Korea DPR have not played at the FIFA World Cup™ since 1966. Their current squad is largely made up of domestic-based players. They speak a language unfamiliar to the masses. The Chollima are very much an unknown quantity as South Africa 2010 approaches. However, FIFA.com is here to uncover a little more about the Asian underdogs.
Lowest-ranked qualifiers: Korea DPR arrive in South Africa as the lowest-positioned of the 32 teams on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. They are currently 106th on the global ladder, while their Group G opponents Brazil, Portugal and Côte d'Ivoire are first, third and 27th respectively.
The big provider: Seven members of Korea DPR’s provisional 23-man squad play their club football at April 25 Sports Group, who have proven a consistent provider for the Chollima in recent decades. Moreover, Russia-based captain Hong Yong-Jo cut his teeth with the Namp'o outfit before his switch to Europe in 2007, while Kim Jong-Hun represented April 25 as a player and coach before assuming the national team reins three years ago.
Top ten performers: Korea DPR’s qualification for South Africa 2010 was indebted to a mean defensive record. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the entire first-choice backline – namely Pak Nam-Chol, Nam Song-Chol, Ri Jun-Il, Cha Jong-Hyok and Pak Chol-Jin - were rewarded with places in the country’s ‘Top Ten Players of 2009’. Making up the list were forward and skipper Hong, midfielders Mun In-Guk, Jin Yong-Jun and Ji Yun-Nam, and goalkeepers Ri Myong-Guk.
Active preparations: Since securing a return to the FIFA World Cup with a goalless draw against Saudi Arabia last June, Korea DPR have played 12 friendlies; five of them against fellow South Africa 2010 qualifiers.
Double delight: The Chollima began 2010 with a bang. Indeed, after their first-choice line-up won a four-team tournament in Doha in January, their reserves beat Turkmenistan in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup the following month to seal the nation’s first major continental title.
Super League: With South Africa 2010 qualification significantly enhancing the sport’s popularity in Korea DPR, the country launched a new domestic championship, the Super League, at both men’s and women’s level. The opening phase of the former was won by Rimyongsu, while April 25 dominated the latter.
Overseas-based stars: Along with Hong, who runs out in the Russian Premier League, Korea DPR boast two players based in the Japanese J.League: Omiya Ardija midfielder An Yong-Hak and prolific Kawasaki Frontale striker Jong Tae-Se, who is nicknamed ‘The People’s Rooney’. Coach Kim chose to overlook another man based in the Japanese top tier, Vegalta Sendai’s Ryang Yong-Gi, along with Kim Kuk-Jin, who plays for Wil in Switzerland.
Individual breakthrough: Kim Kum-Il became the first North Korean male to seize a top Asian individual award when he was named AFC Young Player of the Year in 2007. The nimble midfielder inspired his side to the AFC U-19 Championship the year previous, pocketing the tournament’s most valuable player honour in the process.
Take two: The presence of two Pak Nam-Chos on Korea DPR’s provisional squad list was no mistake. The elder is a 24-year-old defender, who can also operate as a holding midfielder, while his three-year-younger namesake also plays at the back.
Surprise inclusion: It seemed Pak Sung-Hyok came from nowhere to snatch a place in Korea DPR’s provisional squad. Indeed, he failed to participate in their qualifying campaign or at the AFC Challenge Cup in February. Kim, however, was not afraid to hand the 20-year-old Sobaeksu defensive midfielder a call.