Korea DPR seemingly came from nowhere to storm into the Asian Zone's final round of qualifying, where they defied sizeable odds to take one of the continent's four automatic spots at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. In a sense they lived up to their long-standing reputation as Asia's surprise packages, their qualifying success marking a return to world football's top table for the first time since going all the way to the last eight in 1966.
After spending nearly 30 years in wilderness, the past decade saw the revival of the nation's footballing fortunes. With their women's football teams running riot at all levels on the international scene, the men's side came close to qualifying for Germany 2006 before successfully negotiating the road to South Africa 2010.
The road to South Africa
To reach the 2010 showpiece, Korea DPR went through a gruelling qualifying campaign spanning 20 months and a whopping 16 games. They made light work of Mongolia in the Asian Zone's first qualifying round, winning both home and away to earn a bye to the third round as one of the 11 highest-ranked first-round winners. Once there, they finished second in their group behind southern neighbours Korea Republic to qualify for the final round.
There they got off to a brilliant start by defeating UAE 2-1, before holding Korea Republic to a 1-1 draw. Despite losing to Iran 2-1 in the next game, they bounced back with a 1-0 home win against Saudi Arabia. Even a 1-0 loss to Korea Republic did not dent their chances too badly, followed as it was with a draw against Iran which kept them in second place. Needing just a point against Saudi Arabia in the closing game to qualify, they bravely held on for a goalless draw to seal their passage.
The star players
Two-thirds of the squad come from domestic clubs, though their small overseas-based contingent are vital cogs in the Korean machine. FC Rostov's Hong Yong-Jo was in lethal form up front, the 27-year-old goalgetter scoring four times in as many games. Playing alongside him is Japan-based Jong Tae-Se, who has the power and pace to breach any rearguard. Home-based midfielder Mun In-Guk is the man who makes the team tick, while keeper Ri Myong-Guk's safe hands and agility can be relied upon between the sticks.
Coach Kim Jong-Hun was only ten years old when the Chollima made history at England 1966 and now, 43 years on, he was the man who guided them back to the pinnacle of world football. Given his squad largely consists of domestic-based players lacking in international experience, the strategist favours a pragmatic and defensive approach based around discipline and teamwork.
Previous FIFA World Cups
Going into the global showpiece as debutants in England in 1966, the unfancied East Asians undid European heavyweights Italy with a single-goal victory to march into the quarter-finals. In what remains one of the all-time classic encounters in FIFA World Cup history, they flew into a three-goal lead against Portugal within 25 minutes, only for Eusebio to go on to strike no fewer than four times in a 5-3 comeback win for the Selecção das Quinas.
What they said
"It was as a result of our hard work that we will return to the World Cup, 44 years after we reached last eight at England 1966. We are likely to meet European teams once more at South Africa 2010 and I hope we can repeat the feats of our predecessors." Korea DPR head coach Kim Jong-Hun