April stars shine for Chollima
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Even in enigmatic Korea DPR, it is no secret that the April 25 Sports Group are heavy suppliers of talent to the national team. Boasting the country’s most prolific football academy, the local giants have proved to be a consistent provider for the Chollima, with seven of their number featuring in coach Kim Jong-Hun’s 23-man provisional squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.

Topping the list is the long-standing midfield lynchpin Mun In-Guk, who forms the creative partnership with Pak Nam-Chol and Ji Yun-Nam for both club and country. Experienced Nam Song-Chol and Ri Kwang-Chon have proved dependable at the back, while striker Choe Kum-Chol scored twice during their qualifying campaign. Young Kim Kum-Il may be less known among the chosen pack, but with dazzling skills and a good nose for goal the 21-year-old midfielder is more than capable of fulfilling the role of the team’s attacking weapon from the centre of the park.

Added to the list is talismanic captain Hong Yong-Jo who cut his teeth with April 25 before moving to Europe. Even coach Kim is an April 25 product, spending his lengthy playing and coaching career with the domestic powerhouse before assuming the national reins three years ago.

Self-discipline the key
Formed in 1949, the club was named April 25 to commemorate the founding day of the People's Army. They have since been dominant on the local scene, winning ten league titles while representing the country in Asian competitions on six occasions. The closest they have come to continental impact was in 1991, when a rampant April 25 stormed into the Asian Club Championship semi-finals only to bow out after losing to defending champions Chinese Liaoning FC.

Like another major player on the domestic scene, Sobaeksu, April 25 belongs to the People's Army and it comes as little surprise that discipline is a focus both on and off the pitch. The most notable example is Mun In-Guk, who has become the national team’s role model, renowned as their most self-disciplined player. Sustained hard work maintains the diminutive midfielders’ fitness and form at the age of 31 years old, which has seen him figure prominently throughout 14 qualifying matches including, scoring the only goal against Saudi Arabia.

Spearheaded by Mun and his April 25 team-mates, Korea DPR stunned opponents during the South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign maintaining a never-say-die spirit. Needless to say, the east Asians are expected to maintain this feature of their game when they cross swords with the likes of Brazil, Portugal and Côte d'Ivoire in world football's extravaganza next month.

For FC Rostov forward Hong Yong-Jo, the opening game against the world champions will set the tone for Korea DPR. “The first game is always important and any good performance and result against Brazil will largely boost our morale,” the 28-year-old former April 25 hotshot stated recently. “Should we produce a surprise against them we can head into the next games with confidence.”

Since their qualification last June, Korea DPR has lost little time in preparation with a series of overseas training camps and friendlies. Their recent preparatory matches include a goalless draw against the FIFA World Cup hosts South Africa in April and a solitary-goal loss to Paraguay in mid-May, with three more match-ups against Greece, Congo and Nigeria capping a significant build-up.

“The players have improved a lot in technical terms and prepared them well in fitness,” Kim concluded. “We fear no one and regardless of our opponents, we will focus on our matches and reaching the last 16.”