Korea DPR’s preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ were given a welcome boost by victory in the ninth edition of the International Friendship Football Tournament, which was held in Qatar between 27 December 2009 and 2 January 2010.
The Chollima began the four-team round-robin tournament with a hard-fought 1-0 win over African side Mali, courtesy of a goal from Hong Yong-Jo. The North Koreans then claimed a single-goal victory against the host nation in their second match thanks to a strike from Choe Chol-Man. Their six-point tally was enough to see them subsequently crowned competition champions despite a 1-0 reverse by Iran in their final encounter.
This success is sure to spur on Kim Jong-Hun’s charges ahead of South Africa 2010, which will be Korea DPR’s second-ever appearance at the showpiece finals. Drawn in a fearsome-looking Group G alongside five-time world champions Brazil, European heavyweights Portugal and African powerhouses Côte d’Ivoire, the Chollima kick off their campaign against Dunga’s Seleção on 15 June in Johannesburg.
With head coach Kim absent for the friendly event in Qatar, his assistant Jo Tong-Sop was in temporary charge. “Given the teams we’ve been drawn against, we face a difficult task at South Africa 2010, though I hope that this win will boost our confidence,” Jo told FIFA.com.
“Our group will be very tough as it includes some of the highest-ranked teams in the world. They have some fantastic individual players, not to mention their teamwork and tactical ability, all of which will make life very hard for us in South Africa.
“That said, we’ve got as much chance (of progressing) as any other team, all we can do is ensure we perform to the standard required. Every match will be important and we’ll take each one very seriously and try to recreate the form we showed in qualifying,” continued the former youth coach when quizzed on the Koreans’ chances of reaching the knockout phase.
“We’ll fight to the end to qualify for the second round, despite the enormity of the task. As usual we’ll rely on our own characteristic style built around fighting spirit and teamwork in order to achieve our aim.”
“Our first match against Brazil will be very tough," continued Jo. "We’ve only ever played in the World Cup once before and we are facing a team that has won it five times. As everybody knows, Brazil are the number one team in the world. Their players are incredibly skilful and we’ll have to combat that with teamwork and a resolute defence.”
Their second match pits them against Portugal on 21 June in Cape Town. The pair have history at the elite competition, with the Portuguese coming from three goals down to sink Korea DPR in the last eight at England 1966 thanks largely to four goals from Eusebio. “We will be giving our all in every game, but of course the players are particularly keen to beat Portugal,” revealed Jo.
“Obviously we’ll need to give a very good defensive performance against Brazil and Portugal. We’re fully aware of their capabilities and so we’ll prepare for this by strengthening our defence and ability on the counter-attack.”
The assistant coach then cast his mind back to Asian Zone qualifying, where the North Koreans qualified ahead of the likes of Iran and Saudi Arabia. “We qualified by virtue of our players’ brilliant efforts and the fighting spirit which is one of our strong points. This is down to the players’ sense of belonging to the team and playing as one. Their main focus is their country and they put this before any thoughts of individual glory.”
And when questioned about their forthcoming preparations for South Africa 2010, Jo had this to say: “We’ll be working on all aspects of our game over the coming months and will play a number of friendlies. We’ve a match this month against Turkey and hope to take on several other teams to give our players valuable experience before the World Cup starts.”
A former international player himself, Jo concluded the interview by underlining his faith in the squad’s ability to handle the expected chilly conditions on South African soil. “We recently visited South Africa to get a feel for the climate and the pitches over there, so we’re well-prepared. We played games against South Africa and Zambia to help us acclimatise so we have a good idea of what to expect and what we need to do to achieve our goals.”