Korea DPR stunned onlookers by claiming one of four Asian qualifying berths to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. But the enigmatic side, who qualified largely thanks to their imperious defensive performances, are aware that they have to improve their potency in the attacking third if they are to achieve positive results in front of a curious worldwide audience.
Coach Kim Jong-Hun is now left with little more than three months to solve this headache prior to the enormous challenge that is an opening encounter against five-times world champions Brazil on 15 June in Johannesburg. However, a title-winning performance at the recent AFC Challenge Cup in Sri Lanka provided Kim and his coaching staff with a number of new personnel options, most notably in attack.
The success at the AFC Challenge Cup, which features nations not participating in the AFC Asian Cup, was achieved by a second-string Korea DPR side under the direction of assistant coach Jo Tong-Sop, while Kim prepared the national team for a match in Venezuela. Japanese-based Ryang Yong-Gi emerged as the biggest revelation after bagging both the tournament’s Most Valued Player and Top Scorer awards, while Pak Song-Chol also impressed in providing spark and verve from midfield.
Ryang made just one appearance in the qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010; that coming as a substitute in the 1-0 success in Jordan. The 28-year-old midfielder is well known to Japanese fans, having spent six years with Vegalta Sendai, including scoring an impressive 15 goals last term as his side finished top in the J.League second division to earn promotion into the top flight.
Despite being somewhat of a late bloomer, Ryang has now put himself firmly into South Africa 2010 contention with his four-goal haul a significant factor in Korea DPR’s title charge. After opening his account with the equaliser in the group match against Turkmenistan, he scored twice more in the 3-0 win over India, before netting his fourth against Turkmenistan in the final, where the North Koreans prevailed in a penalty shootout. “He is a central player in our team and I have a lot of trust in him,” Jo said.
Starring alongside Ryang in Sri Lanka was Pak Song-Chol, who was a fringe figure in FIFA World Cup qualifying, appearing just three times in Korea DPR’s 16-match campaign. While Ryang’s performances were notable for his sharpness around goal, the 22-year-old Pak displayed playmaking abilities and sublime skills in possession.
He broke the deadlock in their group game against Kyrgyzstan with a well-taken free-kick putting Korea DPR on the path towards a 4-0 victory. He then repeated the dose with a 30-yard stunner against Myanmar in the semi-final with the Koreans cruising to a 5-0 win. “He is our playmaker and set-piece specialist,” stated Jo. “We can always rely on him in a dead ball situation.”
It remains to be seen whether the midfield duo will make it into Kim’s final line-up, but Korea DPR may need the fresh injection of talent if they are to achieve the unexpected and make progress in a group which also features Portugal and Côte d'Ivoire. For the players, it is a dream to represent their county in the global showpiece and rub shoulders with the likes of Kaka, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo, as Pak summed up: “I wasn’t even born when my country played in the 1966 World Cup and I am desperate to go to South Africa this time around. It is a chance of a lifetime.”