For the first time since their ground-breaking participation in the 1966 FIFA World Cup England™, Korea DPR made a trip to the Old Continent, taking part in a training camp in France. During their ten-day visit to Loire, the North Koreans competed in a couple of friendly games against Ligue 2 outfit Nantes and the national team of Congo.
Between matches, the North Korean delegation took time out to watch 'The Game of Their Lives,' a British documentary film about Korea DPR's sensational march into the quarter-finals at England 1966. Coach Kim Jong-Hun was only ten years old when the Chollima shook the world by defeating Italy 1-0 to reach the last eight, where the North Koreans failed to defend a three-goal lead eventually succumbing 5-3 at the hands of Eusebio's Portugal. Now some 43 years later, Kim is now in the position where he will try to emulate the success of his childhood heroes. So it hardly came as a surprise when he stated the teams aims: "We want to revive the feat of our predecessors."
Despite goalless draws last Friday and on Tuesday, Kim was "satisfied with the results because we were without six regulars," he was quoted as saying to the local media. In fact, Kim had not brought several key players from Korea DPR's successful qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010, including midfielder An Yong-Hak, forwards Jong Tae-Se and Hong Yong-Jo who ply their trade in Korea Republic, Japan, and Russia respectively.
Seemingly Kim was intent on giving the remaining home-based squad members experience competing against different styles of football. "We are here to learn some things about European football," said the 53-year-old. "During the Word Cup, we are likely to play against European teams so this will give us a good opportunity to discover this kind of football."
Based on performances during the Asian qualifiers, Korea DPR are equally adept at being the masters of defence while scoring goals via well-organised counterattacks. Veteran midfielder Kim Yong-Jun and captain Nam Song-Chol supported the meanest rearguard in the continent, with An Yong-Hak playing as the lynchpin in a largely defensive 4-5-1 formation. Thanks to the experienced trio in the middle of the park, Hong Yong-Jo and Mun In-Guk could effectively launch swift raids and feed the ball to Jong Tae-Se up front.
The goalless draws in France were, in a sense, satisfactory results given the fact that the North Koreans achieved a number of similar score lines throughout their successful qualification campaign - they drew 0-0 in five of their 14 matches during the third and fourth qualifying rounds, while three of their six wins came by virtue of a solitary goal. The 2-1 reverse against Iran in Tehran was the only match in which they conceded more than one goal, and on only three occasions did they score more than once in a game.
"We are playing football made of speed and good technique combined to the standards of the modern game, which include a great physical strength," says Kim. With talented youngsters such as Kim Kum-Il and Choe Kum-Chol at his disposal, Kim may look to add more creativity in Korea DPR's hitherto effective game plan.
Although Korea DPR's short stay in western France was just the start of their build-up for South Africa 2010, the team's presence in Europe suggests a new approach to preparation for major international competition. This may just be the beginning of a coming-out for one of the more mysterious sides in world football, with the team planning matches against stronger opponents from Europe, plus another training camp likely to be scheduled for Brazil or Cyprus early next year.