Korea DPR rounded off their history-making campaign by holding hosts Saudi Arabia to a goalless draw in the closing match of Asia's final round on Wednesday to claim the continent's remaining automatic berth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Not surprisingly, the achievement, 44 years in the making, was the talk of Asian sports reporting this week.
Local media were the first to go into raptures at the hard-earned success. In an article entitled "Football team showcases national pride," Korea DPR's Central News Agency attributed the success to the team's "never-say-die spirit".
While earning plaudits at home, the accomplishment also attracted much attention from beyond. The Korean's successful emergence as a regional power was in stark contrast to the qualifying failure by the neighbouring Chinese. "Why did we fail while Korea DPR made it?" headlined a commentary piece from the Guangzhou Daily. "Although we are better financed and equipped, we fell just short in terms of faith, spirit and willpower."
Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reported of the Korean team's achievements in battling through a long and rigorous campaign, but also reflected on the nation's ground-breaking debut more than four decades ago when Korea DPR achieved one of the earliest FIFA World Cup upsets with their famous win over Italy at the 1966 FIFA World Cup. The article also compares the significant changes in the qualification path since that era, when, with only two Asian teams attempting to reach England 1966, the Koreans easily overcame Australia over two-legs.
The Chollima's triumph was also applauded by their Southern Peninsula neighbours. In an article entitled "Two Koreas in World Cup for first time ever", Joong Ang Daily paid tribute to coach Kim Jong-Hun for his successful qualifying game plan. "The team, currently ranked 106 in the world, displayed its typical defensive strategy against Saudi Arabia. The squad had conceded a mere five goals in eight games while they also managed to score seven goals."
*Iranian heartache *With the Koreans in celebratory mood, the Iranians were left to bemoan Park Ji Sung's equalizer nine minutes from time, which ultimately saw the nation miss out on qualification for South Africa 2010. "Iran missed a good opportunity for a second automatic qualification spot after it was held to a 1-1 draw against South Korea on Wednesday," lamented the Tehran Times.
While citing the team's preparation as the major problem behind their failure, a commentary entitled "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" by the Iran Sports Press points out that the disappointing campaign will likely mark the swansong of a golden generation of players. "At any rate, the anti-climax that was last night is now well and truly over. It surely ends the international careers of Mehdi Mahdavikia, Vahid Hashemian, as well as possibly a lagging Ali Karimi, who despite his goal against the Emirati's last week has been well short of fitness, and mobility during all three games."