at the back doing their job, but the ones in midfield and up front are too. We all held out together, and that’s one of the hallmarks of our team: solidarity.
“It’s also important that we didn’t lose,” he continued. “It’s easier to make up for mistakes in attack than mistakes in defence. I’m disappointed about missing those chances but happy to have done my bit to prevent us from losing.”
Should they also avoid defeat against the Mexicans in their next game, the North Koreans will take another little step towards the next round, although the striker believes they can aspire to more: “Mexico play a short passing game, which is what we’re used to and I think we’ll be even more at ease against them than we were against England.”
Korea DPR will be the underdogs once more on Monday, but judging by Pak’s defiance on and off the pitch, the Mexicans will do well not to underestimate the threat they pose.