World-class goalkeeping was in plentiful supply in the Asian Zone qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, with Australia's Mark Schwarzer and Korea Republic's Lee Woon-Jae gaining plenty of plaudits for their performances. However, of all the keepers on show, it was Korea DPR youngster Ri Myong-Guk who stole the show throughout the continent’s lengthy qualifying competition.
As vintage wine adds to its value with the passage of time, experience invariably benefits goalkeepers, as the likes of Schwarzer and Lee have shown. At just 23, Ri has proved an exception to this rule, having excelled throughout as Korea DPR held off the likes of Iran and Saudi Arabia to take one of Asia’s four automatic qualifying berths.
Ri was just 20 when he earned his first national call-up as Korea DPR stepped up their qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010. After playing just 46 minutes in the two-legged opening qualifying matches against Mongolia, he impressed in the third-stage opener against Jordan as Korea DPR registered a hard-fought 1-0 away win. From that point onwards, the Pyongyang City man never looked back, starting all 13 of the Chollima’s remaining qualifying matches and making the position very much his own.
His ability to keep clean sheets was underlined during the third stage of qualifying as Korea DPR became the only Asian team to have an unblemished defensive record after six rounds of matches. Ri did go on to concede his first goal against United Arab Emirates, but was able to help Korea DPR hold out for a vital three points that further boosted their hopes. He also finished the campaign strongly, shutting out both Iran and Saudi Arabia as the Chollima made sure of their place at South Africa 2010.
Helping Korea DPR to their second FIFA World Cup became a major achievement for Ri, who was named his country’s Player of the Year last year. Heralded as one of the best goalies the nation have produced, the Pyongyang City Sports Group custodian has reached the iconic status with both club and country.
Ri may enter the FIFA World Cup finals in June as one of the tournament’s least experienced keepers, but he has already shown that, what he lacks in pedigree, he more than makes up for in skill and composure. If Korea DPR are to stun their formidable group rivals, they will need their outstanding young goalkeeper to rise to the occasion once again on the biggest stage of all.