With Korea Republic having qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ on seven previous occasions, an Asian record, and neighbours Korea DPR reaching the world's greatest football stage just once, there would appear to be an obvious disparity between the two. But don't be fooled by the numbers: whenever these two cross swords, an intense and drama-charged contest invariably follows. The tremendous rivalry between the sides, not too mention invariably high stakes, adding extra spice to each and every match.
It was Korea Republic who first qualified for the world football's showpiece event, when they defeated Japan 7-3 on aggregate to reach the world finals 55 years ago. But Switzerland 1954 turned out to be a baptism of fire for the South Koreans, as their inexperienced line-up suffered humbling defeats to Hungary and Turkey. The closest they came to another finals appearance was in 1961, when they lost 8-2 on aggregate against Yugoslavia in an inter-continental play-off.
Korea DPR began their first qualifying campaign for England 1966, while their southern counterpart withdrew from the preliminary competition. The Chollima comfortably beating Australia 9-2 over two legs in neutral Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to qualify for the finals, where they created one of the all-time great upsets by defeating Italy 1-0, before dramatically losing 5-3 to Eusebio's Portugal in the quarter-final.
Despite the milestone achievement, Korea DPR inexplicably disappeared from the international stage, with Korea Republic returning to take part in the race for Mexico 1970. Although they hosted the preliminary group games with Australia and Japan, the South Koreans failed to make their home advantage count. Entering the final group match, they were trailing the Aussies by two points and a win would have forced a play-off but a 1-1 draw was all the hosts could manage.
In the preliminary competition for Germany 1974, both the North and the South participated in qualifying together for the first time. While Korea DPR were eliminated in their group, Korea Republic advanced to the continental final against Australia. After stalemates in Sydney and Seoul, a third match was required, and it was the Socceroos who edged home with a 1-0 victory in Hong Kong.
With Korea DPR withdrawing from the qualifiers for Argentina 1978, Korea Republic finished second behind Asian representatives Iran in the final round. Four years later, the two Koreas both failed to advance from their respective groups in the first qualifying round en route to Spain 1982.
With one FIFA World Cup appearance each up to that point, the 1980s proved to be the turning point for the divided nation. While Korea DPR again fell at the first hurdle, the South Koreans shook off the disappointment of the past and booked a place in Mexico 1986. In fact, Korea Republic have never looked back since, securing seven straight appearances in the finals.
Meanwhile, Korea DPR had to endure a long and arduous wait since their inaugural success in 1966. To add insult to injury, the Chollima lost 1-0 to the Taeguk Warriors in their first meeting in the qualifiers for Italy 1990 before succumbing to a 3-0 defeat by the same opponents during their campaign for USA 1994. That defeat was the nation's last qualifying match for a decade, with Korea DPR not entering the preliminary competition for the following two editions of the FIFA World Cup.
After their proud record of reaching the quarter-finals was surpassed by their southern neighbours in Korea/Japan 2002, Korea DPR returned to the Asian Zone qualifying for Germany 2006. But the North Koreans suffered five straight losses in the final round, with a 3-2 win over Bahrain coming merely as consolation.
Nevertheless, their never-say-die spirit finally paid off this year, as the Chollima made sure of their second appearance on the world stage in 44 years after a series of consistent and resilient performances. Although Korea Republic qualified one match earlier than Korea DPR, only one goal separated the sides in their four encounters over the course of qualifying for South Africa 2010. The three draws and 1-0 win for the Korea Republic indicating that a tight football rivalry can be expected for years to come.