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North Korean Soccer: “With A Combative Spirit…”

Posted February. 06, 2005 22:54,   


Most of North Korea’s national soccer team belongs to the Korean People’s Army (4/25 Military Team). The players are striving to reach the finals after the team’s last World Cup final appearance (quarterfinals) in England in 1966 40 years ago. They even shaved their heads.

As North Korean players are scheduled to arrive in Japan on February 7, the Japanese authorities are tightening security in case an emergency occurs. The relationship between Japan and North Korea is strained due to North Korean agents’ abduction of Japanese citizens.

On February 4, the Japanese government held a joint meeting with relevant ministries and decided to call in 3,400 security personnel, an 1.5 times increase in the personnel needed for usual international events. The police installed metal detectors around the stadium and conducted a test operation assuming a real terrorist attack.

The Pro-Pyongyang Federation of Korean Residents in Japan (Jochongnyeon) is expected to mobilize a cheerleading squad of around 5,000. The organization adopted a red cheerleading uniform and a slogan. The enthusiasm for the North Korea-Japanese soccer match is so intense that the occasion can even be dubbed a “soccer war.”

Considering both sides’ records, they are even with four wins, three draws, and four defeats. Fans can expect a closely fought game.

The North Korean team gained the notice of soccer fans around the globe by coming in first (three wins, two draws, one defeat) in its group during the second stage of the Asian regional preliminaries. The team has been mainly employing a “3-5-2” formation. Since the 2002 Busan Asian Games, under the supervision of Yoon Jeong-soo, a new coach, the formation has changed to a “4-4-2.” Former striker Yoon Jeong-soo is charismatic and known for demanding aggressive and bold play.

The center of the North Korean attack is Hong Young-jo (175cm) and Kim Young-soo (173cm), who scored four goals during the second-round preliminary. Nevertheless, the players Japan is quietly most afraid of are Ahn Young-hak (Nagoya) and Lee Han-jae (Hiroshima), both of who are in the J-League and know the Japanese players well. Ahn Young-hak is a left attacker and midfielder who had two successful goals in the team’s second-round preliminary match with Thailand. He is one of the best scorers alongside the combination of Kim Young-soo and Hong Young-jo.

Recently, Kuwait and North Korea had a warm-up game that ended in a 0-0 tie. Kuwait coach Slobodan Pavkovic commented on North Korea’s soccer, saying, “They play very fast and fiercely.”

Sang-Ho Kim hyangsan@donga.com