Korea DPR coach Kim Jong-Hun praised his players after they overcame the searing conditions of Riyadh to earn the goalless draw against Saudi Arabia that booked their place in the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the first time since 1966.
The North Koreans needed only a point at the King Fahd International Stadium to secure second place in Group B and an automatic spot in South Africa next year. The Saudis dominated possession in temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius at kick-off but could find no way past the resolute Korea DPR defence and goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk who kept a clean sheet for the fourth time in five games.
Kim Yong-Jun Kim was sent off in the closing stages of the game but coach Kim made no excuses for his side's defensive display after the final whistle. "We focused on the defending as we had come under a lot of pressure from the Saudis and I think our preparation for the game was one factor that earned the victory tonight," said the North Korean boss.
"We monitored the Saudi team from the beginning of our campaign and I noticed that they have a problem in finding good strikers. We battled to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals and I would like to thank my players for the great performance that they showed during the whole match," added Kim. "It was so hot in Saudi Arabia and as you know the journey from Korea was long but our belief in the ability of the players snatched the ticket to South Africa."
While the North Koreans can start making their FIFA World Cup plans, Saudi Arabia have to prepare for a play-off against Bahrain in September as they look to keep alive their hopes of a fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup appearance. The winner of that match-up will face Oceania champions New Zealand for a spot at next year's finals.
"I admit that we did not do well during the game, the performance that my players showed was not expected indeed," said coach Jose Peseiro, whose team edged out Iran for third place in the group. It was a game against a strong team who just came here to bag one point, and they did. I think it is a historical moment for the Koreans.
"I believe we have another chance to reach South Africa and we will do our best to achieve this goal. I am not Saudi, but I feel how sad the Saudi fans are. I am sure we will qualify. Our next target is Bahrain and we have enough time to prepare for this game."