Despite producing Asia’s biggest surprise by progressing to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Korea DPR remain one of the most mysterious of the 32 qualified teams. An Yong-Hak, 31, should be one of the best known of the enigmatic East Asians after spending the past eight years switching between clubs in Japan and Korea Republic while continuing to represent his country with distinction.
One of a core of experienced Chollima players who featured in the unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, An is normally deployed as a defensive midfielder. He was a vital cog in coach Kim Jong-Hun's defensive and counter-attacking strategies throughout the South Africa 2010 preliminaries, holding the midfield and providing incisive forward passes.
Cool-headed and armed with experience that has been gleaned over the years, An has shown he is the man to rely on. While jetting to and from South Korea to play for Suwon Bluewings, An started in 13 of Chollima’s 14 matches in the final phase of qualifying. He missed only the last of their four meetings with Korea Republic due to injury and his absence took its toll, with his side suffering a solitary-goal defeat.
An belongs among Korea DPR's small overseas-based contingent. Born and raised in Japan, he started his professional career in his adopted country when he joined Albirex Niigata in 2002, before moving on to join J-league giants Nagoya Grampus in 2005.
He became a trail-blazer when he earned his national team call-up back in 2002. When Korea DPR embarked on Asia’s qualifying for the last FIFA World Cup, An was one of only two foreign-based players alongside Ri Han-Jae, formerly of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
It was in a 4-1 victory over Thailand that An made his international mark, bossing the midfield and scoring a brace of goals. That win helped his side progress to Asia’s last eight in the final qualifying round, where An appeared three times as Korea DPR bowed out with the wooden spoon.
An and Co made amends four years on, sweeping past the likes of Iran and Saudi Arabia to take one of Asia’s four automatic qualifying spots. They have been handed a tough assignment, though, having been drawn against five-time world champions Brazil, Portugal and Côte d'Ivoire in the global showpiece. Despite this, the competition-hardened An remains unfazed and has already set his sights on a draw against Brazil in the opening game. Should they achieve this, he believes that nothing can be ruled out in their following fixtures against Portugal and Côte d'Ivoire.