Korea DPR are holding on to their hope of surviving the AFC Asian Cup group stage, after salvaging a goalless draw with United Arab Emirates ahead of meeting with Iran and Iraq. After captain Hong Yong-Jo squandered an eighth-minute penalty, the UAE relentlessly attacked the disorganised East Asians, firing off 23 shots, including five on goal, against six for the North Koreans.
"After missing the penalty, the players could not score as they were psychologically very tense," said Chollima coach Jo Tong-Sop. "Because it was our first match, the players could not display all of their skills and abilities, but just about 80 per cent."
The AFC Asian Cup 1980 semi-finalists badly needed three points for their bid to reach the knockout stage in only their third appearance on the continent's big stage - and their first since 1992. In their next match on Saturday, Korea DPR face three-time winners Iran, who beat old foes Iraq 2-1 in their opening Group D match yesterday.
"I know Iran and Iraq are stronger than the UAE," said Jo, who took over the job from his former boss Kim Jong-Hun after Korea DPR bowed out of their first FIFA World Cup™ in 44 years last June without a point. "We have analysed the weaknesses of these two teams. We'll try to use that to win points in the remaining matches."
The 51-year-old admitted his side could not play in their collective style based on airtight defence, with Japan-born Bochum striker Jong Tae-Se and Hong spearheading their attack.
"In the second half, we tried not to concede a goal," he said. "We were focused on defending and tried to score on the counter-attack. But physically the players did not play well. We have experience from this game though, so we will do our best in the next two games."
Jong, who has scored eight Bundesliga goals for Bochum since moving there after South Africa 2010, did not have the opportunities as his side remained mostly on the defensive. Still, hampered by a nagging knee problem, the 26-year-old was withdrawn in the 83rd minute. "I substituted him not because of the injury but because he had spent a lot of energy," Jo explained.
Jong, known as the 'People's Wayne Rooney' for his combative style, similar to the England and Manchester United star, told reporters: "We had two chances but we missed them. But we tried hard and played a good game.
"My condition is not good at all. I need to improve it step by step, and I will do. I'm very happy to be here because some people told me before the Asian Cup that I could not take part in this tournament."